The last thing any of us want to hear after logging in countless sessions at the gym is that our efforts aren’t paying off due to a common exercise error that could be easily corrected. There are dozens of mistakes that even gym regulars make that can hinder your progress, potentially cause injury, and keep you from reaching your overall goals. Check out this list to see if you’re guilty of one of these fitness faux-pas, and read on for what to do instead.
1. You work out on an empty stomach.
Unless you’re just going for a light walk, most physical activity requires a fuel-up first. Think about it; you wouldn’t head out for a drive without putting gas in the tank, so don’t hit the gym without something in your stomach. Obviously, you don’t want to eat a huge meal that will weigh you down, but a light snack that provides a good source of carbs will help keep energy levels up throughout your workout and help you burn fat more effectively.
2. You don’t warm up first.
While it’s not a good idea to stretch while your muscles are still cold, a light warm up before a workout is important in the prevention of injury. Try walking or light cardio for five to ten minutes prior to beginning your workout routine.
4. You hit the gym without a plan.
It’s much easier to give up at the gym if you don’t have an idea of what you’re going to be doing before you go in. I have found that mapping out my workouts ahead of time helps to keep me on track and motivates me to work harder when I tell myself beforehand what I’m going to do. This also prevents you from aimlessly wandering around the gym or wasting time socializing mid-workout. You don’t have to keep a notebook filled with numbered instructions, but just having an idea of what exercises you’re going to do or what muscle group you’re going to work that day will help keep you focused.
3. You use bad form.
This is a really common one, even among weight lifters that seemingly know what they’re doing. Instead of observing others to perfect your form, stand in front of a mirror during each exercise so you can watch yourself. Maintain steady breathing, keep your back and shoulders aligned, and avoid jerking the weights. If you have to jerk them, they’re too heavy. Check out www.exrx.net for advice on the proper form for each individual exercise.
5. You rely too heavily on the handlebars.
This is a common gym error that easily goes unnoticed. Holding onto or leaning on the handrails on any cardio machine causes you to shift some of your body weight onto those handrails, meaning that you are not working as hard and are thus burning less calories. If you have to lean on the rails for support, you’re likely going too fast or too hard. Try easing up on the speed or incline enough so that you can get your heart rate up without relying on the handrails.
6. You use the same routine every day.
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the key to a successful workout program. You may know already that you shouldn’t work out the same muscle group two days in a row because the muscle fibers need time to repair themselves. However, even if you allow enough rest time in between, doing the same exercises each time will eventually cause you to hit a plateau (and it’s boring anyway!). Mix up your routine by incorporating new moves and machines, alternating between high and moderate intensity, or checking out a group class. Even changing the time that you work out will confuse your body and keep you on the way to reaching your goals.
7. You don’t hydrate during your workout.
Water is the single most important and abundant nutrient in the body, yet it has been estimated that up to 75% of Americans are mildly dehydrated every day. It is important to make sure you stay hydrated not only throughout the day, but especially during a workout, as your water stores get depleted as you sweat. Bring a water bottle with you to the gym and aim for a half-cup to one cup of water every 20 minutes during your workout.
8. You try to “spot-reduce” during exercise.
Crunches alone won’t trim that tummy!
I hear a lot of people, women especially, say that they don’t need to weight train except in the one or two areas they want to tone. They will then spend twenty minutes on just one machine in the hopes that doing so every day will take care of said problem area. The issue with this method is that it just doesn’t work that way. In order to lose fat in any one area of the body, you need an exercise routine that consists of cardio and total body strength training in addition to a healthy diet. If you struggle with extra fat in one specific area (hips, tummy, etc.), it’s likely that that particular area is just your first spot to gain weight and your last to lose. Combining a total-body weight training routine with plyometric cardio training will help put you in the fat-burning zone and help you lose that problem area for good!
9. You over-train.
I’d say it’s time for a rest day!
Working out too much, too long or without adequate rest can end up doing more harm than good. If a muscle isn’t given the time it needs to repair itself, it cannot grow stronger. Your body will end up burning more muscle than fat during your workouts, and you will stop seeing results despite the fact that you are training so much. Instead of working out harder, you need to be working out smarter. Keep your intensity up during workouts, but limit your sessions to under an hour, and make sure you allow yourself one to two recovery days each week.