Fitness and exercise are more popular now than they have ever been. But with the growing popularity of (primarily) indoor workouts like weightlifting, CrossFit, Pilates, and yoga, there is growing room for doing harm to our bodies.
I recently got in touch with health and fitness experts from around the U.S. to find out what they consider some of the most common exercise mistakes. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a total fitness newbie, chances are you’re making one of them. Take a look at their solutions for help on correcting some of these fitness mistakes:
1. Poor form on simple abdominal crunches
According to Tami Peavy, owner of Practical Therapy4U, keeping your hands behind your head or straight at your side during common ab crunches places an unsafe amount of torque on your neck. This can lead to neck pain, migraines, disc bulging and shoulder pain.
Instead, Tami recommends the “Reverse Crunch.” She explains, “Lying on your back, put your hands under your lower back for support. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Now, lift your knees into your chest, contracting your stomach muscles as you lift. Repeat this 10 times for two sets.” It makes for an effective, low-stress alternative!
2. Static stretching before a workout
Stretching is a good thing, right? It certainly has its place, but it can also be damaging, says Pilatesology co-founder Alisa Wyatt. “Stretching is great after a workout, but if you do it when your muscles aren’t warmed up, then it gives you what I call ‘old rubber band’ muscles. This is when your muscles stretch to the point of weakness and stay that way while you work out, which reduces your strength and power, as well as sets you up for injury.”
Instead of kicking off your workout with a cold stretch, she recommends a warm up that gets your blood moving, your joints lubricated, and helps increase your flexibility all at the same time.
3. Too much running, too hard
Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, with minimal cost and benefits that include a stronger heart, lungs, and core. But too much of a good thing is still too much.
“Because of its repetitive nature, running has the potential to cause overuse type injuries to the feet, lower extremities, legs and spine,” says Joel K. Jezequel from NY Sports Med. He recommends steady increases in distance (about 10% per week, optimally), addressing muscle strength/length imbalances, and getting sufficient rest between runs.
4. Too much sitting
From long hours sitting in front of the computer, to driving in our cars and lounging on the couch at the end of a long day, the last thing most of us need is more time spent sitting—especially during our workouts.
“Sitting down to train the shoulders, biceps and back are traditional ways to work those muscles, but it decreases the work for the legs and the core,” explains fitness expert Keli Roberts. “Training in a standing position allows the legs and the core to play a role and is a much better and functional approach to exercise.” She also points out the strong association between extensive time spent sitting and increased mortality risk, according to research from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
5. Generating movement from the joints, rather than the muscles
One of the many downsides of poor form is placing too much pressure on the joints, rather than the muscles. This issue, according to CABARRET creatrix Nicole LaBonde, often stems from “bending and unbending at the joint, rather than thinking of lengthening or contracting (the) muscles.” In order to correct this problem, she will often force students to perform movements in slow motion, keeping the muscles engaged and the joints stress-free.
6. Choosing the wrong workout routine
“The biggest mistake I see people make is doing things they hate,” says Jeanette DePatie, author of The Fat Chick Works Out! “Into every life comes the decision to watch Game of Thrones or do your fitness routine. If you hate your exercise routine, I guarantee, ‘winter is coming.’ I often say exercise is like sex; if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!”
7. Not enough intensity during workout time
It goes without saying, but the goal of most exercise routines is to burn calories and lose weight. And it turns out that most of us are doing it wrong. According to personal trainer and fitness author Clint Fuqua, “EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) is the real trick to burning off unwanted fat, increasing stamina for all activities, and being able to enjoy that extra slice of pie with no regrets.”
If you’re looking to trigger this long term post-workout burn, Fuqua recommends pushing hard for 30-40 minutes, rather than hanging around the gym for a hour or more, barely breaking a sweat.
8. Listening too much to the internet, magazines, and books
If you’ve done much research into diet and exercise trends, you’ve probably noticed that the “experts” rarely seem to agree on what’s the best way to lose weight and get healthy. While some are adamantly advising low-carb, high fat diets, others are all-in on keeping fats down and protein high.
The answer may be more simple than you think. Certified strength and conditioning coach Henry Halse says, “You will have much more success if you simply tune out all the background noise and focus on what you know works for you! My dad once gave me the diet advice ‘everything in moderation.’ His mother actually told him that. She didn’t read it in a book, magazine, or Google. It’s something that she knew instinctively. To be honest, researchers are now finding that ‘everything in moderation’ may actually be the most beneficial approach to eating.”
9. Not rehydrating enough during/after workouts
Did you know that dehydration can have negative effects on everything from your mental sharpness to power, endurance, and much more? David Parish, director of Biofreeze Human Performance Center, warns that dehydration “is one of the biggest contributors to stalled healing, yet it is one of the most preventable conditions out there.”
He recommends monitoring your sweat loss and making sure to rehydrate with three cups of water for every pound of water weight you lose. He also warns against alcohol, caffeine and certain supplements, all of which can contribute to dehydration.
