Want to make the most of your time at the gym? Avoid making these 10 mistakes, targeted by the American Council on Exercise as the top goofs people make when they’re working out.

• An all-or-nothing approach. Just because you don’t have a full hour (or even 30 minutes) to devote to a workout doesn’t mean you should skip exercising for the day. You can get health benefits in as little as 10 minutes, according to recent research.

• Not progressing wisely. Many people exercise too hard, too much, too fast. Remember: rest is an important part of the fitness equation — that’s when your body actually gets stronger, as it repairs itself from the stresses it undergoes while exercising. As a general rule of thumb, you should only progress by 10 percent (in duration, intensity, or mileage) every week.

• Out-of-whack strength-training programs. Focusing only on certain muscles (usually the abs, chest, and biceps) when you’re strength training isn’t smart. To achieve a truly strong, balanced body, you have to train all the major muscle groups, not just the ones that look good at the beach or in a tank top. A physique with out-of-balance muscles is an injury waiting to happen.

• Using bad form. This one is my personal pet peeve. Lifting too much weight, lifting too quickly, and using momentum to help you move a heavy weight are the fastest ways to get injured in a gym. If you’re not sure if your form is correct, have someone spot you. Don’t let your ego dictate how much weight your lifting. Instead, focus on using impeccable form, and I guarantee the results will come.

• Same old, same old. Are you doing the same routines and activities you always do? If so, you’re likely stalling your results and risking overuse injuries. Mix it up — if you run, try biking. If you are a cardio maniac, try yoga or weight training. By integrating different types of activity into your fitness regimen, you’ll avoid plateaus, boredom, burnout, and, potentially, injury.

• Not cooling down. After you finish your workout, don’t head straight for the locker room. Instead, lower the intensity of your exercise for a few minutes and let your heart rate return to normal to avoid having your blood pool in your lower body (which can lead to dizziness and even fainting), and then stretch out. This not only helps with flexibility and keeping muscles in balance (something they’ll thank you for in a decade or two), but also gets them primed for your next workout.

• One size doesn’t fit all. Those adjustable knobs on gym exercise equipment aren’t there for cosmetic purposes — they’re there for your comfort. If you’re not sure how high the bicycle seat should be, or exactly how to adjust the seat on the lat pulldown machine, ask. Once you use a machine that’s been fitted to your body, you’ll feel the difference — and potentially avoid injury.

• Setting unrealistic goals. If your goals are vague (“I want to get in better shape”) or unattainable (“I will lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks”) chances are you’ll end up quitting your workout regimen. It’s better and more motivating to set realistic, specific goals (“I want to run a mile in 8 minutes” or “I will lose 1 to 2 pounds a week”). Having something specific to work toward gives you focus.

• Poor gym etiquette. Not sharing equipment, forgetting to wipe down a bench or machine after you are done using it, talking loudly, and making rude comments — these actions don’t necessarily affect your workout at the gym, but they do affect others. Consideration goes a long way.

• Focusing on anything but your workout. ACE targets this as an exercise goof — and it can be. Reading a book and paying more attention to it than how hard you’re pedaling a bicycle doesn’t make for a good workout. But watching a motivating sports event or listening to music you like can help boost your performance, especially with gym-based cardio workouts.

— Wendy Watkins is a writer and personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. Send your questions to

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