Busting your ass on the Stairmaster and banging out a gazillion crunches and squats isn't going to do, well, squat, if you're making these common mistakes, according to personal trainer and fitness expert Louis Coraggio. And what's more, he says most women make at least one, if not more, of the seven errors listed below. Luckily, they're easy to correct, and once you make the fixes, you can spend less time at the gym and shed more pounds.
Mistake #1: You don't think about your tongue when you do sit-ups.
Yeah, we know it sounds strange, but hear us out. Women tend to use their neck muscles more than their abs when they do crunches. Totally uncomfortable, not to mention a huge waste of time. Shift the focus back to your abdominals with this trick: Press your tongue flush against the roof of your mouth before starting your reps. It helps keep the strain off of your neck so your stomach is forced to do the work.
Mistake #2: You stretch before cardio.
There's no danger in sitting on a mat and trying to touch your toes, but it's kinda boring and doesn't do much for your bod. The best way to warm up your muscles and prevent injury before going on a run or jumping on the Elliptical is to mimic the exercise at a low level. So get on the machine you're about to use, set it at the easiest level, and exercise for about five minutes. Then start to increase the level until you're at the desired speed or difficulty. This is way better than stretching, since it gets your heart rate elevated and helps avoid burnout.
Mistake #3: You lift the same weights every time.
Many women are under the impression that using heavy weights equals bulking up, so they stick with 10 or 15-pounders and don't increase. But if you're using free weights or weight machines once or more a week, you should be slowly upping the poundage. Since your muscles build up resistance over time, aim to increase the weight by about five pounds every two or three weeks. As long as you can do 15 without feeling anything more than fatigue (as in, you're not shaking, panting, or about to pass out), you don't have to worry about ending up with arms that could star in an action flick.
Mistake #4: You do real push-ups.
Modified push-ups (where your knees are on the ground) have long been considered the lazy girl's routine. The problem is that most women have a hard time doing the knees-off-the-ground version and when they try, their form ends up suffering, making the move sort of pointless. So go on, do the modified style and ignore the smug look from the girl next to you who has her knees up. (She's probably doing them wrong anyway!) Plant your arms directly below your shoulders and keep everything from your knees to your neck in a straight line as you slowly lower yourself to the ground. Trust us, you'll still get a kick-ass arm workout.
Mistake #5: You prep with a pre-gym snack.
Downing an energy bar before the gym can actually zap your energy. How come? Many of those bars are high in fiber, which is normally a good thing, but it takes forever to digest. And that digestion requires energy — energy that would be better spent on your muscles. You end up feeling sluggish and having trouble pushing yourself. If you're ravenous beforehand, opt for a banana, which is digested super quickly and won't inhibit your gym time. (Just steer clear of the apples many gyms offer at the front desk — they're high in fiber too.)
Mistake #6: You overindulge afterwards.
Hey, there's nothing wrong with replenishing yourself after a strenuous sweat session — in fact, it's recommended you get some protein and carbs in your system within an hour of working out. What you don't want is to totally undo all the hard work you just put in, which is extremely common. A recent study found that people tend to overestimate the number of calories burned and underestimate the number of calories consumed. To keep yourself from eating so much your workout becomes pointless, make sure you check the label of whatever you're eating and aim for something in the 150 calories or under range. (In other words, not that mega-muffin at the gym cafe.)
Mistake #7: You don't weigh yourself.
You might have been told not to worry about the number on the scale or heard that weighing yourself regularly is obsessive. But the scale is actually a key tool for ditching — and keeping off — fat. Experts have found that people who weigh themselves regularly lose more weight than those who don't. It could be because we can actually see the pounds come off (motivation to keep exercising) and we also get a concrete reminder that eating unhealthily for a week straight has consequences.
Common Reasons Your Workouts Don't Work
- All Quantity, No Quality
Take a look around the gym (if you haven't quit going yet) and see how many people are really getting a quality workout. I'm always amazed by how many people are wandering aimlessly, walking leisurely on a treadmill while reading a book, lifting weights so light that not one hair moves out of place, or simply look bored. A lot of exercisers head to the gym out of habit, and as if on automatic pilot, put in some time and head back to work or home. If you are one of these people, ask yourself, "What do I want to get out of this?" If you want serious results, you need to do serious exercise. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it and have fun. But it does means you need to focus on what you are doing and increase the quality of every movement. Once you start exercising with a real purpose and pushing both your aerobic capacity and your strength you will find your workouts take half the time and give better results.
- Overestimating Your Exercise
Most exercisers are far too generous with estimates of exercise intensity and time, weight lifted and the frequency of their workouts. To avoid overestimating it's helpful to keep an exercise log and track these items. Additionally, many people mistakingly believe that if they exercise at a moderate pace for 30 minutes they have burned lots and lots of calories and fat. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. While exercise does burn calories over time and consistent exercise is one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off, it's hard to lose body fat through exercise alone. Which brings us to the next mistake. . .
- Underestimating Your Eating
Many people are in denial about the foods they eat and especially the quantity consumed. If you really want to lose weight you need to be honest with yourself about what you put into your mouth and how that helps or hinders your weight loss goals. To get real with yourself, write it down. Tracking what you eat in a food diary will help you break the cycle of food denial. (Besides, you are the only one who needs to know).
- Doing the Wrong Type of Workout
Where did you learn your current exercise routine? Watching others at the gym (who are exercising incorrectly)? From your friends, coworkers, the web, tv, newspaper, the latest research findings, or perhaps your 5th grade gym teacher? What you are doing for exercise directly determines the results you will get. To learn what you should do, there is no better place to start then by writing down your goals and then working with a professional trainer to design the right workout to meet those goals. Haphazard exercise will provide haphazard results.
- Never Changing Your Workout
When you do the same thing day after day, you get very good at it. In exercise this is called the principle of adaptation. It basically means that we become very efficient by doing the same exercise over and over. This is great for sports performance, but not that great for weight lose, strength increases or physical fitness progression. If you always do the same workout for the same amount of time you will eventually hit a plateau where you fail to see any additional change. One way of overcoming this plateau is to modify your workouts every few weeks or months. You can change the type of exercise you do, the length, the amount of weight lifted or the number or reps. This is why professional athletes change their program during the off-season.
- Using Incorrect Form or Technique
Learning the right way to exercise is essential to getting results. Form does matter, especially when doing any strength training exercise. Incorrect form or technique also sets you up for potential injuries, pain and soreness. To learn proper technique, there is no better place to start than with a personal trainer or coach.
- Setting Unrealistic Goals
So, what are your goals? Are they realistic for you? If your goal is to be the next Lance Armstrong, and you only have 30 minutes a day to train, or wanting to lose 25 pounds in a month, well, how realistic is that? Again, it comes back to being honest with yourself about your abilities, your level of commitment and your lifestyle. We need to set appropriate goals that start from where we are and progress at a reasonable rate or we are sure to get frustrated and quit.
- Measuring the Wrong Results
Many people think their workout isn't working because they don't measure the right things. Looking for proof in a scale is often a set-up for disappointment because some new exercisers build muscle and lose fat, but the scale doesn't provide information about body composition. Better ways to measure your fitness progress include tracking your heart rate at a given pace, measuring the distance you can cover in a certain amount of time, tracking the amount of weight you can lift, or even writing down how you feel -- physically -- at the end of each day. Many of the benefits from exercise are subtle and not visible by looking into the mirror, but things such as cholesterol level, blood pressure, and the ease with which you can do daily chores are every bit as motivating -- if you monitor them.
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