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The Top Eight Fitness Mistakes

Mistake-proof your fitness regimen

Caution: These eight bonehead maneuvers can derail your progress. Here's what to watch out for, and how to fix what you're doing wrong to maximize your results.

Blunders. We all make them from time to time, wittingly or otherwise. Sometimes we take a wrong turn while driving. Or perhaps we forget our significant other's birthday, leading to an uncomfortable night sleeping on our best friend's couch.

Hey, mistakes happen. The key is, how soon can you recognize the error of your ways and remedy them? When it comes to your fitness goals, the sooner the better, as it's no fun to put in a lot of time and effort into your body only to never see the transformative results you're hoping for.

Here, we tell you the most common slip-ups and how to correct them.

We know you've seen those people in the gym. The one's who slap a plate on each side of a barbell, then proceed to put enough body english into their curls that you wonder if they'll fall backwards from the momentum. Or perhaps they're benching with their butt and lower back so far off the pad you could roll a Swiss ball through the resulting aperture. Such cringeworthy performances not only draw the stares of appalled (or at least amused) gym devotees who know better, they're actually completely counterproductive.

Not practicing correct form on an exercise is akin to fishing with TNT -- sure, you may get some fish as they float to the surface after the explosion, but the collateral damage is far more costly than the benefit of the catch. Similarly, training in such a "lift it at any cost" way may result in a little muscular benefit, but certainly not efficiently or optimally, and likely not without some consequences along the way -- i.e. a serious injury.

There's a reason exercises have a particular and specific form associated with them. They have been designed, tweaked and perfected by exercise physiologists over the years to make them inherently safe as possible, and maximally effective as far as targeting the specific body part or body parts they're aimed at. Not sticking to the parameters of correct form takes you out of the most advantageous biomechanical position, meaning it's not hitting the intended muscle groups and, in many cases, it's putting tendons, muscle, connective tissue or your spine at risk. What's the point of that?

Bottom line: Learn the correct form. If you must, acquire an exercise manual from a reputable organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association ( or the American College of Sports Medicine (, or seek the help of a competent and certified personal trainer at your gym. If you're not willing to do that -- well, maybe fishing is a better and safer activity for you to consider.

If you're constructing a building, you need a blueprint. If you're driving cross country, you consult a map. And if you're doing surgery -- well, let's just hope you have a plan before wielding the scalpel.

If that all sounds reasonable, then it's hard to fathom why so many otherwise ambitious fitness buffs bounce through workout after workout without a specific goal in mind. If you don't know where you're going, you can't magically expect to get there.

The simple solution-- Make a plan. Decide what you want to look like, and set some reasonable benchmarks to arrive there. You can't go from fat to fit overnight, but over the course of three months, six months, a year, you can make exceptional improvements. Maybe the goal is adding two inches on your arms, or dropping 10 pounds of bodyfat -- you write down where you are now, then you create a program to reach your destination.

If you know where you started, and you see in black and white how much progress you've made toward the goal, you can react. If it's the aforementioned size on your arms, if after a month you're guns are still at the same measurement, you know you'll have to up your calories to gain some more weight, and you may need to either add some intensity to your workouts or lessen your workload, as you may be overtraining. Without the data, you couldn't make such changes to your program, but once you know what you're after, you can methodically pursue it until your objective is reached.

This one follows on the heels of our advice in No. 2. Just as you shouldn't simply exercise and hope you one day attain the physique you want, you shouldn't just try to work out by memory, or go in and do --whatever you feel like-- for a particular body part or training session. For sustained growth, you need to make sure you're pushing yourself a little bit further just about every time you train.

Results don't come in one fell swoop -- they are gained a little at a time. If you're talking an exercise like the bench press for instance, this week, you may get one more rep than last time on your final set, or you're able to push five more pounds than before. Without writing it down however, unless you're a freaky genius, you really can't remember such imperceptible changes. And certainly, even if you remember from one week to the next (unlikely as that is), you won't remember every workout over months to know how many small yet significant improvements you've made along the way.

Those who don't keep journals will not be able to ensure they're always moving forward, and won't be as quick to notice trends, either positive or negative, which gives confirmation that a particular regimen is working or if it is not.

Take the time to bring a notebook along and track your exercises, sets, reps and weight. If you're serious about accomplishing specific goals, it will soon become an indispensable tool you'll never want to be without again.

You can sometimes call it a New Year's Resolution run amok. Often, when someone begins training for the very first time (or after a long layoff), he or she jumps into the fray full-bore, hoping to undo years of neglect in days or weeks. With a "More is Better!" mantra emblazoned into their fitness-starved psyche, they hit the treadmill running full speed, lifting weights and doing cardio for hours a day.

It's no wonder that, by February 1st, the influx of new members who signed up the first week of January has dwindled to a precious few. For those of us dedicated to fitness for the long haul, it's kinda nice to have the gym back to ourselves, but then again, deep down we do like to see more of the general populace taking up a fitness lifestyle. The more the merrier, after all.

