Top Ten Mistakes People Make in the Gym

The American Council on Exercise asked 3,000 fitness professionals from all over the world to list the top ten mistakes they see people making in the gym. According to Fitness Matters magazine, which published the results, some of these mistakes can simply mean the difference between an effective and ineffective workout. However, other mistakes can mean an eventual injury.

Not stretching enough.
Flexible muscles are less prone to injury, according to fitness experts. Yet, many people neglect to stretch their muscles properly after they workout. They are either misinformed about the benefits of being flexible or they just don't think it's important enough. If you feel that stretching takes too much time to fit into your weights workout, try stretching a specific muscle after you finish your required number of sets. You could, for example, stretch your chest after you finish your bench press. Using this timesaving technique will ensure that you are properly stretched out by the time you finish all your exercises. If you are doing an aerobic workout, stretch after you cool down and your heart rate has returned to normal.

Lifting too much weight.
Male ego is usually the culprit here. It is so tempting to show off to the other guys in the gym. It is also a shortcut to injury. The damage can run from an inflamed tendon all the way to dislocated shoulders. The safest and most effective way to increase strength and mass is to gradually and progressively increase the amount of weight you lift. If you want to continue lifting weights for a long time, it would be wise to heed this advice. Your body may take the abuse while you are young, but you will eventually pay for it with damaged joints.

Not warming up before aerobic activity.
You can't just hop onto a treadmill and start running at full speed. Your heart and muscles need time to adjust. Your heart rate can zoom rapidly to near maximum without a warm-up. Cold muscles are more easily injured. The body needs at least five to ten minutes of low intensity activity to raise body temperature gradually. A good rule of thumb is to do the same activity you are going to be working out at, only at a much lower intensity. If you are going to run, walk. If you are doing the stepper, step at a low resistance and speed. If you want a sure way to be injured, don't warm-up.

Not cooling down.
Just as your heart and muscles need time to adjust to rising physical demands, they also need time to slow down. Right after an aerobic workout, your heart is still beating heavily. If you stop without cooling down, the muscles in your legs that were acting as pumps to help push the blood back to your heart can no longer do so. Blood then tends to "pool" in the lower extremities. Less blood returning to the heart can cause dizziness and fainting. In some people, it can cause an abnormal heart rhythm. Cool down for five minutes by doing low intensity movements similar to what you just did more strenuously.

Exercising too intensely.
The person who does this is usually trying to make up for lost time (has not been coming too often) or is a "weekend warrior" who is trying to cram a week's worth of exercise time into one session. Workouts that are too intense can be discouraging in the long run because they can lead to too much muscle soreness the next day or a "burned-out" feeling of exhaustion. The workout should challenge you but not demolish you!

Not drinking enough water.
Most people who exercise do not drink enough water. You cannot rely on your thirst. Studies have shown that by the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Active people need at least ten glasses of water. You need to drink eight ounces of water an hour before exercise, three to four ounces every fifteen minutes, and another eight ounces in the hour after exercise.

Leaning heavily on the stairstepper.
This is the cardiovascular version of lifting too much weight. The reason people have to lean on the handrails with their buttocks pushed out (some people even have their wrists turned out inside out) is because they are too tired or cannot take the resistance and speed level they have chosen. The machines are informing them that they are burning mega-calories, which just isn't true since half their weight is supported on the handrails. People display poor form and execution on treadmills too. They set the treadmill at the highest incline, but instead of climbing it like a real hill, they are holding on for dear life and "water skiing"! They are thrilled with the calories they are supposedly burning.

Not exercising intensely enough.
Many people don't get the results they want from their workouts because they do not work out to the intensity level that they are capable of. Half-hearted workouts do not get you the type of body you dream about. You cheat yourself of time and money when you do not work out intensely enough.

Jerking while lifting weights.
Jerking while lifting weights is unsafe and ineffective. Jerking means you cannot control the weight or the weight is too heavy for you. Other muscles are compromised as you throw the weights around. The lower back and other joints like the shoulders, elbows and wrists have to absorb all the extra momentum going on. The muscles don't work as hard as they would have had to if you lifted slowly and with control.

Consuming energy bars and sports drinks during moderate workouts.
Energy bars and sports drinks are a quick source of energy for intense workouts or workouts that last more than two hours. People who only do moderate workouts or shorter workouts don't really need them. In fact, when abused, energy bars and sports drinks become excess calories. If you are only working out moderately, a healthy balanced diet and water will suit you fine.

Don't make the same mistakes.
The next time you workout, look around and see how many of these mistakes you can spot other people doing. Then, take a good look in the mirror and make sure you aren't doing them either!

Write me at PDI Lifestyle or e-mail me at fitness@ibm.net.

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