What are the most common weightlifting mistakes?

October 13, 2012

Q: I am sometime frustrated at the gym because I feel like I’m doing things the wrong way. I love working out but would rather get the most out of my time while avoiding injury. What advice would you give for those of us who need to learn more about how to lift properly? What are the most common mistakes you see in the gym?

A: People often ask me if I walk around like the gym police telling people what they’re doing wrong. The answer to this question is no, but I never mind giving some helpful hints to those who are willing to learn. Here are a few of the most common mistakes I see.

Using momentum to lift the weight

We’ve all seen them before, convulsing their bodies back and forth as if they’re having some sort of fit, just to get an extra rep. This type of lifting isn’t productive and usually ends in a joint injury. You’ll get much better results by slowly lifting the weight under control. Try adding a split-second pause at the top and bottom of each movement to ensure proper speed.

Not learning to isolate muscles

It’s important to think about the area you’re trying to work during each repetition. Learn to adjust your body to feel the pressure on the targeted muscles. Little adjustments like keeping your elbows in or your chest out or slightly bending your knees can make all the difference in the world when it comes to getting results.

Sacrificing form for weight

I always tell my clients to lift heavy enough to feel the burn but light enough to practice good form. Listen to your body, and it will tell you if you’re doing something wrong. If you’re supposed to be doing an exercise for the chest and you feel it in your shoulders, something’s wrong. Drop the weight and try it again until you master the proper form.

Forgetting to bend the knees

Think of your knees as your body’s shock absorbers, ready to protect you from stress. Exercises such as standing barbell curls, tricep pushdowns and seated cable rows all require a slight bend in the knees to keep the pressure off the lower back and on the targeted muscles where it belongs.

Not learning to breathe properly

Many people get so caught up in working hard, the last thing they pay attention to is their breathing patterns. In my experience, most people breathe out in the middle of the lift when their body needs the oxygen most, or they hold their breath too long, causing them to become dizzy.

To breathe correctly, all you have to do is take in a large breath right before you begin lifting weight and start expelling it as you reach the top of the lift. You may find this difficult at first, but it will become second nature with a little practice. Breathing properly will supply your muscles and your brain with the oxygen needed to get a great workout.

Once you learn the basics, you’ll spot poor form a mile away. As the old saying goes, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out