“This time of year, we see a lot of people buying big gym packages or working out 5-6 days a week,” says Nicole Stenberg, exercise specialist for Onlife Health who works on-site at the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee fitness center. “But what you want to do when you’re starting out is take your time and try out new activities so you don’t burn out or get injured. It all starts by learning to listen to your body.”
Here are 8 common exercise mistakes to avoid
Mistake #1: Going to the gym without a plan
If you go to the gym without a goal or a plan, you may find yourself spending more time there while doing less actual exercise. Be realistic and identify a few 20- to 30-minute workouts that you can put in your rotation long-term.
Mistake #2: Doing the same thing every day
While the term “cross-training” is often used by serious athletes, it’s actually something we should all do. Cross-training simply means working different muscle groups with different activities. For example, if you only do the elliptical every time you go to the gym, your body will get used to that motion, so you’ll see fewer health benefits and likely tire of it over time. Try a new machine that encourages your body to move in different ways such as a rower or treadmill, or take a brisk walk to activate different muscles.
Mistake #3: Lifting the wrong amount of weight
Lifting too much weight can lead to serious injury, and lifting weights that are too light won’t build muscle or burn as many calories.
A good rule of thumb is to aim to hit 15 repetitions before you feel like you need to stop.
- If you have to stop at 6 or 7 reps, your weights are too heavy.
- If you get to 15 and feel like you could do 10 more, your weights are too light.
Increasing or decreasing your weights by 2.5-5 pounds in either direction should help you find a balance.
Mistake #4: Not taking days off
Your body needs rest days to heal, and so does your mind. If you work out every day, you’ll get physically and mentally drained, which makes you more likely to stop altogether. Furthermore, you can see your progress better after a day off.
A good weekly plan is to do 2 strength-building activities on non-consecutive days (weights, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.) and light cardio or yoga on 3 others. On days off, enjoy taking an easy walk and do some light stretches.
Mistake #5: Running “heavy” or landing on your heel
If you hear yourself landing loudly when you run, try focusing on landing on the middle of your foot. Envision yourself landing lightly and pushing off to engage the glutes and hamstrings on the back side of your body. The muscles on each side of your body should feel like they are working the same amount, or creating symmetry.
Mistake #6: Pointing your toes up or down while cycling
Foot placement is important when riding a bike, and you want your foot working to stay mostly flat (parallel to the ground) while pushing through your rotation. It’s also important to be aware of your posture as slouching is common for cyclists. Sit up straight with your shoulder blades back and down, and keep your neck in line with your spine. That will help you build a strong core and prevent muscle strain. If you ride a bike more frequently, consider getting a proper bike fit by a professional. This can help you avoid injury and put you in the most comfortable position while you ride. Most local bike shops have an expert on staff who can do this for you.
Mistake #7: Stretching incorrectly or not at all
It’s been said a million times, but stretching before and after you work out is crucial.
- Stretching before builds heat in the body, which prevents injury and increases performance. The best kind to do is dynamic stretching, which is active movement that focuses less on holding a stretch and more on taking your body through ranges of motion so you’ll be better prepared to start moving.
- After you work out, stretching helps improve circulation in your muscles and keeps them loose, which lessens soreness and stiffness later. It will also improve your posture as many people’s back and shoulders creep up toward their ears while working out.
One of the best stretches you can do is the quad stretch, where you bend your knee and pull your foot up to your glute. This loosens tight hip flexors, but be careful not to arch your back as that will stretch the chest rather than the thigh. (You can learn how to do it properly here.)
Another go-to for people who sit at a desk all day is the doorway stretch, which works out the muscles in the upper and lower back that tend to tighten up as we work. Whatever stretches you do, be sure not to bounce as that can lead to injury or strain.
Mistake #8: Not consulting an expert
People are often eager to invest in gym memberships or fitness gear, yet we’re hesitant to make an investment in one thing that can have a long-term different: expert advice. Form matters in all exercise, so consider scheduling a session or two with a personal trainer or physical therapist who can review your gait for running, your form for lifting weights or your poses for yoga.
For example, most people are improperly aligned for a plank stretch, which can lead to lower back pain — a problem that can quickly be solved if you have a professional watch you perform one. Look for someone with a certification in fitness, preferably from the American College of Sports Medicine.
BCBST members can also access discounts at thousands of fitness center and specialty studios nationwide through Fitness Your Way, a discount fitness network offered through Blue365. In Tennessee, BCBST members can find participating locations when logging into BlueAccess and going to the ‘Managing Your Health’ tab.
Information provided by Nicole Stenberg, ACSM EP-C, of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Onlife Health, Inc.