10. Ignoring bone and joint health
While most of us focus on fitness and muscle strength as the foundation of our exercise, that might be the wrong approach. “An exercise routine that places too much stress on the muscles without caring for joint and bone health often leads to serious pain in supporting areas of the body, such as the lower back, knees and ankles,” says Dr. Steven Kozmary, owner of Kozmary Center for Pain Management.
To avoid these issues, he advises receiving proper nutrition and stretching, and avoiding exercises that place undue stress on crucial joints.
11. Thinking you need a gym membership to get in shape
Think you can’t get a good workout unless you have a pricey gym membership? You’re wrong, says Jen DeCurtins, Premier Protein Ambassador and author of Ultimate Plank Fitness. She points out that “not having access to a gym doesn’t mean you can’t strength train! There are so many workouts you can do at home with your own bodyweight or a set of dumbbells.”
These types of calisthenic workouts are easy to find and can have serious health benefits.
12. Working too hard without resting
Dayna Kurtz, owner of Fitness That Fits You, knows all too well the negative effects that come from over-working. “In a city like New York,” she says, “there is tremendous pressure to look fit. As a result, many clients are inclined to overdo their workouts–hitting the gym multiple times a day, or working the same muscle groups on consecutive days. Muscles need time to rest and repair after strength training.”
She points out that inadequate rest can drastically increase the likelihood of injury and is an essential part of a good fitness regimen.
13. Not lengthening and stretching muscles
Another misstep that’s become all too common is ignoring the need to lengthen and extend your muscles. “What many weight lifters also don’t know is that lengthening muscles (stretching) will help build more muscle in order to build strength,” says Hope Cowgirl, owner of inBalance Studio. “Once you become too bulky and immobile, your muscle has no where to go to grow!”
To avoid this problem, be sure to take time to stretch both during and after your workouts.
14. Set realistic goals
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably started a new diet a month before that big trip to the beach. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get in the kind of shape you’re hoping to practically overnight. Rhodie Lorenz, a cycling instructor at Joyride Studio and Premier Protein Ambassador agrees. She advises, “Keeping in mind that fitness and nutrition are lifestyle choices that will keep you healthy, commit to exercising when you can and make it happen. You can’t lose 20 pounds in one week, and you can’t begin training for a marathon a week before.”
Instead, she recommends starting with smaller, but steady, plans to help you achieve your goals. Committing to a consistent process will bring you the results you’re after without leaving you feeling frustrated.
15. Poor preparation and distracted workouts
If you’ve been inside a gym recently, you’ve probably noticed dozens of people looking down at their smartphones. As Shane McLean, owner of Balance Guy Training, points out, this can be a serious no-no. “In the age of social media and smartphones,” he says, “gym goers are a little distracted checking their Facebook feeds and posting pics on Instagram, rather than hitting the weights. Lifting weights is not rocket science but you do need to pay attention to get the most of of your routine.”
His simple solution? “Leave the phone behind for one hour. It’s not going to kill you.” I couldn’t agree more.
16. Lack of cross-training and corrective strengthening
It’s easy to get into a groove with an exercise you like. It’s also easy for that groove to turn into a rut, and one that can cause injury and overuse.
One expert who has seen that time and time again is Joan Scrivanich, USA Track & Field Certified Coach and owner of Rise Endurance. Joan cautions, “Certain muscles naturally become stronger when we always do one sport or exercise. Strengthening the muscles that play a smaller but important role help you stay fit, healthy, and injury free. For example, runners would perform corrective exercises that target the core, including the glutes and hips.”
17. Not enough variety in their workouts
The downsides of repeating the same workouts again and again go beyond the risk of injury alone. Certified trainer and strength coach Ian Montel counsels, “The most common mistakes I have noticed in the gym revolve around a general lack of understanding of the General Adaptation Syndrome. In short,” he continues, “this is the way in which the body adjusts to a specific stimulus. If you are not changing your workouts (through different exercises, routines, intensity, sets, reps, etc.) than you will not see any gains.”
If you want to keep making gains in both strength and fitness level, he suggests following the FITTE (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type, Enjoyment) principle. Adjusting at least one of these aspects every 4-6 weeks will keep you making gains and avoiding injury.
18. Using too much momentum while lifting free weights
Putting up big numbers in the weight room has its benefits, to be sure. Building strength and lean muscle mass can lead to a more powerful fat-burning metabolism. But as Vivian Eisenstadt, owner and Chief Physical Therapist of Vivie Therapy, warns, if you’re not doing it right you could be doing more harm than good.
Vivian recommends, “Slow controlled movement with intention on what muscle you are working on with a stable core is your best bet for safe great results. Slow controlled ‘eccentric’ muscle contraction (e.g. the slow lowering of the barbell in a bicep curl, or lowering the straight bar down in a bench press) give you more bang for your buck and gets your muscles stronger faster.”
Fixing these fundamental exercise flaws doesn’t have to be hard. Heed the advice above and you’ll be doing your body a major favor. Which of the mistakes above have you been making?
Featured photo credit: not what it looks like/istolethetv via flickr.com