It’s early January and as predictable as swallows flying to Capistrano or rain falling in Seattle, my gym is packed once again. Don’t get me wrong; I hold no animosity toward those who join a gym in January. They’re following through on their New Year’s resolution to get fit and healthy, and what’s not to admire about that? But if you’re gonna go to the effort of going to the gym, let’s make sure that your effort is rewarded in the way you want. You can definitely sculpt a fitter, healthier body at the gym, but don’t fall for these mistakes that will leave you coming up short of your goal:
- You’re not going often enough.
There are plenty of fitness sites and apps that will tell you that exercising 3 days per week is adequate. And if you’re truly just starting a program, it’s certainly better than nothing!
But as you get stronger and want to see more improvement, you’re going to need to commit to 5-6 days per week. Some of those workouts can be “active recovery” days where you maybe go to a yoga class or go for a casual bike ride.
Ultimately, committing to 60 minutes of activity (enough to make you sweat) 5-6 days per week is the goal.
- It’s not intense enough. The two best ways to improve fitness are consistency and intensity. So if you want to improve your fitness, you’ve got to be willing to bring it. Intensity brings your heart rate up significantly and helps build speed and conditioning. It also creates a higher calorie burn over a shorter period of time than “low and slow” endurance cardio. Both have their place in your fitness regimen, but high intensity interval training (HIIT) is more efficient. And in our busy lives, it’s more likely we can squeeze in a 30-minute workout than a 60-minute one. If you’re not sure how to do intervals, try my favorite 10-20-30 intervals run that takes only 12 minutes (yes, just 12 minutes!), or check out the “Insanity” DVD set that can be done at home. Shaun T. will be only too happy to show you what intensity really looks like!
- You work the same muscles over and over again in the same way.I know several runners who just run. That’s all they do!Now, running is great cardiovascular exercise, don’t get me wrong. But working the same muscles over and over again, in exactly the same way doesn’t yield good overall fitness. And worse, it leaves you vulnerable to overuse injuries.The best way to avoid overuse injuries and just plain old garden-variety burn out is to cross-train. In fact, even the most elite athletes cross train because they know that by developing other muscles they will get better at their primary sport.Sports that complement each other well are: running and yoga, cycling (or spinning) and Pilates, racquet sports and swimming. But of course the potential combinations are virtually endless, as is the fun!
- You only do cardio (or you only do strength training).As I said before, my dedicated running friends may be setting themselves up for injury by shunning all other forms of exercise. But they’re certainly not alone; lots of folks at my gym spend all their time on the cardio machines, thinking that cardio = fat burn = weight loss.It’s possible that cardio can help you lose weight (if you’re eating right too, of course). But if you do it to the exclusion of strength training you’re not building lean muscle mass, and that’s where the serious money is.Strength training, resistance training and weight lifting are the best ways to build lean muscle mass. It’s our lean muscle mass that determines our resting metabolism; the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn … even when you’re asleep! Whooohoooo! Sign me up for some of that!As great as that is, you wouldn’t want to just to strength training either and miss out on the heart-healthy and fat-burning benefits of cardio. Think of them as a team. We need them both for well-rounded fitness.
- You don’t incorporate flexibility and balance moves.Just this morning I was at the gym doing “star touches” (it’s a single-leg squat where you “draw” the 5 points of a star with your hand as you go up-down-up-down-up on one leg). It’s a tough move and burns those buns, let me tell you!But it also introduces balance into my workout and I’ve come to appreciate how that adds a layer of complexity and skill that I’d be missing if I did everything on two feet.Likewise, flexibility too isn’t something I can get from my treadmill workouts. Even my tight hips can stretch just a little bit when I do hot yoga. Both flexibility and balance help us with functional movement, especially as we age. Going up and down stairs, getting up out of a chair, lifting and twisting are all a part of functional movement. Being able to do these things without pain means a higher quality of life for years to come.
- It leaves you feeling, “meh.”There’s almost nothing worse than ambivalence. That “I-don’t-really-care-one-way-or-another” feeling that leaves you feeling uninspired and apathetic. How can you possibly maximize the health benefits – let alone enjoy – a workout that leaves you feeling blasé?Of course, you can’t. And you certainly won’t stick with it.Not every workout is good for everybody. I’ve tried everything from basketball to ballroom dancing; you never really know what’s going to crank your wheel until you give it a go. But if you’ve tried something a couple of times and you still don’t love it, take a pass. Life’s too short and there are too many great workouts out there to waste your time on anything you don’t love.
Fitness goals are great any time of year. You just want to make sure that all your effort is put to good use. Avoid these six pitfalls and your workouts will bring you enjoyment and fitness gains all year long.