Thinking about beginning an exercise program? Congratulations! Few decisions are packed with so many rewards for body and spirit. Exercise can give you more energy, improve your self-image and boost the odds of remaining healthy over the long haul.
However, before slipping into those new sweats and lacing up your running shoes, beware the potential pitfalls that await all new athletes. There are countless errors that people make when they exercise. Avoiding these mistakes can leave you less vulnerable to injury and more likely to stay motivated and stick with your routine.
Five common fitness mistakes and how to avoid them:
Trying to do too much, too soon
It’s normal to dream of nervously shuffling into your first workout as a 90-pound weakling only to emerge a month later as a confidently striding, ripped new Madonna or Usher. Unfortunately, reality usually is somewhat less grandiose, at least initially.
Moderation is the key to success when beginning a new exercise program. Trying to pump too much iron too quickly can result in a serious injury. Going from couch potato to marathon runner overnight is far too hard on the body’s muscles, tendons and joints.
Instead, begin slowly. A basic 10-minute walk around the neighborhood is an excellent introduction to cardiovascular fitness. Meanwhile, doing a few pushups at the foot of your bed (either with your toes extended or from the knees) can kick off a new strength-training regimen.
Once you’re ready to try a gym, it may be a good idea to hire a personal trainer who can effectively and safely guide you through the paces as you begin using the club’s equipment. Some equipment can be difficult to properly use without instruction.
Setting modest, realistic goals will keep you safe and decrease the odds that you will quit exercising out of frustration. Over time, you will build up your routine. It’ss a good idea to increase length of the workout first, then increase intensity later when you are more fit. But when beginning to exercise, focus on taking baby steps rather than trying to make giant leaps for mankind.
Failing to warm up and cool down
Most of us struggle to find any time to exercise. As a result, we don’t want to waste a precious minute before racing into our workout routine. The temptation to skip a proper warmup period is awfully seductive.
But a warmup plays a vital if often unheralded role in a proper workout. Light cardiovascular activity helps get the heart pumping and blood flowing in preparation for the workout to come. In addition, the warmup gradually raises the body temperature, making muscles and other tissues more pliable and less vulnerable to injury.
Before beginning your core workout, take five to 10 minutes to perform a little light cardiovascular exercise. This may include a short, brisk walk on the treadmill or cycling to little or no resistance on the stationary bike.
Once you’ve warmed up your body, it’s time for stretching. It is best to stretch areas of the body that will be used during the workout. Gently stretch the muscle and hold that position for several seconds before releasing. Do not bounce the muscle being stretched, as this can lead to injury.
At the end of your workout, don’t forget to perform a brief cool-down routine. This activity should be similar in nature and intensity to your warmup exercise. The cool-down allows your heart rate and overall metabolism to gradually return to their normal resting state. The cool-down period also prevents blood from suddenly pooling in your veins and keeps it flowing normally to the muscles, heart and brain.
Not drinking enough water
During a workout, you may find yourself taking a break at the first sign of thirst to sip from a water bottle or drinking fountain. This is a mistake. The time to take a drink is before you feel parched. Thirst is a signal that the body already is on its way to dehydration.
Dehydration can impair performance and cause fatigue, making it less likely that you will have the energy to finish your workout. Once you become thirsty during a workout, it is difficult to restore hydration levels until after you stop exercising.
Even on days when you do not exercise, you should regularly drink water or other fluids to remain hydrated. In addition, drink extra water before, during and after your workout. Experts generally advise drinking one or two cups of water — about 8 to 16 ounces (240 to 480 milliliters) — two hours prior to your workout, and another one or two cups a half-hour just before exercising.
During your workout, drink 4 to 6 ounces (120 to 180 milliliters) of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes. Following a workout, weigh yourself and replace every pound lost with two cups of water.
Sports drinks are usually not necessary for activities lasting less than one hour. For longer activities, sports drinks are important to prevent “bonking” from carbohydrate depletion.
Skimping on the calories
Sure, we tell friends and family that we work out to improve our health or to add a dose of daily discipline to our lives. But the simple truth is that many of us endure the treadmill with just one goal in mind: shedding pounds. If weight loss is your number one goal, you probably look for every opportunity to lop off a few calories from your diet.
This is often a good idea, but only up to a point. Calories are the fuel for every human activity. When you begin exercising, it’s likely that your body will require more calories than it did before, not less.
Calories themselves are not evil. Rather, it’s how we use this energy fuel that counts. The key to weight loss involves a simple equation — expend more calories during the day than you take in. However, it is crucial that you eat enough calories to properly fuel your workout and other daily activities.
In fact, failing to consume adequate levels of calories can actually make it more difficult to lose weight. When deprived of calories, your body will slip into starvation mode and do everything it can to hold onto the calories it already has. So, if you want to burn calories efficiently, make sure to eat the recommended amounts of healthy foods throughout the day.
Getting stuck in a routine
After a few months of exercising, you’ll likely have mastered your routine. Initially, this increases your confidence during workouts. However, as you adapt physically and mentally to your chosen activity, the law of diminishing returns sets in. The body does not continue to develop without new challenges and stimulation. And performing the same old, same old for weeks on end can lead to boredom, burnout and losing motivation. It also increases your likelihood of being sidelined with an overuse injury.
For this reason, experts generally recommend that you add variety to your workouts. Instead of jogging five days a week, you might try running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and biking on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
Another common way to introduce novelty is to craft workout “cycles” that cause your routine to periodically change every few months. For example, a strength-training routine may focus on free weights for four to eight weeks before switching to machines for a period of time.
Incorporating regular changes into your workout keeps it fresh and interesting, making it less likely that boredom will lead you to abandon your fitness routine. It also helps reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries that may occur from performing the same activity over and over.