Have you really lived if you don't look back on your past and think, "Man, I was stupid back then"?
I signed up for my first gym membership as a scrawny 19-year-old with zero athletic ability, and some of the things I did back in those early years make me blush — not even counting the daggy kit I wore back in the days before activewear was a thing.
Bad form + too much weight
Just about everyone at the gym wants to heft the heaviest weights he can to prove his strength and fitness. (I say "he" because we men are especially guilty of this mistake, though women aren't immune.)
For literal years I loaded plates onto my bench press, blissfully unaware there's more nuance to that exercise than just hefting a heavy barbell up and down. End result: a shoulder injury that took 18 months to rehabilitate and still dogs me today.
The fix: First, forget anything you've been told about how you "should" be able to press double your bodyweight, or whatever. Lift the weight you can lift safely. Good form is more important than weight.
Next, recruit a personal trainer. You'll know you've found a good one one if they push you way beyond your comfort zone, not just sleepwalk you through a cookie-cutter training program. Or, join a boutique-style gym where you'll get more one-on-one attention from a coach.
You don't have to see your PT every week, because that gets expensive. But if you're serious about the gym, invest in a few sessions to nail fundamental moves including the squat, deadlift and bench press.
More workouts = more gains
If working out three days a week is good, reasoned 20-something Sam, then working out seven days a week must be even better!
That spiralled into me feeling plagued by guilt on the days I couldn't get to the gym, forced out of action by my aching and exhausted body.
The fix: Make time for recovery. More training is not always better. Your body grows when it's recovering — especially when you're sleeping, so aim for the full eight hours a night. I still exercise most days of the week, but my training program is a bit better planned to give my muscles and joints some time off.
More protein = more gains
Same faulty logic. Protein helps build muscle, so I figured I'd rapidly get huge if I forced myself to eat hunks of chicken breast and tuna then wash them down with a few protein shakes a day.
Honestly, this is the fitness mistake that makes me cringe the most (sorry for inhaling fragrant tuna at my desk next to you, former co-workers), and the one I spend the most time talking fitness newcomers out of.
Yes, protein is a building block of muscle — but your body can only use so much of it. The excess ends up flushed down the toilet.
The fix: No need to count how many grams of protein you're consuming. Instead aim to eat whole, nutritious foods with moderate amounts of protein at every meal — especially at breakfast, the meal most likely to be lacking in protein. (Go for an egg with avo on wholegrain toast, or Greek yoghurt with oats, fruit and a handful of nuts.)
And protein shakes don't count as real food. They're back-ups for when you can't eat a proper meal in the hour or so after exercise. One shake per day, max.
According to Sam Downing, the secret to wellbeing is just to keep it simple. A qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Sam is also a writer focusing on everyday health.
Follow him on Twitter.