The Five Fibs Your Gym Is Telling You

The first gym I joined was a tiny basement gym that opened in our neighborhood in 1985 when “gyms” were just becoming a “thing”. My friend Vikki and I joined and “worked out” the suggested three times a week. We lifted dumbbells and did sit-ups and, in fact, had no idea what we were doing. We loved it.

I was done for. I had become a gym junkie. I found myself addicted to that mystical feeling that occurs when you cross through the doors of a gym. You walk a little taller and feel a little more confident just because you showed up. I believe there is an electrical charge attached to the space between all those people moving around. I have held memberships to approximately 25 different gyms since I was 15.

As a gym rat, I have found through vast experience there are statements often made by gym employees and management that are not accurate. “Fibs” if you will. I am here to bring these fibs to light and share with you the truth of the matter. Read on enthusiastic fitness person. 


The Five Fibs Your Gym Is Telling You.

  • “Just sit here and do some ab crunches on this machine.” I am pretty sure no one is going to argue that we humans were never intended to sit for extended periods of time. We are UPRIGHT beings, bi-pedal, meant to be walking and running around. Considering how much we sit during our regular day, it perplexes me to see how many people are told to “sit” to work out. My gym has a large central area of dozens of pieces Nautilus type equipment.  Most of this equipment has you sitting while performing the expected exercise. Why would they do that? You have to remember why weight training machines were invented in the first place. Originally, fitness equipment was designed to isolate and define muscle for body-builders. This intention of isolation was never corrected when average folks like you and I started using weight machines. So, historically we were all trained to “isolate” the muscle we were working. Small problem, LIFE does not isolate muscles. Climbing over a fence, stacking wood and carrying in groceries does not isolate muscles. So the more we can integrate many muscles into one exercise the better! Be gone seated abdominal machine (that one I NEVER understood) and welcome Mr. plank. Can you get great change from using weight resistance machines that have you seated? Of course, however, I don’t know about you but I am busy! I want a workout that is going to give me the best results, the most quickly. I want a workout that integrates all the opposing and supportive musculature, so my body strengthens in a balanced way with less risk of injury. Unless you have some serious injury that actually requires training muscles in isolation for rehabilitation purposes, you should be doing integrated movements to train into your fitness functionally. In other words, stop sitting while slinging weights.


  • “Just follow the workout we did today, two to three times a week.” I love this one. I see it all the time with clients and patients that are new to working out at a gym. They have been handed a piece of paper with their workout on it to be performed in the same way and order every time they go to the gym.  “Where do I go next? Oh, yes the triceps extension machine.” Here is the issue. Your body is freaking smart. It is wired to do any task as efficiently as possible so it can conserve energy. Think about when you learned to ride a bike. All synapses were firing, and every muscle was working to coordinate the movement but after doing it for awhile it became mindless. Your body learned to create efficiencies throughout the movement thereby conserving the maximum amount of energy. A set routine of ten exercises is going to result in the same thing. At first you are going to fatigue and subsequently strengthen the muscles as your body accommodates to handle the activity. But after a short period your body will do the equivalent of sitting back, feet up on the desk, eating a jelly donut. We have to keep our bodies challenged every time we work out! We either have to make the exercise heavier, more intense or a surprise. Those are the only ways to keep our bodies from getting board and compromising our fitness potential.


  • “Our personal trainers are highly qualified professionals.” Personal trainers are fantastic. Because not too many of us know the ins and outs of effective and safe fitness we need trainers! But, and that is a big BUTTTT, not all trainers are not at all created equal. There is a  chasm of space between a trainer who has an undergraduate degree in physiology, a master’s in human performance and an athletic trainer certificate, compared to the Joe Schmoe, who got his personal trainer certification in a short, self-directed, no hands-on internet course. I am pretty confident I would not want a trainer who had never actually lifted a kettlebell, to be training me how to use one. You? When selecting a trainer get a personal referral, find out about their background, ask what certifications they hold and inquire about their philosophy regarding fitness and training. Also, ask them if they are going to make you sit to workout!?!


  •  “You should really take a break between sets.” If you would like to take a break between sets of weights you certainly can. If you want to get some water, socialize or check your phone, be my guest. But, the concept that a set of lifting weights has to be followed by a short break is unfounded and frankly limits the fitness gains you can make by doing a series of exercises back to back. I am a big fan of Tabata workouts where the rest periods between periods of efforts are minimal. (Ten seconds or enough time to get into position for the next exercise set). My philosophy of fitness is that I want to be able to survive any physical challenge that life has to throw at me. I am pretty sure an advancing attacker is not going to stop to let me take breaks between sprints away from him. Just my thinking.


  • “The display says you burned 500 calories on the cardio equipment today.” Oh no, you didn’t! Calorie display is likely the biggest fib at the gym. That little display, telling you how many calories you burned after your thirty-minute elliptical stint is wrong. It is not only wrong it is undoubtedly inflated. Cardio equipment’s “calories burned displays” are about as accurate as my dart throwing after one beer (not very). According to an article on SparkPeople, written by Jennipher Walters, cardio equipment manufacturers test their equipment using big men. So the calorie counter is based on some large dude that burns excessive amounts of calories just by smiling at you. The only way to be confident of “calories burned” during a stint of cardio is to wear a heart rate monitor (buy here). So which cardio machines are the biggest fibbers? According to a study done at University of California, San Francisco, elliptical machines were the most optimistic. They overestimated calories expenditures by a whopping 42 percent (I know, I am devastated as well.)


I look back on all the practices I had when I first started weight training and giggle. (Mostly it was my gym outfits that were laughable – blue spandex, and a lot of it! ). Fortunately, recent research reveals the most effective and efficient ways to exercise. Luckily, we have more access to that information than ever before. Be a savvy gym member. Go in educated, eyes open, and your experience will be far superior. Now go kick some weights around! 


You might also really like these posts! 

Three Body Surprizing Workouts

HIIT Me With Your Best Shot-How To Get Exceptional Results From Your Workout In Half The Time.


Next time you are at the gym, complete your workout with rapid step-ups on a bench. Do twenty per side as quickly as you can to add a cardio burst at the close of your efforts. 


25 Responses

    1. I agree, Wendy. I was recently looking online to see base qualifications and it is kinda scary. What training does a CrossFit coach have to undergo?

  1. Great information. I don’t workout on my own much, but I take a lot of classes. It’s pretty easy to tell who is qualified to teach and who is not.

  2. This is a great list and stuff people need to know. Thanks for sharing it. I remember when someone told me for the first time that the calorie count on those machines wasn’t accurate I was heart broken lol but when it was explained it made a lot of sense. Now I take it with a grain of salt and assume I’ve probably burned half that amount.

  3. Sigh… I knew about the lying cardio machines… but it still makes me sad (though once I hit 800 calories running in under an hour and thought… no…)

    I try not to wait to long between sets, or to do many seated machines, so these tips are reinforcing my (hopefully) good behaviours! Though I definitely need to be switching up my workout a bit more than I do :S

    1. I know, right Laura? I too wish it was accurate. Once I was inline skating and I wore a heart rate monitor. I was sure I had done at least 500 because of what I was used to getting at the gym when I looked at the calorie read out on the machine. Nope. 225, for like forty minutes! Reality check. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Great post! So true! I also believed the `30 days to a better body` plans. I was really committed to one and hadn’t seen the results I wanted and my husband who is DPT was like- uhhhh, it takes AT LEAST 8-9 weeks to see results you are going for (since I was trying to gain muscle not lose water weight). Now I am so much aware and see those plans everywhere! Grrr. See, your post got me all up in arms 🙂

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Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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