If you’re exercising regularly, you undoubtedly are noticing the benefits—better sleep and moods, maybe a few lost pounds. The last thing you want to do is derail your efforts or, worse, get yourself injured. Here are five of the most common exercise mistakes people make and how you can avoid them.
1. Skipping Your Warm-up and Cool-down
Scenario: You feel you only have time for a short workout so you skip both your warm-up and cool-down.
Consequence: Your body is not adequately prepared for your workout so you underperform and create a greater potential for injury. You also create more soreness by not allowing your body to cool down properly when you’re finished. When it’s time for your next workout, you feel tired, sluggish, sore and ill prepared.
Solution: Instead of skipping the warm-up and cool-down, shorten your workout and increase the intensity. You can get a very effective workout for both muscular strength and cardiovascular health in only just 20 to 30 minutes. Add moderate-to-intense intervals and/or decrease your rest time between sets. But find a way to do five to 10 minutes of mobility (dynamic stretching) work prior to your workout and some static stretching after you’re done.
2. Using Equipment Incorrectly
Scenario: You are unfamiliar with a new piece of equipment in your workout facility, or you want to try out a cool new exercise tool that you have seen others use, but have never tried yourself.
Consequence: It may sound like common sense, but make sure you know how to use the equipment before integrating it into your exercise program. This goes for everything from a treadmill to barbells, a TRX Suspension Trainer to kettlebells. If you have never used a piece of equipment, don’t assume that those that you’ve seen using it are doing it correctly. Injuries can happen quickly and easily when using new, unfamiliar equipment. You also do not want to be responsible for breaking anything because you don’t know how it works.
Solution: Find a fitness professional in your facility to show you how to properly use the equipment and how to incorporate it into your training program.
3. Overestimating Your Fitness Level
Scenario: You feel like you’re ready to conquer a new challenge, such as increasing the amount of weight you lift, decreasing your rest time, or increasing the overall volume of your training program. However, you are not quite able to complete your current workouts and you are still very sore after each one.
Consequence: Moving forward in your training program without being physically ready could be a recipe for disaster and injury.
Solution: When you are able to complete your intended repetitions and/or are no longer experiencing any delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after your workouts, you may be ready to move on to a new challenge. This could be as small as adding 5 pounds to your deadlift or jogging for an extra five minutes. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Progressing Too Quickly
Scenario: You are ready for a new challenge so you add an additional 20 pounds to your deadlift, or you extend your long run by an extra 30 minutes.
Consequence: Injury is likely to happen. Even if you are able to complete the new challenge, if your heart rate spikes to a new high during endurance training or you experience debilitating DOMS after a resistance-training session, you likely increased your training too much, too quickly.
Solution: Use the 2 x 2 rule for resistance training. If you can do two more reps for two consecutive sessions at your planned weight, then it’s time to move up by either two reps or 2 percent in weight. For endurance training, your overall weekly distance and/or time should not be increased by more than 10 percent each week. For most people, increasing by increments of fewer than five minutes at a time for running, or 5 miles for biking is usually acceptable.
5. Not Taking the Time to Recover Properly
Scenario: You do an intense workout and try to repeat the same workout, or a similar type of workout, within 24 to 48 hours. This could also include not fueling properly after exercise, which delays recovery.
Consequence: You have opened the door to soreness, fatigue, decreased performance and injury. When this pattern lasts too long, it may lead to overtraining syndrome, which has other long-term effects such as hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances and mood disorders.
Solution: Take 24 to 48 hours between workouts of a similar nature to rest and recover. This doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch for two days after running for 30 minutes, but if you do an intense workout that includes heavy weights and running intervals, your body will thank you for taking two days (or more) off before doing that workout again.