Embarking on an exercise program is one of the best things you can do to support your health. Not only will you experience more energy and enhanced ability to participate in daily activities, but you’ll also reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases ranging from heart disease to diabetes.
The key is understanding what your goals are – what you want to achieve – and then devising a plan to achieve them. And while any movement is better than none, it’s important to ensure your workout is worthwhile. After all, if you’re not exercising correctly, you may not reap the benefits of movement – or worse, you could put yourself at risk of injury.
Here are seven common fitness mistakes I frequently see people make – and how to avoid them!
1. Overtraining. In today’s “all or nothing” society, it’s not uncommon for new exercisers to overdo it straight out of the gate. Even people who have been sedentary for decades try to dive into a half-marathon without much training. Try to power through it and you’ll pay for it on the back end with an injury or an inability to participate in desired activities.
What to do: Listen to your body and take time for rest and recovery.
2. Using improper form. Whether you’re running, lifting weights or practicing a yoga routine, using proper form is key to ensuring you get the results you want – and avoid your risk of injury.
What to do: Hook up with a personal trainer or coach for a few sessions to ensure you’re performing exercises correctly.
3. Not warming up … or cooling down. Warming up primes your body for exercise and helps prevent injury, skipped heartbeats and premature fatigue – especially if you’re performing high-intensity activities. Cooling down helps prevent muscle soreness and promotes recovery.
What to do: Focus on dynamic, or moving, warmups before a workout, such as brisk walking, arm circles, marching in place or jumping jacks. Any light activity that warms your muscles and causes you to break a sweat is a good option. Just make sure to focus on the muscles and body parts required for the workout you’re doing. Good cool-down exercises include static stretches that you hold for at least 30 seconds.
4. Sticking to the same workout. Over time, not switching up activity can lead to burnout or injury. That said, any activity is better than none. If you like running, good for you, you’re doing something. But if your goal is to improve your overall fitness, it makes sense to break out of your strict routine once in a while.
What to do: Include a variety of exercise types to make sure you’re fit enough to do the things you want to do later in life. That means working your heart and lungs with cardiovascular activities, building strong muscles with strength training and keeping muscles and joints pliable with stretching and flexibility exercises.
5. Skipping strength training. Strength training is critical – not just for building strong muscles, but also for preserving muscle tone. Resistance exercise and weightlifting increase strength and elasticity while also building strong connective tissues (think ligaments and tendons). From a biomechanical perspective, strength training will help ensure you’re able to perform daily activities. A bonus: Strength training fires up your metabolism, so it’s an excellent way to rid yourself of excess body fat.
What to do: Resistance training doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights. Yoga, swimming, and body weight exercises — lunges, push-ups and activities with resistance bands — all help build strong muscles.
6. Not stretching out. The best way to preserve your range of motion over the long haul is to stretch out regularly. Sometimes called flexibility training, stretching exercises require you to move your body in all directions. They keep your tendons and ligaments pliable and your muscles relaxed.
What to do: When stretching it’s important to hold a static stretch for at least 30 seconds as that’s how long it takes for a muscle or tendon to overcome it’s stretch reflex and increase flexibility. These types of stretches improve circulation and enhance muscle elasticity.
7. Not taking time to rest and recover. For a workout to be effective over the long haul, you must get sufficient rest. The more intense your workout, the greater your recovery needs.
What to do: If you feel like you’re doing too much too quickly, take a step back. There’s no shame in slowing down and taking your time. It’s also important to replenish lost calories and water after a workout. Consider a post-exercise meal and drink a full liter of water in the hour or two after a workout.
Related Topic: 8 Ways to Ease Post-Workout Muscle Soreness
With instant access to the Internet, fitness information is readily available. But online info isn’t tailored to your needs. Rather than turn to your computer for guidance, consider investing in one two sessions with a personal trainer. Not only will a personal trainer ensure you’re using the right form, he or she can also help you create a regimen that suits your unique needs.
Setting objective short-term and long-term goals will help you achieve your desired fitness level. Most important, when you exercise correctly, you’ll leave your workouts feeling energized and even “high.” And that’s the best possible prescription to make sure you get your lean body back to the gym – after adequate recovery, of course.