Avoiding this pitfall is easy, once you recognize the symptoms in yourself. You need to scale back, temper your gung-ho spirit and channel it into a lifelong venture. Perhaps it will help to realize this fact about muscle gains and body transformations: Your body can only recover and grow at rest, not while you're training -- if you chronically train, your body can't keep up and repair the damage you do in the gym, meaning you'll constantly be in a state of breakdown.

Avoid the burnout. Slow and steady is best. As an old workout adage goes, "Stop your workout while you have one good rep left in you" -- calling it a day before utter exhaustion, when you feel like you still can go on just a little bit further, means you'll have plenty of motivation to return next time. It'll keep you wanting more, which is exactly what you need to turn your initial ambitions into a permanent undertaking.

"Eh, I'll work out sometime today." How many times does that statement end up with, "Oh, man, where'd the day go? That's cool, though, I'll just hit it twice as hard tomorrow."

If the above scenario never happens to you, congratulations. For the other 99.9% of the population that's not part infallible robot, a promise to get to the gym whenever you can make time is not usually good enough to always guarantee you'll make it.

To ensure the other important tasks in your life don't push your fitness pursuits to the side, try scheduling your workouts, just like you would work, school, or a doctor's appointment -- write the time in your day planner, sandwiched between job interview and your exotic-dancing lessons if need be (hey, who are we to question what you do with your free time?). Respect your time at the gym as much as would any other important appointment, and your newfound consistency will reap dividends.

Training with the intention of improving yourself is, at its heart, a solitary endeavor. It comes down to your will against the weight, your determination to go one more mile when you don't think you can.

But that doesn't mean you wouldn't benefit from the support of friends, family or your significant other. In fact, those closest to you can make the difference in your long-term success or failure. If they're not on board, they could even tempt you away from the path -- encouraging you to skip a workout to watch a ballgame at the bar, or poking fun when you try to eat healthy in front of them while they stuff themselves with another order of fries and round of beer.

A significant other who doesn't support your decision could indeed be the death-knell of your effort. Maybe he or she doesn't necessarily understand why you want to change your body, or worse, is harboring deeper-seeded resentment for psychological reasons beyond the scope of this article.

That's why you should talk it over with the important people in your life before you embark on your fitness journey. Tell them what you want to do, and why, and recruit their backing if possible. Sure, not everyone will help -- but in some cases, maybe that's an indication that it's time to "clean a little house" when it comes to some of the negative people in your life. The more you can surround yourself with those who will encourage your behavior (instead of attempting, intentionally or otherwise, to steer you off course), the better chances you'll have to fulfill all of your aspirations.

The justification game goes a little like this: I had an awesome workout today -- that should more than make up for the half-a-pizza I'm about to wolf down. Or maybe it's not just a major cheat here and there, but a continuing practice: If I train regularly, that should more than make up for the fact I'm not really paying attention to my diet.

Guess what? That's a huge mistake. In fact, to be totally honest, what you eat is a little more important than what you do in the gym. A sound nutritional strategy can help you make rapid changes in your body composition -- but all the training wisdom and dedication in the world may not matter in the face of excess calories and all-you-can-eat-Chinese-buffet binges.

You're serious about making gains and improving yourself: After all, you've read this far. So don't dig yourself into a hole. Attack your meal strategy as meticulously as you do your workouts, and enjoy all the fruits of your labor. (Now fruit, there's a good snack for you)

When Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago were beating his face in, Rocky Balboa didn't turn to his corner and plead for them to throw in the towel. No, he picked himself off the mat and kept going. Hence, that's why he's the renowned champion of underdogs everywhere.

Oh, wait, Rocky wasn't a documentary? Okay, fine, but the lesson holds true in real life: Quitters never win. You've gotta stay in the game in the face of adversity. In the realm of training, unforeseen roadblocks, time crunches, or just the everyday trials and tribulations of everyday survival can get in the way of the most focused fitness fanatics. But you can't let a few missed workouts turn into a six-month layoff. And you don't want to start, then stop, then start, then stop again, haltingly working out then falling off the wagon (or worse yet, fall off once never to return to the fold).

Once you begin on the road to a fitter lifestyle, know you've made the right decision -- and keep that burning in your head as all kinds of obstacles fall in your path. Sure, after the first few weeks, the buzz of working out wears off, and sometimes it seems easier to lie on the couch than schlep to the health club, but persevere. Almost everyone out there today who say they couldn't imagine a life without regular workouts started in the same place as you may be now -- you know, wondering if it's worth it, whether you have the energy to keep it up, questioning whether you simply have the time -- it's all a part of the "initiation" period. Stay on course, and you'll come out the other side, just like so many others -- wondering why you didn't start working out sooner.