Skip to content

Exercising at Home? Never Make These Mistakes, Say Experts

How to make your home gym a safe and effective space for reaching your fitness goals.

If the last 16 months taught us anything about getting fit and healthy, it's that we don't necessarily need gleaming, state-of-the-art gyms that cost $299/month in order to sweat more and get lean. In fact, we only need a few square feet in our homes, maybe a virtual instructor via Youtube, and only the barest essentials of equipment. That being said, just because you can exercise effectively at home doesn't mean that there aren't several no-nos you should be avoiding for the sake of your workout and for the sake of your personal safety.

With that in mind, we reached out to scores of doctors, trainers, and other fitness professionals with a single question in mind: "What are the mistakes we shouldn't make if we're choosing to get fit in the comforts of our own homes?" What follow are their answers. So read on, and make sure you're getting the best workout you can, whether it's in your basement, your garage, or your bedroom. And for some great fitness news you can use—at home or at the gym—read about the surprising Side Effect of Lifting Weights Just 2 Days Per Week.

You're Working Out Too Late in the Day

Young girl doing fitness outdoors at night.

While it's great to be able to squeeze in a workout whenever you like, if you're looking for quality sleep, you'd be wise to avoid sweating in the hours before you start to power down in the evening, says Bruce Forman, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in treating insomnia. "One of the things you should avoid is getting physical exercise within three hours of bedtime," he advises. "Why? Because body temperature is one of two processes that regulate sleep. The other is light. Body temperature increases during exercise, which stimulates wakefulness. Instead, the body needs to cool slightly to promote easy sleep onset." And for more great sleep advice, check out why It's Worse to Sleep on This Side of Your Body, Says Science.

You're Choosing a Jerk for a Virtual Trainer

Young sporty slim woman coach internet video online fitness training instructor modern laptop screen. Healthy lifestyle concept, online fitness and sport lessons.

If you met your trainer online or on Youtube, there's at least one question you need to ask yourself, says James Rossow, a trainer and founder of Resilient Bodies Fitness and Sports Rehabilitation based in the United Kingdom: Do they strike you as more of a boot-camp instructor than a compassionate motivator? If so, it's a red flag that they don't know what they're doing.

"Is your virtual instructor encouraging and motivating? Or are they just out-right pushing you too hard, too soon?," he asks. "Also, have you shared with them what your recent fitness journey is and what your goals are?"

If not, you'd be smart to stick to online instructors who a) have real fitness certifications, b) are offering bodyweight-based exercises for the sake of your safety, c) they're taking you through a workout that isn't beyond your fitness level, and d) they'll motivate you with positivity, helpful encouragement, and are sticklers for proper form.

"Avoid too much volume and intensity too quickly," says Rossow. "If you've typically been quite sedentary, don't just go all out trying to keep up with a fitness instructor. Loading up too quickly is just a fast-track to injury!" For more on choosing a proper instructor, don't miss The Dangers of Taking a Virtual Fitness Class, Say Experts.

You're Exercising on the Wrong Surface

woman jumping rope outside

"One of the most common mistakes people make when they start working out at home is working out on the wrong surface," says Kyle Risley, founder and CEO of the workout company Lift Vault. "For example, jumping rope is an extremely good source of cardio but many people jump rope on a hard surface—like their driveway—which can result in conditions like shin splints due to repeatedly jumping on the rock hard surface."

The solution, he says, is to "jump rope either on a soft surface like grass, or to have some padded foam under you."

You're Not Wearing Proper Footwear

headphones and running shoes

Just because you're working out at home doesn't mean that you get to exercise in a robe and slippers. You need to treat your home gym like the gym, and that means wearing proper fitness clothing and shoes.

"It's so tempting to forego your supportive shoes and socks when you're working out at home—especially if it's hot out," says Jeanette DePatie, CPT, author of The Fat Chick Works Out! and founder of Everybody Can Exercise. "But if your workout requires shoes (like aerobics or step class), wear them along with any orthotics [shoe insoles] you might wear out at the gym." And if you love to walk for exercise, make sure you're aware of The Secret Cult Walking Shoe That Walkers Everywhere Are Totally Obsessed With.

You're Using an Old Leg-Extension Machine

leg extensions

If the events of 2020 finally gave you the opportunity to dust off some ancient fitness equipment in your basement, you'd be wise to avoid at least one specific type of machine: The leg extension. "If anyone has an old leg extension machine, this should not be used at home for quad strengthening," says Mark Slabaugh, MD, at Sports Medicine Orthopaedic Surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland. "Leg extension machines are notorious for inducing anterior knee pain because they are what we call 'open chain exercises.' There are much better ways to strengthen the quads, such as air squats, single-leg pistol grip squats, and, of course, Yoga or spinning to help increase your quad bulk and tone."

You're Not Taking Your Workout Seriously Enough

at home workout

It's all too easy to go too easy on yourself if you're exercising in your bedroom. So be mindful to get in a proper workout. "The biggest mistake when working out from home is not taking it seriously and not being intentional," says Cooper Mitchell, the founder of Garage Gym Reviews. "You should always have some goals in mind and make sure your following workouts that get you closer to achieving them."

DePatie agrees. "It's important to match your at home activity to your fitness level," she says. "You don't want it too easy. You should still be putting effort in to get benefit out. But you don't want to go crazy and do something way too hard either. For aerobic exercise, you should be able to talk in short sentences but not sing. That means you are probably exercising at the right level."

But at the Same Time, You're Maxing Out

Muscular female athlete lifting heavy weights at gym. Fitness woman doing weightlifting exercise at health club.

Just as you shouldn't go too easy, you definitely shouldn't go too hard—especially in the case of lifting heavy weights. "Don't lift heavy when you are home alone," advises Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS, CCSP, EMR, also known as "the Pittsburgh Chiropractor." "It is never a good idea to lift heavy or try to reach your PR/1RM when you are by yourself. Having someone around is vital. Syncopal events [when you pass out] can happen when trying to max out weight—and having one with no one around is a recipe for disaster."

You're Buying Equipment You Don't Use

Sporty woman training on walking treadmill at home, closeup

If you love to cycle, that Peloton will be worth every penny. If you're passionate about rowing, then—by all means—fork out $2,500 for that WaterRower. But if you're buying fancy equipment for the sake of buying—and not actually using the equipment so much—you'll only demotivate yourself.

"During the pandemic, it was impossible to get your hands on standard gym equipment, so we saw a massive surge in a number of home fitness machines," says Johnny Alexander, DC, a chiropractor, physiologist, and trainer. "We saw 'The Mirror' from Lululemon, the MYX Plus, the NordicTrack, and, of course, the Peloton—and a number of other unique inventions. All of these machines are just another tool to be used. If you are going to make strides while working out at home, you need to be using a machine that you can fall in love with."

According to Alexander, if you're building a home gym and you'll actually use any of those machines, then go for it, but usually, when it comes to home fitness, less is better. "There is also a much simpler way to achieve your goals," he says. "Resistance bands, a kettlebell, and a single pair of dumbbells can become all you need." And if you'd really like to keep things simple, see here for What Walking for Just 20 Minutes Does to Your Body, According to Science.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William