Bad gym habits are hard to break. As with any repeated behavior we do, it takes self-awareness and genuine effort to change our actions. But when it comes to working out, you may be doing some self-sabotaging that you aren’t even aware of—and stunting your progress in the process.
From spending too much time on social media to indulging in one too many protein shakes, here are four common bad gym habits and advice on how to break them.
You have a negative mindset.
While working out is largely about the body, it all starts in the mind. If you view exercise negatively or have a bad attitude when it comes to fitness, chances are you’re not going to reach your full potential. Kathleen Trotter, a personal trainer and nutritionist, says that for many people, a negative mindset—including making excuses—is what holds them back the most.
“Some people may say, ‘Oh, I can’t do my entire workout [today], so I might as well do nothing,’” Trotter says. “Doing something is always better than nothing. You can actually do so much in such a short amount of time—like HIIT training and interval training even if you only have 20 minutes.”
Another negative thinking pattern? Believing that you need to physically be at a gym to work out. It’s great to make an effort to hit up your weekly yoga class. But, you should find another way to sweat if your schedule gets hectic from time to time. “If you can’t go to the gym, you can do so many things at home,” Trotter says. “There’s no reason why a workout at the gym is any better than a workout not at the gym. It doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or fancy. It’s really just that you have to do it.”
You use your phone too much.
Fitness apps are an integral part of many people’s workouts (hello, Aaptiv!), but phones should be used at the gym as tools—not distractions. “Your app on your phone can be the reason why you do a workout. But when you go to open the app, you end up on social media and spend ten minutes doing that instead,” Trotter says.
Texting or checking emails while on the elliptical or treadmill is also bad for you. When you’re distracted by your phone, you’re less likely to focus on your workout. Therefore, you’re less likely to challenge yourself. To prevent yourself from checking your device, Trotter says you can turn off your notifications or silence incoming calls. If you play music on your phone to keep you motivated, that’s one thing. But make sure you’re only using apps that are directly related to your routine.
“You can be at the gym for an hour, but really what you’ve done is four exercises and you’ve been texting with your friends,” Trotter explains. “Your gym time is an opportunity to disconnect from real life, so why are you bringing your stress from work and life into the gym?”
You’re too social at the gym.
Having a workout buddy is a great way to stay accountable and ensure that you make it to your 6 a.m. boot camp class. But if you spend too much time chatting with friends or a partner once you’re there, you’re not setting yourself up for success. “I’m a big believer in meeting people at the gym. But I think a positive can very easily turn into a negative,” Trotter says. “Your workout buddy can be the reason why you get to the gym. But, they can also be the reason why you just sit there and chat.”
To make sure your social side stays in check, try signing up for a fitness class where there’s little opportunity to talk once it starts, such as a grueling spin class. If you and a friend prefer to do your own routines at the gym, try listening to music or using different equipment to keep your distance. You can make plans to grab coffee after your sweat sesh to gab all you want.
You don’t eat well after a workout.
“We all think about weight loss and our bodies changing in the gym. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your body changes after you’ve left the gym,” Trotter says. “Your body changes as you recover and as you eat the food you need.” About 45 minutes after a solid workout, Trotter advises eating a mixture of healthy carbs and protein to refuel your body.
Eat in Proportion to Your Workout
It’s also incredibly important to not overindulge and eat more calories than your body needs—especially if your workout wasn’t super intense. “You see people at a gym’s juice bar, and they’ve done a half-hour workout—like a walk on the treadmill. Then they have a post-workout shake that has 800 calories,” she says. “You don’t need 800 calories. You have to work hard at the gym and eat appropriately for your workout intensity.”
Instead, try to eat a snack that’s appropriate for the amount of calories you burned. If you can time your workout before lunch or dinner, Trotter says that can be beneficial because you’re eating a filling meal around that time anyway. “For people who have to work out in the afternoon, I suggest they take their lunch and eat only two-thirds of it. Then, eat the rest of their lunch after they’ve done the workout,” she advises.
Nutrition is Key
Of course, eating balanced and healthy meals regularly is vital to maintaining an active lifestyle. “You can do as much working out as you want. But if your goal is to change the shape of your body and to change your metabolism and be toned, the key is the nutrition,” Trotter says. “You have to focus on getting lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and you need to get rid of the sugar.”