Three reasons why it’s not always a great idea to copy others in the gym

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. (Actually,ย Charles Caleb Colton, 1780 – 1832, said it first.)

I’ve certainly seen a lot of it in my day.

University students ‘borrowing’ papers from friends and colleagues. Bloggers writing about the same topics, using the same words and nuance as their peers. Exercisers attempting moves that they’ve seen others performing in the gym.


While copying others’ moves in the gym won’t result in a failing grade, public humiliation or social ostracization, it may lead to injury, or even worse, lack of progress towards one’s health and fitness goals ๐Ÿ˜‰

In my job as a personal trainer, there have been many occasions when I’ve noticed a ‘tag along’. Someone who’s paying particular attention to a client and myself as we work through my client’s exercise program.

Many a time I’ve noticed the ‘copy cat’ performing the same exercise that I’d just taught to my client; often with too much weight and improper form (I’m a stickler for form…).

And once, the ‘impersonator’, being too far from us to hear my position and safety cues, actually fell off the back of a Bosu attempting to mimic the following exercise. (Watch the video so you don’t make the same mistakes when executing a Bosu Deck Squat and don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ it with your friends. Thanks!).

Three reasons why ‘monkey see-monkey do’ isn’t the best strategy in the gym

  • they exercise you’re copying might not be safe; just because some buff looking guy is pressing 30 pounds overhead while balancing single-legged on the flat side of a Bosu doesn’t mean that you should be too. Risk of injury is ever-present in the gym. Evaluate risk, taking your own fitness level and experience into consideration before trying to mimic a move.
  • the exercise you’re copying might be being performed with poor form; in order to simultaneously get results from a strength training program and reduce the likelihood of injury, movements need to be performed with proper form. Learning to dead lift by watching a novice weight lifter is a recipe for lower back pain.
  • the exercise you’re copying might not be effective; lots of the movements people perform in the gym do very little to improve their fitness. Either their weights are too light or their joints are moving through a limited range of motion at an unnatural angle or velocity.

Your best strategy to finding a strength training program that’s safe, effective and appropriate for YOUR goals is to hire a qualified personal trainer. Most gyms have them and if you’re particularly self-motivated and willing to focus on form before ‘fancy’, I just might have a couple of online training openings in the next month… Send me an email ( and tell me a bit more about yourself, your current fitness level and your short and long term goals.

Yours in health, fitness and safety ๐Ÿ˜‰



  1. I remember when I was a trainer and people who really couldnt afford a session (this was back in the DAY. the early 90s when training wasnt as affordable or common) would listen into my sessions and mimic later.
    It made sense to me in the “I cant afford this Im going to just do what I see Carla do with XXX” but as you say it was, at best, NOT EFFECTIVE for them and at worse something which would hurt them because the routine wasnt tailored to their limitations.
    Often Id spy them doing this and offer tips or tweaks when I could or suggestions on books/magazines to read for help assembling programs.
    As I type this Im realizing I was, perhaps, more benevolent in the 90s ๐Ÿ™‚

    **wraggles cane**
    Miz recently posted…Get into character for a healthy Halloween!My Profile

    • Benevolence is one of the reasons I started blogging. Not everybody can afford a trainer and I’d like to see as many people as possible exercising for health!

  2. LOVE!!!!!!!! This is so true Tamara! Not only do I so often see improper form BUT the dreaded way too much weight & risk of injury for sure! We all have out own goals, different body types & more. I know I have said it way too often here but what I do will most likely not work for 90% of others but it works for me.. it has always been about what works for me in the gym & safety & proper form as I wrote about yesterday. And I wrote on Carla’s wall – I love seeing al the amazing handstands & crossfit stuff but just not right for me now – I would have tried in my 40’s & younger though. It still amazes me how much my bod & what I do & should do has changed from 50 on…


    BTW, have not done that move in ever & going to next week! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have so many in my arsenal that I forget the ones I did years or even months ago. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…I’m A Dancer; Time Off Felt Good!My Profile

    • Hi Jody,
      Agreed. Always best to work up to heavy lifts to avoid injury. We’ve both been there, right?

  3. I love this post – so true about the copying and not quite getting the form right.
    And, like Jody, I’ve never seen that move – thank you for the demo and tips – can’t wait to give it a try!!!
    Kim recently posted…My Pre-Halloween ScareMy Profile

    • Thanks Kim! And thanks so much for your shout outs on the blog and Twitter. It’s a great move, don’t you think? And much harder to execute than it looks like!

  4. Great post. Since I usually workout at home I don’t see others working out much, except at hotel gyms, where I often see guys using more momentum than muscle to zip through a zillion bicep curls …. I am not impressed, let alone tempted to copy. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Coco recently posted…All Hallow’s Eve Book ReviewsMy Profile

    • Coco, gotta love that momentum rather than muscle approach! I rarely copy moves I see in the gym; but I do love to watch a couple of the very advanced members of my gym who can do crazy strong things like handstand pushups!

  5. Well I haven’t seen that move either and I am not going to be trying it! haha I actually thought about buying a BOSU a couple of weeks ago and was appalled at the cost of them! But I do agree with the gist of your post! I am always very careful to read about a new move an view video a few times before trying it.

    • Elle, I just adore my Bosu. The kids and I play on it all the time! Check out Craigslist; maybe you can get a second hand one for less money. They are expensive, but a wonderful addition to your home workout toolbox!

  6. This reminds me of an episode of Will & Grace where Grace copies the moves she sees a training showing at the gym and then wonders why no results. I totally agree with you though – it’s no good to try to copy what you see someone else doing without the right information, form, weight, etc. This is one of the reasons I think the personal training profession is so important. Unfortunately, the copy cats are, in my opinion, the ones who would benefit from our services but don’t understand the value.
    Alicen recently posted…November Carnival of Well-BeingMy Profile

    • Alicen, I must have missed that episode! I love the actor who plays Will. Wasn’t there also a Seinfeld episode where Elaine did the same?
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  7. This is why I get a trainer! I need someone to tell me what to do, and I know me copying others isn’t smart because their goals may very well not be my goals!!! Plus, even if I copy them, I could still be doing the work out wrong and the last thing I want is to HURT myself!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Lana Del Rey Misses Summertime SaladsMy Profile

  8. I’m doing a runner-specific workout given by my personal trainer. Your advice actually makes me happy because I’m a bit shy in the gym – and now I know no one should be watching and copying me!

    I like your video – you explain things clearly and with a dash of humour! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Bradley recently posted…10 Memories โ€“ Why Iโ€™m Running for MomMy Profile


  1. […] is one that Tamara (Fitknitchick) demoed the other day – a BOSU deck squat.  (Check out her site because her video is great – lots of tips on the proper way to […]

  2. […] is one that Tamara (Fitknitchick) demoed the other day – a BOSU deck squat.  (Check out her site because her video is great – lots of tips on the proper way to […]

  3. […] Three Reasons Why it’s Not Always a Great Idea to Copy Others in the Gym. Just because you see the buff guy at the gym doing a particular exercise doesn’t mean you […]