Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

Gym machineIf you’re engaging in some type of physical activity, you’re already on your way to better health and fitness. However, to get the most our your workouts and ensure you stay safe while breaking a sweat, it’s important to note that not all exercises and approaches to training are created equal. Four of the world’s leading fitness experts weigh in on the five common workout mistakes that might be holding you back from reaching your fitness potential.

Mistake #1: Failing to Focus on Function

Ask yourself this question—why do we exercise? While the thought of ripped abs and sculpted arms may run through the minds of some, at the end of the day physical activity is designed to enhance our activities of daily life. So shouldn’t the exercises that we choose mimic the movements that we do outside of the gym?

“We live in a multi-dimensional world where we don’t have machines to hold our bodies in place or to guide our movements,” says Keli Roberts, fitness expert and ACE-certified Personal Trainer based out of Pasadena, Calif. “Training the body in only one plane—such as when using machines like the leg press, leg extension and bench press—opens up the possibility of muscle imbalance and can even pre-dispose the body to injury since whole body movements are not being trained.”

To achieve better results, Roberts recommends working the body in various planes of motion for a more balanced approach to exercise. In addition to tried-and-true exercises like squats and step-ups, try including side-to-side movements like side lunges and lateral dumbbell raises, along with rotational movements such as stability ball Russian twists and medicine ball wood chops and haybailers to train your body the same way that it’s designed to move in everyday life.

Mistake #2: No Method to the Madness

With a plethora of exercise options out there, it can be tempting to add a variety of creative new moves to your workout routine. However, when it comes to making the most of your sweat session and keeping you safe in the process, mastering movements is what’s key, according to ACE Senior Consultant and health and fitness coach Chris McGrath.

“Invest the time to learn all the movements, apply full, pain free range of motion with no compensations and you’ll get the most out of each rep, set and workout,” explains McGrath. In other words, before you reach for the hottest new piece of fitness equipment or attempt an advanced variation of a commonly performed exercise, make sure you’ve mastered the fundamentals first. “When adding variety, which is important, avoid arbitrary changes [because] every change in a program and every movement in a workout should have a specific reason,” adds McGrath, who founded Movement First in New York City.

Mistake #3: Spending Even More Time Sitting

From long hours sitting in front of the computer, to driving in our cars and lounging on the couch at the end of a long day, the last thing most of us need is more time spent sitting—especially during our workouts.

“Sitting down to train the shoulders, biceps and back are traditional ways to work those muscles, but it decreases the work for the legs and the core,” explains Roberts. “Training in a standing position allows the legs and the core to play a role and is a much better and functional approach to exercise.” Plus, the less time we spend sitting—no matter where we are—the better it is for our health as there is a strong association between extensive time spent sitting and increased mortality risk, according to research from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Mistake #4: Assuming the More Complicated the Workout, the Better

With high-intensity interval training (HIIT) all the buzz and research supporting the fact that intense workouts can produce great results in less time, it’s no surprise that many people are looking to kick things up a notch. However, when it comes to “training harder,” complexity isn’t necessarily the key to better results.

“While hard training is about intensity, I sometimes find that people mistakenly think that movements that feel complicated or impactful are synonymous with the word ‘hard,’” says Shannon Fable, Director of Exercise Programming for Anytime Fitness Corporate. “There are many ways to kick up the intensity of exercise with range of motion, speed or integrity of execution. You don’t always have to jump or do the most complicated exercise to get the intensity needed to receive the benefits high-intensity workouts are known for,” adds Fable, who is an award-winning ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor.

Mistake #5: Forgetting About Your Feet

While most of us spend time training the muscles of our arms, legs and midsection, very few people take the time to focus on the muscles of the feet and ankles, which serve as the foundation for so many of our movements.

“From the posters in the gyms to conventional training, it seems as though only barefoot classes emphasize barefoot training, but ignoring the feet sets us up to prove the adage—what we don’t train, we don’t improve,” says Lawrence Biscontini, M.A., ACE Senior Group Fitness Consultant and award-winning international fitness educator. “Consequently, those who do not try minimalist-style shoes or barefoot exercises to improve ankle stabilization and foot mechanics deprive themselves of the ultimate possibilities of improving overall body function, because everything from walking to complex sports depends on foot efficiency,” adds Biscontini, a mindful movement specialist who created “Bare Your Sole,” a course focused on exploring the importance of barefoot fitness.

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