Mistake-proof your fitness regimen
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.
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
Here, we tell you the most common slip-ups and how to correct them.
1) GETTING SLOPPY
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?
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.
2) AMBLING AIMLESSLY
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.
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.
3) WINGING IT
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
4) EXERCISING TO EXCESS
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
5) SCOFFING AT A SCHEDULE
"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
6) GOING IT ALONE
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
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.
7) THROWING YOUR DIET OUT THE WINDOW
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
Guess what? That's a huge mistake. In fact, to be totally honest, what you eat is a little
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)
8) GIVING UP WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
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.