Whether you’re a budding bodybuilder, training for a sport or you just want to shed a few extra pounds, you’ve likely made a few mistakes along the road to success. Some of those mistakes may be easy to identify (i.e., consistently OD’ing on sweets or alcohol), while others may fly under the radar for months before you realize their impact on your progress.
Here, three experts reveal the common mistakes you might not know you’re making — and how to fix them:
SETTING UNREALISTIC GOALS
Chelsea Aguiar, a New York City-based personal trainer and founder of Athaya Fitness, sees people make this mistake time and time again: Chasing fitness goals based on the body type of another person (e.g., Kate Hudson’s Pilates-sculpted abs, Michelle Obama’s arms). “Fitness is not cosmetic, it’s biological,” Aguiar says, and how your body responds to exercise depends on a whole host of variables outside of your control, including genetics, sex, age, how long you’ve been training, history of injury and type of muscle fibers. So, if you sweat away at the gym in the hopes of replicating someone else’s results, be prepared for disappointment. No matter how hard you try, you may never look like that celebrity, athlete or friend you admire.
Try this: Instead of setting aesthetic-based goals (e.g., build coconut shoulders), try setting performance-based ones (e.g., increase from 3 to 10 pullups). “You become focused on accomplishing a quantifiable goal instead of an abstract one,” Aguiar says.
PRIORITIZING QUANTITY OVER QUALITY
Another common mistake Aguiar sees people make is thinking they need long, highly-varied workouts to see progress. Instead, Aguiar would like to see people perform a handful of specific exercises and perform them well. After all, the latest crazy HIIT circuit won’t do you any good if you run through the movements with sloppy form.
Aguiar compares poor quality movement to writing code for a new website: “If you write in the wrong code over and over again, guess what your body is going to adapt as its new normal.” Ultimately, this poor quality of movement can lead to less-than-stellar results — or worse, injury.
Try this: Make the effort to familiarize yourself with the proper mechanics of your activity of choice. You can chat with a trainer or do your own detective work by studying videos, reading articles written by industry experts and/or recording yourself performing the movements. “If you can start to analyze movement, then you’ll be able to identify it in yourself when it just doesn’t feel right,” Aguiar says. And finally, try mobility-focused activities — like yoga, Pilates or Functional Range Conditioning — that teach body awareness.
NEVER TAKING TIME OFF
When you’re chasing a fitness goal, it’s tempting to assume more is better. A first-time marathoner may think more miles are the key to a great race, while a prospective bodybuilder may cram as many lifting sessions into their week as possible. But sweat equity is only one ingredient in the pursuit of any fitness goal. To see progress, you need to give your body time to recover and adapt to the physical stress of exercise. “Stress is like a bank account in the body,” says Doug Kechijian, DPT, of Resilient Performance Physical Therapy in New York. “Every time you withdraw, at some point you have to replenish.” If you skimp on recovery, your progress eventually stalls and you may even slide into debt.
Try this: It’s perfectly normal to experience muscle soreness the first 24–48 hours following exercise (known as delayed-onset muscle soreness), especially if the activity is new or you’ve increased the stress of your workout (i.e., adding more weight to the bar, running faster or farther). However, if you’re still feeling DOMS three days after your workout, or you’re consistently struggling to make it through your workouts, take a few days off from your structured fitness routine. “Sometimes the best thing you can do for your fitness is to rest,” Kechijian says.
SKIPPING RECOVERY MEALS
Just as skimping on physical recovery can have a negative impact on your progress, so can skimping on recovery meals. According to Kelly Pritchett, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there’s an optimal two-hour window for replacing glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates) and jump-starting the recovery process post-workout. If you skip your recovery meal, you may delay glycogen production by 45–65%, Pritchett says. And since carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, this delay may impair your ability to recover and repair damaged muscles, which can affect the quality of your future workouts and overall progress.
Try this: Aim to score 20–25 grams of protein and 50–100 grams of carbohydrates immediately following your workout, Pritchett says. Great post-workout options include 8 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk or a serving of Greek yogurt with strawberries and oatmeal.
READ MORE > 3 REASONS RUNNERS NEED UPPER BODY TRAINING
ALWAYS DOING THE SAME WORKOUT
If you’ve been exercising for any length of time, chances are you’ve identified one or two activities you really enjoy or feel comfortable doing. And that’s great! After all, if you like doing a certain activity, you’re more likely to stay consistent with it; a key for seeing progress. However, if you only do that activity, you not only miss out on the unique benefits conferred by other activities, but you risk overuse injuries. Runners, for example, are notorious for shying away from other forms of exercise, even if that activity can help prevent injury and improve performance. According to Aguiar, runners often avoid strength training in particular, thinking the added muscle will just weigh them down and slow their pace. In reality, the opposite is true. “The more muscle you have, the stronger each step of your stride is going to be, the more efficiently you’ll be able to move and the less of an impact it’s going to be on your joints,” Aguiar explains.
Try this: If you’re a runner, cyclist or swimmer, be sure to dedicate at least two days per week to strength and stability training. If you’re an avid lifter, Pilates or yoga will complement your training nicely, Aguiar says.