5 Common Mistakes Women Make in the Gym

Girl with battle ropes

Hey girl!

So you have some goals to better your health and fitness do ya?

Great! It is good to set goals and know what you are striving for when embarking on a fitness and health journey.

I see so many people in general not having a clear vision of what they want to accomplish.  It shows when they are at the gym aimlessly picking weight machines to use or are spending their entire time on the cardio equipment…

I see a lot of my female clients make these mistakes when they first start an exercise program with me.

Lat pull down

When ladies come to me for help I ask them some questions to try to dig deeper into the underlying issues they are having. Once they give me a clear view of their goals and tell me what they are currently doing, often times I see a lot of the same mistakes being made over and over again.

As a guy, my focus is to get bigger, get my veins to pop because I think it looks sweet, and grow as much muscle as I can by remaining as lean as possible.  I like the bodybuilding style of training… bottom line I’m trying to get HUGE.

And I understand most of you girls don’t want to get HUGE and look jacked but for one thing, you don’t have nearly the amount of testosterone that guys have and it’s not as easy for you to grow big muscles; so kick that fear out the door.

But I hear the same concerns on repeat…

“I don’t want to lift heavy weights because I don’t want big muscles.”

“I don’t want to look like a man!”

“I don’t think I should be drinking protein shakes because I don’t have the same goals as guys have.”

And my favorite…

“I don’t want to build muscle, I just want to ‘tone’.”

Even if your main goal is to lose fat, building muscle will help you to accomplish this; muscle is very efficient for your body.

I’ve talked about this before but an increase in muscle mass is linked to:

  1. An increase in strength

  2. A faster metabolism

  3. A more efficient metabolization of fat for fuel

  4. An increase in stamina

  5. Stronger joints

  6. Improved immune system

I want to show you, from my perspective as a guy, some common things I see women doing wrong in the gym.

So, with that being said, here are 5 Common Mistakes Women Make in the Gym:

1. Not lifting heavy enough or not lifting weights often enough.

bent over barbell row

Whether your main objective is to burn off fat or build muscle, you should be lifting weights THAT CHALLENGE you in the gym.

What burns calories?

Muscular contractions.

A muscular contraction occurs when tension is created within a muscle fiber.

Your muscles create a greater contraction and thus more tension when under tension of a heavy load.

Let’s look at a squat exercise compared to running.

Essentially, your muscles have to work harder to lift a heavy barbell on your back during a squat than it does when jogging down the street. Even if you are jogging for 2 hours, a few sets of heavy squats is more physically demanding for your body and will cause more muscular damage (we want this in order to get stronger) than the jog will.

When we are exercising we want to choose a weight that is challenging for us and causes us to fatigue close to the end of each set.

So if you are able to perform an exercise while holding a conversation and you are getting 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 reps then you decide to stop at 15 because that’s what you heard was the “magic number” to shoot for but you could have easily done another 5 without feeling fatigued, then the weight is too light.

Building muscle and losing weight are both extremes for the body.  If the body is not challenged it will not get stronger nor will it be efficient at burning off fat.

In the real world, our bodies are designed to be as efficient as possible for completing a task.  If you are trying to lift a heavy object off of the ground your body will recruit as many muscles as possible to spread the load out to make it as easy for your body as possible to lift the weight.  For survival, we don’t want our muscles breaking down when they are challenged, we want them to work efficiently to complete the task at hand.

This is not how we want our bodies working when exercising.

When exercising, you should make the exercise as hard as possible to complete and inefficient as possible for your body while remaining safe. We DO want our muscles to get broken down so we can build them up stronger so next time we have to lift that heavy object in the future it will be easier for our bodies.

The point I’m trying to get at is this:

Our bodies need to be challenged and they need to be challenged with weights often (4-6 days a week) if we want them to get stronger.

2. Not eating enough


trx row girl smiling

It isn’t all about calories in vs. calories out but that certainly does play a role.

