Beginners, exercise junkies and even trainers are often guilty of these common fitness blunders during workouts, even though they could destroy your weight loss results, waste your workout time and even lead to serious injury. Avoid these 7 common exercise mistakes to make sure that your workouts are effective, efficient, and will win you the weight loss results you’re working so hard for.
1. Watching Television or Reading While Exercising
It’s understandable – when you’re doing the same cardio routine week in and week out, you can start to feel like a rat running on a hamster wheel. So, to try and get through thirty minutes of boring, repetitive monotony, a lot of people pair their cardio with mind-numbing distractions like watching television, reading a book, browsing through a magazine or catching up on emails. While these attempts to bite the bullet and stick with it are commendable, they can seriously reduce the effectiveness of your fat-blasting cardio training. That’s because all of these distractions require you to try and maintain a steady frame of vision. By focusing on watching television or reading, your brain unconsciously slows down the movements of your body, thereby minimizing your speed and lowering your intensity level – in other words, you end up skimping on all of the factors that could otherwise make your cardio training effective at successfully blasting fat and improving your heart health, which is why you bother to do it in the first place. Get much more out of your cardio training in less time by doing away with visual distractions, and tune your mind into the full movements, intensity and speed of the exercise instead. Keep the interest level fresh by changing up the cardio exercises you choose week to week, and motivate yourself to give it your all with high energy, high tempo music that will make that cardio session fly by before you know it.
2. Skipping the Warm Up
You want to exercise to lose weight but, like most people, you’re tight on workout time – so who can blame you for wanting to get in and get out as fast as possible? That’s why the first thing that commonly gets cut from the workout equation is the warm up. And yet, the whole point of a warm up is to give your muscles and joints the critical boost of blood and oxygen they require to perform the exercises you’re about to put them through. Research shows that energy level, flexibility, strength, injury protection and overall physical performance significantly improves when exercise is done with “warm” muscles, as opposed to going in cold. Furthermore, the reality is that you can’t actually skip the warm up segment, even if you wanted to. By dropping your “official” warm up and launching straight into intense part of the routine, all you’ve done is turned the first chunk of your workout into the de facto warm up – only now you aren’t able to perform the exercises half as well as you could have if you had warmed up first. Without a warm up, the most intense part of your workout ends up lower in intensity and less effective at burning fat and toning muscle anyway.
3. Lifting weights that are too light or too heavy.
Lifting weights or other forms of resistance are a critical part of working out, helping you develop fat-burning muscle tissue and a lean, firm and attractive physique. Fear of “bulking up” leads a lot of women to stick to very light weights during strength training, while others grab extremely heavy weights in order to put on a lot of mass quickly (or to impress onlookers). To make your muscles grow and improve, you have to push them beyond their current abilities with weights that are heavy enough to “do damage” – literally! You have to lift weights that are heavy enough to create tiny tears in your muscle tissue; that way, when your body activates to repair the damaged muscle tissue (a process which also leads to fat burning), it rebuilds the muscle even stronger than it was before, creating a stronger, toned and tighter looking body. On the other hand, wasting your time lifting weights over and over again that don’t challenge you (or that don’t have you struggling to go on by about the eighth repetition) offers little to no muscular improvement or fat burning effect. Then there’s the other extreme: lifting weights that are too heavy isn’t such a good idea either. If you aren’t able to perform the weighted exercise with the proper form, through the full range of motion, or are burning out by the second or third lift, than you may get better results – and less injury – from scaling down on the weights, performing the exercise properly, and then gradually building the weight back up again.
