6 minutes reading time (1141 words)

[Trainer Insights] Common Fitness Mistakes


When embarking upon a fitness journey, there are a lot of things that can be difficult. Finding the motivation/desire to get off the couch and workout could actually become the easiest part! With all the misinformation on the internet and the black-and-white narratives surrounding fitness and nutrition, what is a person to do? How do you decide what sort of workouts are best for you? Should you be eating carbs? Should you be eating fats? Are eggs bad for you? Is deadlifting bad for your back?

With all the nuance surrounding exercise and nutrition and all the confusion and misinformation, it certainly is almost impossible to make mistakes when you begin your fitness journey. Or maybe you've been training for a while but find yourself pondering if there's a better way.

Here's some insights on what I've found to be common mistakes I often see with my clients and people who I've talked to. If you've made these mistakes/are making these mistakes, just remember that there is always room for error and we aren't perfect people. Making mistakes is normal and part of the process. We learn from mistakes. So, if you find yourself doing the following, that's fine!

Mistake #1: Focusing on fat loss or weight loss instead of building muscle.

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in most people! Most people who are hyperfixated on fat loss typically do not need to focus on fat loss/would get better results if they didn't focus on it. These people are not overfat but they are indeed undermuscled.

If we don't have muscle mass on us, we are lacking a huge component of fat loss; energy costliness. Our bodies lose fat when we do activites that support muscle-building because those activities help increase our metabolic rate, which basically means we use more energy to stay alive. These muscle-building activites include, but are not limited to, lifting weights, eating at or above (gasp) maintanance calories, and getting adequate sleep.

When we build muscle mass, we can achieve a calorie deficit more easily and our bodies will also be more ready for a calorie deficit and will respond better than if we had less muscle mass. 

Mistake #2: Staying in a deficit rather than prioritizing fueling your body.

This goes back to mistake #1. When we are so hyperfocused on fat loss, most people start by slashing calories. This is NOT what we want to do when we want to lose fat/lose weight! In fact, this can really harm your progress long-term! Yes, you'll get that instant satisfaction of watching the number on the scale go down steadily, but the underlying effects of slashing calories on your metabolism simply are not worth it.

When we cut calories out of our diet, our bodies respond by losing mass because it wants to survive. It gets rid of what costs energy to help conserve the energy you provide it with. Muscle mass is more energy costly, so our bodies tend to get rid of muscle first. Muscle isn't homeostatic; it takes effort to build and conserve muscle mass. So when we slash calories, we allow our bodies to get rid of the very thing we actually need to achieve and sustain fat loss for the long term.

Additionally, staying in an underfed state will decrease your metabolic rate, which is not ideal when we are trying to become more energy costly. So if we chronically underfeed ourselves, we set ourselves up for a lower caloric output which means less energy, lower bodily functions, and lower performance during workouts.

So what's the solution here? Up your caloric intake to match your output so you can focus on building up the lean muscle mass in your body. You can't grow without calories!

Mistake #3: Doing only cardio.

When it comes to kicking off fitness goals, we usually think of working up a sweat and getting our heartrate up. And undoubtedly, cardio is super important for fitness and health and, yes, burning fat. But we can't only do cardio in order to increase our metabolism. When we want to prioritize building muscle in order to increase our metabolism, cardio isn't doing it! We need to prioritize heavy strength training and supplement with cardio in order to build muscle (along with eating adequately!).

How can you avoid this mistake? Lift heavy x3-4/week and do cardio after your lifts for 30-45 minutes!

Mistake #4: Not strength training with intention.

All too often I see people just going through the motions and not moving and lifting intentionally. When we strength train, we can't just have weights in our hands and expect to get stronger. I mean, we can to some degree, but if we want to make progress, we need to be implementing progressive overload and moving intentionally. That's the only way we can build!

Mistake #5: Not prioritizing daily movement aside from workouts.

This is a huge mistake I see a lot of newbies make! Yes, we've gone from no workouts to one or two workouts a week, but just those one or two hour-long workouts is a small smidge of movement in the entirety of our whole week! In order to increase our fitness, metabolism, and health in general, we need to be avoid being sedentary for extended periods of time.

How can you combat this? Setting reminders for yourself to get up while at work and moving will help! Breaking up your sitting as much as you can is HUGE to adding in more daily activity and getting those steps in! Refer to this past Instagram post to understand the impact of daily movement.

So if you are starting out your fitness journey, or maybe stuck in a rut, or maybe you feel like you could be getting better results from your fitness and nutrition plan, remember this: Lift heavy weights often; eat plenty of carbs, fats, and proteins; do cardio sometimes; strength train with a plan; and stay active!

About the Author

Laura Su, BS Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Powerlifter, Entreprenuer

I'm just a girl who fell in love with movement in high school and now wants to bring the freedom that exercise brings to everyone else.

I started working out with the desire to look a certain way but eventually found the sense of accomplishment and clarity that training for performance brought. Now I want to help everyone, especially women, to learn how to train and eat for their health and performance and realize that when you do that, the looks you desire are simply a positive side effect.

In my spare time, I enjoy powerlifting, horseback riding, sleeping, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I hope you enjoy my posts and keep reading along!

Check out the Fitsplained Podcast!

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