Some people will disagree with this but it IS possible to eat in a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you burn off) and still not lose weight.

I have seen this happen with not only women but people in general so let me explain…

Your body works off of 3 energy sources: protein, carbs, and fats.

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source and fat burning kicks in in extreme situations once the carbs are used up.  Protein is a reparative nutrient that is required by your body often throughout the day to repair and regrow skin, muscle, and bone tissue, along with other functions.  This is your body’s least preferred energy source but in the situation of an inadequate energy supply (not enough calories to repair and function normally for the task at hand) your body will do what it has to to survive.  If there is an inadequate supply of amino acids available (what protein breaks down into) then the body is forced to source them on its own.

Want to know where that comes from?

Your muscle tissue.

Along with other areas where protein can be stored in the body.

This is the LAST thing we want when we are trying to build muscle and or lose fat.

So, let’s say your maintenance calorie intake (the number of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight) is 1,500 calories.

*You can find your maintenance by clicking here: http://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html

And you are only consuming 1,000 calories; theoretically, you should be losing weight.  But for one thing that is a dangerously low caloric consumption for any adult.

Secondly, if you’re not giving your body the appropriate amount of protein it needs to repair and function then your body is going to hoard fat and strip off your muscle to be burned for energy and to be used for repair.

Recommendations for protein intake can be anywhere from 0.8-2g of protein per pound of lean body mass but I would play it safe and get at least 1g per lean weight and work your way up to 1.5 if you are not recovering well.  To find your lean body weight subtract your body fat from your total body weight.  You can estimate your body fat percentage by using the photo below.

body fat percentage chart women

3. Not eating the right foods.

Some people like to follow the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) diet lifestyle.  Which means you can consume any food you like as long as it fits into your calorie and macronutrient split protocol.

So whether it’s pizza, cookies, or chicken and rice, if the numbers add up, then have at it.

Again this is looking only at the calorie in vs. calorie out argument which we already busted above.

But let’s look into this closer…

A common and effective macronutrient split is 40/40/20.  Which means that 40% of your calories should come from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fats on a hard lifting day.

So for somebody wanting to consume, let’s say 2,000 calories a day with this split, then that would mean that 800 calories should come from protein, 800 from carbs, and 400 from fats.  And since protein and carbs both yield 4 calories per gram you would take 800 divided by 4 and get 200. So that would mean 200g of protein and 200g of carbs should be the goal for the day.  Since fats yield 9 calories per gram it comes out to about 44g to be consumed from fats each day. (2,000 x 0.20= 400 calories. 400/9= 44g).

So with IIFYM it is possible to get results while following a macro split similar to this or other splits, especially when you are first starting the diet; and a lot of people have.  But if you care about long-term fat loss and care about your internal health then you should consider actually eating quality organic whole foods and not just be filling yourself up with crap.

Processed junk food can cause inflammation in your body, spike your insulin if carb heavy, and can weaken your immune system, all things that could carry over to the production or expansion of fat cells.

It takes digestive enzymes and healthy functioning organs to break food down.  When you eat something such as a Mcdonald’s hamburger it actually forces your body to break itself down in order to digest it since it provides no nutrient value whatsoever.  It’s like trying to eat plastic and hoping your body will digest it and break it down; it’s not real food so it lacks the appropriate enzymes attached to it to break it down. Real whole foods provide nutrients that can be broken down to be used for energy (carbs, fats, and protein), vitamins, and minerals; processed foods lack these key nutrients.

I think it’s only obvious that 2,000 calories worth of pizza, donuts, and pasta is not equal to 2,000 calories worth of chicken breast, brown rice, and asparagus.

If you would like to see an entire list of healthy choices of protein, carbs, and fats click on the “contact me” button below I’d be happy to send you that information.