4. Modifying an exercise before you are ready.
Modifying an exercise by introducing a balance element – for example, standing on one leg while lifting a barbell, elevating one leg on a Bosu ball while doing squats, or sitting on a stability ball while lifting dumbbells – forces your core muscles to activate to keep you from falling. A balance modification is a great way to challenge more muscles at the same time while doing common strength training exercises. But a lot of trainers and exercisers take this concept too far, and try to turn just about every exercise into a balancing act, far before the exerciser is ready. Unless you have already perfected your form and performance of an exercise with both feet on the ground, adding a challenging stability element too soon and too often just ends up distracting you from working the main target muscles of the exercise properly, which is the main reason for performing that exercise. – the whole point of doing that exercise. Only once you’ve perfected a particular exercise, in terms of proper form, performance and endurance, should you consider upping the challenge level by introducing a new stability challenge. Moreover, you don’t need to be off-balance in order to engage your core muscles. It’s perfectly possible – and advisable – to work out your abs and core muscles by consciously contracting them throughout every exercise you do, even with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
5. Straining your neck during exercise
Once upon a time, high school gym teachers use to tell us to look up at the ceiling or down at the floor when performing sit-ups, squats or weight lifting, and to this day, that’s the way a lot of people continue to perform these exercises. However, we now know that these sorts of neck craning positions are responsible for straining the small, delicate muscles of our necks, often leading to chronic pain and injuries. To protect your vulnerable neck muscles during your workout, it’s important to think of your neck line as an extension of your upper back. Essentially, your neck should be doing what your upper back is doing. So if you’re doing an exercise that has your upper back slightly curled forward (like during an ab crunch), then allow the line of your neck to lengthen and continue this curvature by gently curling it forward; this curl should only be a slight neck adjustment, without bending it too severely or causing your chin to jam down into your chest. Or, if you are performing a plank, a back exercise or a superman pose, then allow your neck to extend only as far as it maintains the direction of your upper back, resisting the temptation to drop your head down or to crane your neck back and glue your eyes on the ceiling. Extreme neck bends like these can strain the muscles and ligaments of your neck, leading to discomfort, pain and injury.
6. Not Taking A Rest Day
A general rule of thumb for strength training is to focus each workout on only one or two specific muscle groups (like leg muscles, or core muscles), and then to let those muscle groups rest for at least 48 hours before exercising them again (during which you can workout other muscle groups, like arm, shoulder and chest muscles). Rotating the muscle groups you exercise every day is critical; it allows different parts of your body to rest, which is when muscle repair occurs. This muscle repair process is necessary to make your body stronger, more toned and more lean while burning up major calories. But if you keep working the same muscle groups every day, over and over again to exhaustion, then your body doesn’t get a chance to perform this repair work, which ultimately cancels out these beneficial effects. People think they are maximizing their results by working out every single day, never giving their bodies a chance to recoup, rebuild, recover and restock their resources. But not taking regular days off can actually lead to a weight loss plateau and a performance decline. Worse yet, it can also lead to mental and motivational burn-out. When strength training, make sure to never workout the same muscle groups two days in a row. Also, once a week, give yourself a day off from all forms of intense exercise so that you can rest up and rear up for another exciting exercise-packed week.
7. Not changing your workout routine
No matter how hard-working and ambitious your mental game may be, the truth is that your body is actually quite a lazy machine. It’s always looking for the simplest and most effortless ways to perform daily functions, and it’s always finding ways to thoughtlessly adapt to all of the heavy challenges you throw at it. This is why, when you do the same sets of exercises week in and week out in the exact same ways, your body starts to streamline the way it responds to those exercises. The result is that your weight loss progress and muscular development start to slow down and, eventually, start to plateau. While it’s often easier to follow the same repetitive routine every week – especially when they’ve gained you some fantastic results when you first started them – you have to keep switching it up every few weeks to give your body a fresh challenge and kick it back into improvement mode. Changing exercise routines and workout approaches also keeps you from getting bored and helps to make exercising fun, motivating and exciting. These changes don’t always have to be major ones – they could involve nothing more than jogging outside instead of indoors on a treadmill, or slowing down the tempo when you strength train. Or you could shake things up by trying a new sport, new equipment, or a new group fitness class.