Exercise is exercise, right? Not so fast. There are a number of bad habits all of us can fall prey to when it comes to working out that can limit results and get in the way of your long-term health goals. Whether you’re following a walking program, doing exercise videos at home or training for a 5K, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you practice these more positive behaviors.
1. Engage mentally during workouts.
While checking out during a workout can be one way to pass the time, it can also result in aimless exercise. Paying attention to what you’re doing can help you position your body in the right ways and engage the correct muscles. For instance, poor form when strength training can lead to a number of overuse injuries. Or an inefficient stride during the latter portions of a jog can cause issues with overcompensation in certain muscles and joints. When you fail to stay tuned in, you’re more likely to make these mistakes.
In addition to ensuring proper form, being in the moment also means that you’ll be more apt to challenge yourself during workouts. Maybe you’ve been watching the clock on the treadmill and you’re feeling good, so you increase your pace the last 2 minutes of your workout. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that the last squat you did felt easier than usual, so you decide to add 5 more. Being engaged with the task at hand allows you to notice when you’ve made jumps in fitness, which can be motivating.
2. (Actually) Do the extra things.
Every active person, no matter the level of experience, needs to keep tabs on what they are doing outside of their workout programs if they hope to make progress. This includes getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water and eating foods that contribute to better performance and recovery.
If you’re having aches and pains as a result of your workouts, “extra things” to try include stretching or self-massage. Just 10 minutes a few times a week devoted to this type of work can help keep you in tip-top shape for your next workout, so it’s well worth your time.
3. Include variety in your workouts.
Variety is the spice of life, and this applies to working out. It’s easy to get stagnant when you do the same workout day after day, week after week. If you usually walk, consider hopping on the elliptical. If you’re into strength training, try adding some new moves to focus on different muscles.
Not only can greater variety in your exercise schedule generate better all-around fitness, but it also helps keep your mind engaged. You’ll find that this may even have you looking forward to workouts as you master new skills.
4. Mix up your intensity level.
This doesn’t mean that you need to do a different type of exercise than you are already doing. It doesn’t even mean you need to schedule more time for your workouts. Mixing up your intensity level is simply about upping the ante in certain workouts to work different energy systems. If you’re a fan of training on the elliptical, for instance, you might do one day at an easy pace for 30 minutes and another day you could do an interval workout alternating between 1 minute at a harder pace and 2 minutes at an easy pace.
Keep in mind that while you should occasionally do more difficult workouts, the easy ones are still important. They burn calories and contribute to fitness, while also allowing your body to recover. If you’re just starting an exercise regimen, you might begin with all easier-paced efforts and, as you gain fitness, add in 1 tougher workout each week.
5. Make a plan.
In addition to doing both hard and easy workouts each week, it is also important to have a long-term plan for exercise. If you simply hop on the elliptical for 20 minutes a few times a week at the same pace for months on end, you’re unlikely to see the progression in fitness you may desire. As you get in better shape, be sure to look at how you can increase the time spent or intensity of the exercise, or try additional activities so that you avoid a plateau and continue to build on that hard-earned fitness.