10 common fitness mistakes you might be making
with advice from Mark Salandra, CSCS
and Lodi Physical Therapy
Hopefully those New Years’ resolutions have paid off. You’re eating healthier and working out more, and maybe your clothes are a little bit looser. But have you thought about what could be holding you back or putting you at risk of an injury? Here are some common errors you might be making at the gym.
- You walked in without a plan.
Many people — especially those that are going for the first time (or the first time in a long time) — walk into the gym and wing it, with no sense of how they are going to structure their workouts. But if you walk in without a plan, how can you expect to make progress, asks Mark Salandra, the founder of StrengthCondition.com (one of Physiquality’s partner programs). Mark advises, “Write down a workout plan: Map out all your workouts to the set. Figure out your goals and set a plan to get there.” (Need a workout journal? Check out Physiquality partner fitbook™ journals for tracking your workouts and diet.)
There are many ways to set such goals. Mark suggests reading books, doing research on the internet, or even taking advantage of the trainers the gym makes available. He points out that they can advise you on proper form, the right machines for you, the frequency of your workouts and — most importantly — creating a workout plan.
- You’re lifting weight for the body you have, not the body you think you want.
Both men and women do this for different reasons, note the physical therapists at Lodi Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member in Lodi, California. They point out that men tend to lift weight that is too heavy, in order to gain muscle mass quickly. Women, on the other hand, reach for the weights that are too light because they are afraid of bulking up.
Recent studies show that you don’t need to lift heavy weights to gain muscle. According to Lodi PT, men and women alike should start with lifting a weight that can be used for 30 reps on the first set, then 15 on subsequent sets of reps. The goal is to complete the reps with enough energy remaining to continue your workout, without exhausting yourself in one spurt. For example, if working out with a 15-pound weight leaves you spent after a set or two of reps, try dropping down to a 10-pound weight so you’re able to complete more sets with energy remaining for the rest of your workout.
- You’re lifting weights incorrectly.
Lifting heavy amounts of weight with improper form is a great way to a quick injury. When considering your form, think about two things:
- Use muscle to move weight, rather than momentum and leverage.
- Pay attention to your range of motion.
Rather than hoisting weight for a quick pump, move slowly and with control. Using the core to stabilize the body — and keeping your muscles tense while lifting slowly — allows you to achieve maximum muscular tension. Lifting this way is much more difficult, and much more productive. And be sure to only use the amount of weight that will allow you to work through the entire range of motion in your joints. This will challenge more of the muscles in your targeted area, giving you a better workout.
- You’re forgetting the muscles that count.
Many of us are guilty of targeting our biggest and most visible muscles, forgetting about the smaller ones that protect our joints, like the hips and shoulders. The physical therapists at Lodi PT advocate working those in order to be more limber and to increase your range of motion. (The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has published a series of strengthening programs, including those for hips and shoulders, online; talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if these exercises would be right for you.)
- You’re spending too much time on the cardio machines.
We know that aerobic activity does wonders for your health. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting the maximum benefits from these machines, because they either aren’t pacing themselves or using the machines correctly. For example, setting the resistance at the highest level on the elliptical machine can lead to poor posture during your workout while jarring your shoulders and elbows. Lodi PT’s experts advise challenging yourself while being able to maintain your natural gait and proper form.
In addition, they suggest mixing up your cardio routine — it will make your workouts more efficient and reduce your chances of burning out. One of the most efficient ways to decrease fat is to simultaneously work multiple muscle groups. Machines like rowing ergometers make cardio more efficient by working more muscle groups, thus burning more calories.
- You’re not varying your exercise enough.
Routine can be good — it helps you stay in the habit of working out. But it can also make you complacent, both mentally and physically. Mark points out, “A workout strengthens your body by taking you beyond your comfort zone.” He recommends changing exercises in your workout plan every now and then. Switch your cardio from the treadmill to the stationary bike. Use a barbell instead of dumbbells. Or take a class instead of doing your usual circuit training.
- You’re doing too much at once.
When you have a goal in mind, like weight loss or a long-distance run, it can be easy to push, and push, and push too much. The key is to listen to your body. If you notice that you are having pain before, during or after exercise, and it lasts for a while, it may be time to take a break. If the pain persists, consider seeing your doctor or consulting a physical therapist.
- You haven’t been eating properly.
This doesn’t just mean cutting out junk food or desserts. Mark reminds readers that nutrients like protein and vitamins are key to rebuilding muscles after a workout. Make sure that what you take in each meal furthers your fitness goals, rather than hurting them. Choose lean meat, fruits and vegetables over processed and fatty foods. And be sure to eat regularly, to keep your metabolism going and to maintain your energy for working out.
- You’re working out without stretching.
Our joints need a certain amount of mobility and flexibility in order to move effectively and efficiently. Stretching out before a workout can minimize stiffness during your workout and help improve muscle movement. In addition, stretching after exercise, especially those muscles and tissues where you often feel tightness, has been shown to reduce injury as well.
- You’re not incorporating rest into your routine.
The act of working out is a traumatic experience for your body. Mark notes that the more rested you are, the better you’ll perform. “It is only after your workout, when you are resting and replenishing your body with protein and other nutrients, when the body heals and gets stronger,” he says. “This is why I live by the motto, ‘Train hard, but rest harder.'”
||Mark Salandra, CSCS, is the founder of StrengthCondition.com, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Mark educates and trains athletes young and old in strength and conditioning, with the goals of better fitness and lower rates of injury.
|Lodi Physical Therapy is a Physiquality network clinic established in 1963 as one of the first private practice physical therapy facilities in Northern California. In addition to clinical physical therapy, Lodi PT offers specialized programs as varied as gym membership, aquatic therapy and running rehabilitation.
For further information, look through our selection of articles on sports and fitness, in addition to the below links:
Lodi Physical Therapy. Common fitness mistakes you may be making. Therapy, Sports and Health Blog, September 23, 2013.
Cicarello, Joanne. What to consume before, during and after exercise. Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2013.
Reynolds, Gretchen. Ask Well: More repetitions vs. more weight? New York Times, April 5, 2013.
Reynolds, Gretchen. The right reasons to stretch before exercise. New York Times, November 16, 2011.
Gomez, Stephen. 10 worst fitness mistakes. MyDailyMoment.com.
Stein, Jeannine. Pump the heart rate up, then down, up, down… Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2008.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Hatfield, Heather. Kick it up with cardio exercise. WebMD, December 1, 2005.