The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Starting to Work Out

There are many benefits to getting fit, from strengthening your bones to improving your sleep and boosting your mental health. But if you've never exercised before, starting to work out can seem overwhelming, especially when making a mistake might lead to injury.

According to fitness experts, the five mistakes people tend to make when they start working out are:

  • Taking on too much, too soon
  • Not doing exercises correctly
  • Choosing the wrong exercises
  • Expecting results too quickly
  • Not taking their whole lifestyle into consideration.

Here's how you can dodge these pitfalls to get fit and stay fit.

Women sitting on yoga mat
Woman checking fitness tracker and drinking smoothie while sitting on a yoga mat. Exercise is just one part of a healthy lifestyle—diet, sleep and work/life balance matter too. Kar-Tr/iStock/Getty Images Plus

1. Taking on Too Much, Too Soon

It's understandable that you want to jump straight in, but doing so is a fast track to injury. Charlee Atkins, founder of at-home fitness app Le Sweat TV, told Newsweek that it's a bad idea to go from zero workouts to exercising seven days a week.

However, she also cautions against leaving too long between sessions, as you may lose motivation. "Don't let more than three days go in between workouts. After that third day, it becomes easier to stop altogether," she said.

Whether you're working out at home or at the gym, she recommends committing to two or three sessions a week, each focusing on a different type of exercise.

Your workout doesn't have to be high intensity to be valuable. Gentler options such as stretching and mobility classes or going for a walk are a good starting point for beginners, as well as useful for days when you're not feeling up to something more strenuous.

Drew Schwartz, a chiropractor at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in helping gamers and desk workers to maintain their health, also advises starting small and learning the fundamentals.

"The biggest thing we see is people not being completely honest with themselves," he said. "They think 'I know how to exercise and I know my body's capacity.' This is when I typically see people with injuries come into my office."

2. Not Doing Exercises Correctly

All exercise is good exercise—if you're doing it right. If you're not, you're risking both long and short-term problems. It's important to learn the proper form of an exercise before increasing speed or reps, which can be done by watching tutorials and performing exercises in front of a mirror.

"Whether from mobility restrictions, previous injuries or lack of knowledge, doing exercises incorrectly can lead to injury. Most of the exercises I choose for my clients can easily be done at home," said Atkins.

Schwartz cautions against choosing workouts because they are popular or trending on social media. Opt for movements that you can perform correctly and that suit your current level of fitness.

"Don't go to the latest YouTube trend and try to do a very complicated maneuver," he said. "You'll end up hurting yourself."

3. Choosing the Wrong Exercises

Different exercises lead to different results, so you should choose the right type for your goal. Some exercises can help you work towards multiple goals at once. These are known as compound movements and Atkins highly recommends them.

"An example is bicep curls versus push-ups," she said. "While both work the upper body, push-ups work more muscle groups and joints." Other instances include squats instead of leg extensions, or a deadlift instead of a fire hydrant (also known as a quadruped hip abduction).

Whichever you choose, remember to warm up and cool down, as this will help you to avoid injury and recover more quickly.

Schwartz emphasizes the importance of picking exercises that you enjoy too. "It doesn't matter if it's running, HIIT workouts, weight training or yoga," he said. "Move how you love to move—that's what will make you want to do it more."

4. Expecting Results Too Quickly

The time needed to notice a change in your fitness level varies by individual, but consistency is key to seeing results. Setting realistic goals and building up your fitness over time will lead to longer-lasting impacts than a quick-fix diet or over-the-top exercise regime.

"I tell my clients to be more active than average," Atkins said. "If you are consistent, you will start to see changes and results."

Weight training is a great form of exercise for people learning the fundamentals, as it improves your mobility and coordination, along with building muscle.

Schwartz recommends starting out with resistance bands, body weight exercises and small weights to build strong foundations. Strength training can burn more calories than cardio, he added, so is also handy for weight loss. "It sets you up for better success and efficiency."

5. Not Considering Their Whole Lifestyle

Working out is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. What you eat, your sleeping pattern and your work schedule matter too.

Schwartz recommends "looking at the whole person" to see where you can make other healthy changes. Consider changing your eating habits, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, making sure you move regularly throughout the day (particularly for desk workers) and having a good work-life balance.

Atkins agrees that fitness isn't the only aspect of a healthy lifestyle. "There are a lot of small changes you can do in a day that contribute. Change takes time."