Being both a personal trainer and working with athletes, I spend a good chunk of my day watching people work out. Needless to say, not everyone is perfect and I see a fair amount of mistakes being made. Exercise can be wonderfully beneficial to your health, sleep and maintaining weight loss. However, many go in with good intentions and not a lot of guidance. So, I want to go over the most common exercise mistakes that I see (and you may be making) and how to do it the right way.
Mistake #1: Forgetting to Foam Roll and Stretch. Waltzing into the gym first thing in the morning and going right to the biggest barbell you see to start lifting it is a big mistake. If you don’t foam roll or stretch before going to the gym, you’re not only putting yourself at risk for injury, but you may not be getting the most out of your workout. Our bodies experience muscle tightness just from going through daily activities, but especially if you work a desk job or spend a lot of time during the day sitting. If you don’t foam roll your muscles to loosen this tightness, you could pull something just from lifting light weights. Trust me, it’s happened to me! What’s more is that if your muscles are tight, they don’t activate and engage properly during your workout, making your workout less effective.
Solution: Spent at least 10 minutes foam rolling and stretching your muscles (especially your hip and thigh areas if you spend a lot of time sitting) before doing any form of workout. If you experience lower back pain, you are likely suffering from muscle tightness and this will make your workouts not only feel much easier, but make them much more safe and effective.
Mistake #2: Not Fueling Your Body Correctly. One big misconception people have is that, because they’re working out, they shouldn’t eat. I mean, you don’t want to undo all of that hard work with calories right? As we’ve mentioned in the past, this is not the best way to approach exercise. It’s true you need to be eating less than you’re burning if weight loss is your goal, but if you skip meals entirely not only are you going to be burning muscle during that workout (which we never want), but you won’t have enough energy to put in the effort needed to make it worth doing.
Solution: Eat a carb-rich meal 3-4 hours before a heavy workout, or a high-carb snack (i.e. a banana or other piece of fruit, toast and jam, low-fiber cereal or even chocolate milk) an hour before exercising to give your body enough energy to pump out an effective workout. Probably more importantly, though, be sure to fuel your body back up with a protein shake or a meal with at least 20 grams of high-quality, lean protein within 2 hours of finishing your workout. This will help your body repair, rebuild and recover from your exercise before you go to work out again and help get you through the rest of your day.
Mistake #3: Not Having a Plan. As a trainer, I’ve spent a lot of time just watching people as I was prospecting the gym for clients and it’s very easy to tell when someone doesn’t have a plan. They wander around the gym, trying out random machines without any real rhyme or reason. They are working muscle groups that don’t make sense and don’t complete full sets. It’s clear they walked in with a “just gonna work out” mindset, but didn’t plan what they were going to do beforehand. This is an easy way to self-sabotage. Without a plan in place as to what you’re going to do before you get to the gym, it’s more difficult for you to form a habit around exercise, you’re more likely to give up on working out before you likely should and it’s hard to track your progress if you aren’t consistent in what you’re doing every day.
Solution: Make yourself a spreadsheet or even a list on your phone of what exercises you’re going to do on what days long before you make it to the gym. Giving yourself some structure will help to give you a solid outline that you can stick with and look forward to.
Mistake #4: Only Doing Cardio. We really need to get rid of this myth that cardio is the only way to lose weight or stay in shape. Yes, cardio is wonderful in terms of helping you improve your heart health and conditioning you to not get winded when you get to the top of a flight of stairs, but studies have shown that doing a combination of cardio with other forms of exercise that challenge our strength like weightlifting and yoga is more effective at making you a fitter person and controlling weight.
Solution: Limit cardio sessions to 2-3 days a week and spend your other exercise days doing strength training, yoga, pilates or another form of exercise. When you do do cardio, I recommend HIIT (high-intensity interval training) regardless of what your goals are. This form of cardio is not only quicker and more efficient than just running mindlessly on a treadmill, but has been shown to be more effective at burning fat when strength training is also in your exercise regimen.
Mistake #5: Not Letting Yourself Rest. One mantra in fitness culture that makes me cringe is “no days off!” Idolizing going hard in the gym 7 days a week does give people a sense of nobility and accomplishment, but is very counterproductive and even harmful to your body. It puts you at risk for overtraining which is a condition I see a lot in athletes who are preparing for competition and pushing themselves to their limits, but it comes with major drawbacks. Muscle pain, appetite disruption, insomnia, irritability and even depression can come with overworking your body with exercise. It can also majorly hinder your progress if performance enhancement or muscle growth is your goal.
Solution: Give yourself 1-2 days of total rest during the week. This means no exercise at all! No yoga, no jogging, no speed walking. These rest days are critical for your mental health and life balance so you don’t feel like you’re spending your life in the gym. It’s also critical for giving your body a chance to recover from all of your exercise so it can work to rebuild your muscle, replenish your energy and give your body a breather from all of the stress of working out.