A friend asked me the other day, “What’s the one biggest mistake people make with their exercise?” Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with just one answer, because I see so many different mistakes. Sadly, there are a lot of exercise myths and misinformation floating around out there. I thought it was a great question, though, so I gave it some thought, and came up with the seven mistakes I see most often.
- Women: Not including weight or resistance training in your workouts. In spite of all the progress the Baby Boomer women made toward equality with men, far too many women still think weight training is for men only. WRONG! By the time you’re forty, you can expect to lose a half pound of muscle every year unless you’re actively involved in resistance training. Those are the muscles you need for your daily activities, and you can’t afford to lose them! Some women think that weight training will make them look bulky and masculine. Well, only if you're willing to spend hours in the gym every day and possibly take male hormones and steroids. A reasonable, well-planned resistance program will leave you strong, toned and shapely—but not manly.
- Men: Not working all your muscle groups. I see lots of men put all their effort into bench pressing to build a nice beefy chest. But they ignore the rest of their body and end up with great pecs perched on top of a spare tire and skinny toothpick legs. A well-rounded fitness program works all your major muscle groups and all five basic motion patterns.
- Women: Believing the calorie counts and heart rate guides on the cardio machines at the gym. The calorie counters on gym cardio machines are wildly inaccurate, and if they don’t prompt you to enter your weight, they’re assuming you’re a 200 pound man. Guess what, you’re not burning as many calories as you think you are! And if you think you should exercise at lower intensity because the machine says that’s the “fat burning” zone, think again. Yes, at lower intensities you’re burning a greater percentage of fat vs. carbohydrates, but at higher intensities you’re burning more total calories (and more fat) overall.
- Beginners: Biting off more than you can chew and getting discouraged. Starting a new fitness program can be really exciting, but if you don’t start with realistic goals, you’re likely to overdo it, wear yourself out and get discouraged. A much better tactic is to take a very long view of your health and fitness and begin your journey with small, steady steps that you can maintain for the rest of your life.
- Experienced Exercisers: Doing the same workout over and over with no variation and no progression. It’s easy to fall into a rut once you’ve become an experienced exerciser. To keep it fun and to continue to improve your fitness levels, challenge yourself with increased intensity and variations on your workout. So if you’re satisfied with your bench press, try adding an incline or decline to vary the workload on the muscles. If you’re satisfied with your running pace, try adding speed intervals to increase your capacity.
- Young ‘Uns: Not including balance and flexibility elements in your workouts while you’re young. Balance and flexibility are key fitness components as you age, and the younger you start, the better off you’ll be. If you’re not so young any more, you can still see great improvements in your balance and flexibility, but a head start never hurts.
- Everyone: Believing you can lose weight with exercise alone. It would be great if losing weight were that easy, but if you want to be lean, the first muscle you need to exercise is your self-control at the table. Exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism, but the math is pretty clear: to lose weight you must also cut calories.
What are some of the biggest fitness mistakes you’ve made in your workouts? Please share your story in the comments.
(photo credit: Chris Makarsky)