Top 10 fitness mistakes
We all sometimes make mistakes in our fitness training but there are some that you should always try and avoid. Read this list of top ten fitness mistakes to make sure you’re training both properly and safely:
Fitness mistake 1: Not regularly changing your fitness regime
Getting stuck in a training rut is probably the most common training error of all. Yes, 20 minutes on the treadmill and three sets of 10 reps with 5kg weights might be fine when you start out – but if you fail to increase either the length or intensity of the run, and the weight or number of repetitions that you do, the improvements will plateau out. In fact, one study found that in beginners, aerobic fitness began to plateau in as little as three weeks when the training load was not increased. So, to continue making progress in fitness, you have to keep raising the bar every it gets close enough to touch – every six weeks at least, but ideally more often.
Fitness mistake 2: Using weights that are too light
If you want to increase the size of your muscles, adopting a ‘low weights, high reps’ strategy will be a waste of time. Surprised? Well, it’s all down to muscle physiology. Muscles consist of long, thin fibres which come in two principal varieties: ‘type 1’ fibres, which are highly resistant to fatigue and recruited mainly at low level effort; and thicker, more powerful ‘type 2’ fibres, which only kick in when the going gets tough. The fibres within a muscle are always recruited in the same order – type 1 first, then type 2. So, if you only ever lift a bottle of water (no matter how many times), you will never work the muscle in its entirety, nor engage the type 2 fibres. What will happen, however, is that as the fibres within the muscle grow bigger, they will fill some of the empty space within the muscle sheath (an untrained muscle contains lots of space between fibres). The result? The muscle will become firmer and denser, but not bigger.
Fitness mistake 3: Overdoing the refuelling after exercise
Exercise burns lots of calories, and if you intend to get up and do it all again the next day, then you will need to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished post-workout. But given that many of us take up exercise to shed excess fat and don’t work out daily, there isn’t a pressing need to scoff down two energy bars and a gallon of energy drink after your gym session! In fact, many people consume more calories in the half hour following their workout than they burned during it – and then they go home and have dinner, too! So, be sparing with your refuelling.
Fitness mistake 4: Exercising on an empty stomach
A few years back, the idea of ‘running on empty’ (exercising on an empty stomach) was all the rage in weight loss training. But although the science stands up, this strategy will ultimately backfire. ‘If you perform cardiovascular exercise first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten, insulin levels are at their lowest, while another hormone, glucagon, is at its peak,’ explains sports nutritionist Anita Bean. ‘This encourages your body to draw on its fat reserves for fuel.’ But since fat metabolism is dependent on the availability of carbohydrate, when carb stores are low, fat metabolism is compromised. ‘This makes exercise feel much harder, so you may tire sooner, or slack off and end up burning fewer calories – and less body fat – overall,’ explains Bean. ‘Worse still, you could end up losing hard-earned muscle as you start burning protein – as well as fat – for fuel.’ So always make sure you’ve eaten something before you exercise!
Fitness mistake 5: Working in the ‘fat-burning zone’
Despite what those little charts – or green, amber and red light displays – on the machines at the gym say, the idea that you only burn fat when you are exercising in a particular ‘zone’ of intensity – usually between 60 and 70 per cent of your maximum rate – is actually wrong. The fact is, we burn fat 24 hours a day – it’s just that the percentage of overall energy that comes from fat changes at different levels of intensity. A greater proportion of fat is burned during low-intensity exercise, which is where the idea came from that we should exercise more gently – but here’s the thing: while the percentage of fat contributing to energy expenditure may be lower during more vigorous activity, it is the overall number of calories burned that really counts when it comes to fat loss. That means working as hard as you can, for as long as you can, as often as you can! We’re not suggesting you won’t gain any benefit from working in tthe so-called ‘fat-burning zone’, of course – just that you will benefit more by increasing the intensity.
Fitness mistake 6: Not bothering to warm up before exercise
You may think you are saving time, but by skipping a warm-up you are actually making things harder for yourself. Research has demonstrated quite clearly that warming up reduces the risk of injury – and improves performance. A study from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, for example, found that performing a warm-up reduced the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, while research at Manhattan College in New York found that just five minutes of warming up enabled runners to exercise for longer than those who launched straight into their workout. You only need spend 5 to 10 minutes mobilising your joints gently, getting your heart rate up and gearing up to your activity.
Fitness mistake 7: Neglecting stretching before exercise
While the ‘Should we, shouldn’t we?’ debate about stretching before exercise rages on, many people continue to neglect stretching at any time at all. This is a big mistake. Natural flexibility begins to decline from when you’re as young as 25, so even if you don’t care much about extending your range of motion and suppleness, you need to hold on to what you’ve already got! Stretching isn’t about lengthening muscles – it’s about restoring them to their natural length after all the shortening involved in exercise. Stretching is also about putting joints through their full range of motion, which is important for keeping cartilage nourished and healthy, reducing stiffness, and maintaining correct alignment between the muscles and the skeleton. Stretch muscles when they are warm, holding for 30 seconds – and do it after every workout.
Fitness mistake 8: Failing to keep tabs on your fitness progress
Every elite athlete keeps a training log, which enables them to keep track of what each session entailed and how they felt after a particular workout, and to monitor whether they are getting stronger, faster, and/or higher. Now, you may not have your sights on the Olympics, but you should be keeping tabs on your fitness regime – otherwise there’s no way of knowing whether something is working or not, or whether you are getting fitter. Keeping a training log is also a great way of staying motivated.
Fitness mistake 9: Pushing through pain and ignoring niggles
How’s your knee? ‘Oh, it’s a bit sore. I did a 10k race last night and I’m going to see how it holds up in circuit training tonight …’ If this is you, stop! Pain is your body’s way of saying that something is wrong. Ignore it at your peril. Injuries don’t go away when you ignore them – they simply get worse! Equally, if you just have a niggle or an ache, keep an eye on it – and if necessary take a day or two off, and perhaps have a sports massage, rather than pretending the niggle isn’t there. In the long run, respecting your body will enable you to get and stay fitter and healthier.
Fitness mistake 10: Doing sit-ups to improve core stability
Even gym trainers are guilty of talking about building core stability and then giving clients exercises to do such as curls, crunches and sit-ups, which do nothing more than work the superficial layer of the abs – the rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscle). Unfortunately, even a rock-hard six-pack won’t do anything to improve your core strength and stability. For that, you need to dig deeper – targeting the transversus abdominis muscle. Strengthening it will not only create a strong, flat stomach; it will also give support and stability to the lower back. Pilates is one of the best exercise techniques for honing the deep abdominals – or you can get a personal trainer to show you some core exercises, such as the plank, the side bridge and a seated balance on a fit ball.