Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, including us. These are some of the most common workout mistakes we’ve seen, and believe us, we’ve made some of them too. Still, here they are for you to check off your checklist – are you making any of these?
1. Trying to spot-reduce fat
Repeat after me: you can’t spot-reduce fat with exercise. Spot-reduction is targeting specific areas of your body from which you wish to burn fat. It just doesn’t work like that. Consequently, doing 1000 sit-ups a day is not going to give you a sexy stomach / six pack (it would be pretty interesting if we did live in a world like that: you could have people walking around with these incredible abs, but a lot of body-fat everywhere else).
So, you’ve got to burn fat from your whole body, and unfortunately you don’t get to decide which parts burn fat first. Second piece of bad news: in my experience, the places you put the fat on first, tend to be the places you lose fat last. Not cool, but remember, the results are worth the effort – so keep going!
2. Not keeping track of workouts
Tracking your workouts is a great way to stay motivated and make progress. You can keep track of sets, reps, weights and times… because if you’re anything like us, you’re not going to remember those between workouts. What you keep track of you can improve: just did 10 squats? Aim for 15 next time – it’s much easier to set fitness goals when you can see your progress written down.
And just to give you some more ideas you can also track your diet and body composition – which can significantly improve the results you’re getting. Of course, it is possible to go tracking crazy, so we like to just keep it as simple as possible!
3. Only doing cardio, no strength training
Cardio, cardio, cardio… where’s the strength training?! If you’re training to be a professional marathon runner, then maybe all you need is cardio, but most people exercise to get fit, be healthy, strong and to look good naked. And for that you need to do strength training.
Cardio can help you burn fat, but it’s the weight training (even if it’s just bodyweight) which builds the muscle which gives you muscle tone. And here’s something a lot of people don’t think about: you can burn a lot of fat (and build muscle) by just doing strength training alone – especially if you use high-intensity interval training, which effectively means your strength training becomes a cardio session too!
4. Doing too much cardio
A lot of people are cardioholics – cardio all day, every day – but there is such a thing as doing too much cardio. How much is too much cardio? It depends on your specific fitness goals, but unless you’re training to be an endurance runner, 60 minutes a day is probably more than enough.
In fact, long bouts of steady-state cardio may not be the best path to your fitness goals at all. For example, for fat loss, combining strength training and high-intensity interval training will give you far better results, faster, than doing long sessions of steady-state cardio alone.
So if you’re doing a ton of cardio at the moment, try switching it up for a few months: cut down the steady-state cardio, add in more strength training and hit the high-intensity interval training. And see for yourself if you get the kind of results you want.
5. Don’t warm up, stretch, cool down
We’ve all made this mistake at some time, so the trick is to think of your warm-up, cool-down and stretching as an integral part of your workout. It’s important because just taking that little extra time in the beginning and the end, will help to prevent injury, boost performance and aid your recovery (amongst other things).
How do you do a proper warm up and cool down? We just so happen to have a nifty guide over here. Remember, you want to do dynamic stretching with your warm-up and static stretching with your cool-down.
6. Don’t vary workouts
Variety is the spice of life! Still, it amazes us that so many people stick to the same workout grind day after day. Consistency is good, but you’ve got to find a balance between routine and variety. We don’t know about you, but spending every workout grinding away on the treadmill doesn’t sound like much fun.
So you want to keep adding variety. Not only will it make your workouts more interesting and keep you motivated, but you’ll also get better results. Better results? Yes! The reason is because your body loves to adapt to the activities you throw at it, but you get your best results from applying unique stimulus to your body (because it then has to adapt to the new workout). Moreover, switching your workouts up will help prevent injury.
You can vary practically every element of your workout: exercises, weight, sets, reps, rest, speed of movement, etc. You can experiment with the different options, but don’t change your workout program too frequently – once a month is fine, or every three weeks if you’ve been working out for a while.
7. Ignore diet
Like the saying goes: you can’t out-train a bad diet. And it’s true, because for every step forward you take with exercise, a bad diet takes you back two steps. The bad news is that for most people, getting their diet dialed in is the hard part, but it’s also going to make the most difference to your results.
For example, almost everyone wants a sexy set of abs (or at least a sexy midriff), well you may not know this, but you already have the abs you crave – they’re just covered by a layer of body-fat. Which is exactly why when people say abs are made in the kitchen, they’re right: eating a healthy diet is going to do more for getting rid of body-fat than exercise alone.
In other words, getting your diet right is at least as important, if not more so, than working out. The good news is that once you’ve done that, the results you get from working out will skyrocket!
8. Only train upper-body / lower-body
For some strange reason, people often find favorite body parts or body sections and spend most of the time training only those. The classic example is the guy who only trains upper-body and has skinny little legs; a lot of ladies tend to focus on lower-body exercises. You’ve got to exercise your whole body in your workout program if you want to avoid muscle asymmetry (which always looks a bit weird).