4. Paying too much attention to the scale.

A lot of women like to hop on the scale far too often in hopes of watching it go down day after day, week after week.  This just simply is unrealistic.  I have had to force myself out of the habit of checking my weight daily to see if I have gained weight and built muscle.

For one thing, when you do weigh yourself it should be first thing in the morning, naked, and after you have dropped the kids off at swim practice… that’s referring to pooping if you didn’t know….

Our most accurate weight is first thing in the morning and be happy because you will be the lightest at this time.  Throughout the day we eat food, drink water, and expend energy which all has a big impact on our weight.  Personally, my weight can shift more than 5 pounds throughout a day.

Another thing to consider for you ladies is weight fluctuation around your menstrual cycle.  It’s a good idea to avoid the scale around this time of the month because it won’t be accurate to your true weight.

If you were to look at a pound of body fat and a pound of pure muscle up close, their sizes would differ.  Muscle is more dense and compacted while fat is like a free-flowing agent that can squeeze itself almost anywhere in your body. Here’s a picture below.

fat vs muscle

For my female clients that have their main goal as losing weight, I try to get them to focus their goals on fat loss not simply weight loss.  I try to get their focus off of the scale and onto the way they feel (referring to energy and mood levels) and the way they feel about their body (body image).

I start first with getting them stronger and having good control over their body as far as stability and core control.  Along with this, we work on building muscle.


Because building muscle will make you stronger and allow you to handle harder and longer workouts.  The more muscle you have the more fat your body can use for energy thus the more fat you will be able to lose.

Along with this, it is very common for my female clients after the first month not to see the scale go down BUT they look and feel better and their measurements indicate that they have lost size in their waist and or hips.

How does this happen?

They have built muscle and burned off some fat so the scale evens out and from the looks of the scale, there has been no progress, but the tape measure, pictures, and how they see themselves tells a different story 

5. Too much cardio.

tire flip girl

Yes, this is a real thing if you haven’t heard about it already.

Why can this be a bad thing?

Bottom line, too much cardio can lead to muscle deterioration aka catabolization, aka muscle burning, aka NOT SOMETHING WE WANT IF OUR GOAL IS TO LOSE FAT.

Cardio is catabolic which means it breaks your body down.

Your body needs fuel (food/calories) to perform and when they are not present it can burn off stored muscle even when there is stored fat wanting to be used.  Along with mistake #2: not eating enough food, while on a low-calorie diet mixed with high amounts of cardio, you are basically offering your muscle up to be sacrificed.

Cardio in long durations can be treacherous to the body and can actually make you weaker.

Cardio itself is not bad, the right form of cardio in the right duration with the proper fuel can be beneficial.

Let me explain…

If your goal is to be an endurance athlete, then, by all means, do your long distance steady state cardio but make sure you have adequate amounts of protein, carbs and/or fats available for your body to use (carbs or fat for fuel and protein to spare your muscle).

But if your goal is fat loss then consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT).  It has been proven to be superior for long-term fat loss over steady state cardio.

How HIIT works is you push your body near maximal heart rate capacity for a short period of time, maybe 20-30 seconds, then you allow it to rest for at least double the amount of time or change activities.  You can do this on a bike, treadmill, or with different full body exercises.

You can get more done in less time with HIIT than with steady state cardio.  There is no need to be on the treadmill for hours a week.  You can get an effective HIIT session in 3 days a week for around 20 minutes and get good results.

If you are eating below your maintenance calorie consumption and are doing hours of cardio you are wasting your time and you will feel like crap.

back to back

So how many of these common mistakes are YOU making lady lifter?

Realize that changing one of these common mistakes may not catapult you into success but the combination of avoiding these mistakes along with consistency and planning head will move you in the direction you want to go.

Need clarification on any of these and how they relate to you?

Are there aspects of your training and/or nutrition that you are unsure about?

Go ahead and hit the “contact me” button below and ask me about what you are struggling with and I will respond to you personally.

To your best health,

Coach Kyle

Kyle Wilkinson