Fitness Foolishness: How to Avoid the Major Workout Mistakes

Whether you’re a fitness freak or brave new beginner, the chances are you’re not taking care of your wellbeing at the gym. This is according to John Porcari, PhD, FACSM, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who says, ‘Roughly 85 to 90% of the people in the gym are NOT getting the maximum benefit from their workouts—they’re basically window shopping.’ So if you’re not working out properly, is there any point in exercising at all?


There’s no denying that exercise is good for your wellness, and this is the point made by Dr. Lewis Maharam, a physician specialising in sports medicine and the medical director of the New York City Marathon. He notes that working out – even if you’re not doing it as well as you could – is ‘certainly better than sitting on the couch in front of the television munching on a pizza, but realistically, if you’re not working both your heart and muscles—well, you will not see much return on your time.’ So, let’s take a look at the main mistakes that people make when training, and see whether you can, well, not make them.


1. 100% Cardio, 0% Strength Training: Dr. Porcari explains, ‘Strength training is a necessary part of a balanced workout—it increases your strength, balance, coordination and calorie-burning power. People don’t realise that muscle mass drives your metabolism better than aerobic training. In fact, if you lose ten pounds doing aerobic exercise alone, 30% of what you lose is much-needed muscle mass, not fat. But if you lose ten pounds by using both aerobic and strength training, you’ll only lose about 10% muscle mass—this keeps your metabolism moving at a fast pace.’


2. 100% Strength Training, 0% Cardio: It’s important to build muscle with strength training, but you’re short-changing yourself by not exercising one of the most important muscles—the heart. Besides burning calories more effectively, you need to incorporate aerobic exercise into your workout in order to prevent heart disease, sleep disorders, diabetes, anxiety and depression.


3. No-Sweat Cardio: “Breaking a sweat” isn’t just a phrase for the sake of it; it’s important to your workout effectiveness. Dr. Maharam points out, ‘If you’re not sweating, you’re not working—if you haven’t raised your body temperature a half a degree, which causes sweating, then you haven’t worked out.’ You should be aiming to exercise within your target heart rate zone (between 60 and 80% of your maximum heart rate) for a minimum of 20 minutes.


4. Leaning on Fitness Machines: Leaning on the stair stepper, elliptical trainer or treadmill not only knackers your wrists and back, but it can significantly lower the intensity and effectiveness of your workout. In fact, studies have shown that if you lean on the machine, your body is utilising 25% less energy than it could, which also means you’re burning fewer calories.


5. Bad Form: Patricia Moreno, a celebrity trainer in New York City and Los Angeles, asserts, ‘Strength training requires intense focus and concentration on all aspects of the exercise, including breathing, technique, repetitions and amount of weight. If you ignore any of these components, you will severely limit the effectiveness of your training, not to mention put yourself at risk for injury.’


6. Just Going Through the Motions: ‘If you don’t challenge the body, the workout isn’t going to do anything for you,’ Moreno urges. ‘Doing the same old routine month after month can lose its efficiency—sometimes your body needs a bit of a shock to keep it moving. Try revising your routine about every 12 weeks.’

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