If anything most women could spend more time working on their upper-body strength, while guys could focus a more on their lower-body strength (it ain’t all about chest and biceps guys). Another area everyone seems to love working out is their core. The core gets so much love it should have its own halo. Well, if you’re doing big compound free-weight exercises you get a core workout built in.
9. Forget about form
Head down to your local gym and you’ll probably see bad form in abundance. But form is one of those things you really want to get right – you’ll help prevent injury, you’ll perform the exercises better and because of that, your results will be better.
These days it doesn’t take that much to learn how exercises are done and improve your form. The best way, especially for beginners is to spend some money on a personal trainer for a few sessions. If you don’t have the funds to do that, there are a ton of videos online which can show you how to do exercises with the proper form. Proper form is one of these things you’ve got to keep coming back to – practice a few times in front of a mirror, or get someone to check your form vs. the form on the video.
10. Don’t drink enough water
Many people are walking around dehydrated (estimates are that 75-80% of Americans are chronically dehydrated), remember if you feel thirsty then you’re already dehydrated. And considering that up to 60% of our body is water, and up to 80% of our brain is water, you can understand why it’s important to stay hydrated.
Of course, when you’re exercising staying hydrated is just as important as ever. In terms of performance: losing just 2% of your fluid weight can decrease your athletic performance by up to 25%. That’s a quater of your athletic perfomance – gone! So you want to stay hydrated before, during and after your workouts.
Here’s a quick set of rules: 15 – 20 ounces before workout; 6 – 12 ounces every 15 minutes during workout; 16 – 24 ounces per pound of weight lost after workout (i.e. weigh yourself before and after your workout).
11. Only using machines
You’re doing strength training, excellent! You’re only using machines… erm, let’s talk. Using machines could be a good way to start out your strength training journey (although that’s highly debatable), but there comes a time when you need to step away from the machine and into the free-weight section of your gym, or try home bodyweight workouts, or CrossFit, or kettlebells – there are lots of options for you to choose from.
Why do you want to move away from the machines? A couple of reasons: they are isolation exercises and they have a fixed pattern of movement. In other words you only work very specific muscles (leading to muscle imbalances and lack of functional strength) and you’re often forced to move in an unnatural manner.
It’s pretty easy to make the move to free weights, there are just a few fundamental compound exercises you need to learn: squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press and bent over rows. You can add more as you advance, but those will probably give you the most bang for your buck in the beginning.
12. Forget pre- and post-workout nutrition
Better nutrition will give you better results. One of the things a lot of people miss out on is their pre- and post-workout nutrition.
For example, after your workout the main fuel your body uses for working out (glycogen stored in the muscles) will be highly depleted and protein will also be breaking down at a faster rate. So after your workout you want to replenish your glycogen stores, decrease protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis – you do this with nutrition.
13. Not getting enough recovery / rest
Also known as the more-is-better syndrome. Problem is, it’s not during your workouts where you get stronger and fitter (and consequently, healthier and sexier) but rather during your rest and recovery period.
In other words: don’t skimp on your rest days! If you do full-body workouts, then you probably want to alternate your rest days with your workout days; if you do a split-body routine, then you can schedule, for example, Saturday and Sunday as your rest days.
In addition, every 4 – 6 months, it’s probably worth taking a longer period of rest and recovery, for example 5 – 7 days. Phew! It’s hard when you love to workout, but you’ll go back renewed and revitalized – try it out.
14. Not progressively overloading workouts
If you’re working out, you’ve got to follow the concept of progressive overload to get better results. We talked earlier about making sure you add variety to your workouts to keep your body from adapting to them. Adaption means your body can go on autopilot and not deliver the hard-earned workout results you really want.
Well, progressive overload is a way to make sure that your body doesn’t adapt, by constantly increasing the workout variables (e.g. weight) you force your body to step up to the plate and deliver. You don’t have to make huge jumps, but you want to keep this concept in mind and aim to improve your workout in some fashion each time – which is exactly why you need to keep track of your workouts.
15. Too many reps, not enough intensity
You could call this the 1000 sit-ups problem, and unless you’re aiming to get really good endurance at situps, it’s not going to do that much for you. In fact, most people will want to stay in the 1 – 5 rep range and 80% of their 1 rep max for strength training and 6 – 12 rep range and 60% of their 1 rep max for hypertrophy (muscle-building).
This is sort of like when people do endless hours on the treadmill to burn fat – yes, it does burn fat, but you also tend to burn muscle too. We can speculate the following: if you look at professional marathon runners they tend to be skinny, but without good muscle tone; whereas, professional sprinters tend to have low body fat but really good muscle definition.
Basically, it boils down to doing fewer reps, but with greater intensity (more weight). Or as they say: lift heavy!
Did we miss any? Do you make any of these? Let us know in the comment section below!