The Top 5 Fitness Mistakes You Must Avoid

The Top 5 Fitness Mistakes You Must AvoidFix Your Flawed Fitness Program By Avoiding These 5 Common Fitness Mistakes

Listen up, fitness friends: I know you mean well. I know you’re not doing it on purpose! But chances are you have some nasty habits that are stunting your fitness progress. I’ve personally been guilty of several of these (OK, mostly all of them at one point or another). I can tell you from my own experience that when you fall prey to these common bad habits, you are standing in your own way, and you HAVE to break them before you’ll ever be able to look and feel your best. Some of these common mistakes are even major risks for injury and bodily dysfunction!

Read on to discover the top 5 workout mistakes made by my clients and yours truly, too…

#1: You think you can eat whatever you want because you work out

poor nutritionHa, ha, ha. I’m not laughing at you; I’m laughing with you, because I’ve been there, done that. I can tell you from personal experience it doesn’t work. Six hours of cardio plus three to five quality strength training sessions didn’t give me the body I wanted until I dialed in my diet. Too much Panda Express. Too many sugary muffins. I know it’s tough in our culture of fast food and high fructose corn syrup around every corner, but you MUST avoid crappy foods if you want to look and feel your best. When I’m in the habit of eating healthy, and I make a bad food choice, I feel the effects immediately. When you’re in the habit of eating bad foods, though, you won’t even notice how sluggish and icky you feel because you’re too immersed in to know that there’s something better out there. You need to clean up your diet and feed your body only the fuels it needs to function well!

How to Avoid This Mistake: Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Avoid fast food like the plague! Cook and eat mostly whole foods, that is, foods that are recognizable in their original form. If you’re eating on the run, hit up a salad bar. Keep healthy snacks on hand like a handful of almonds, a cup of greek yogurt, berries, apples, and hard-boiled eggs. The good news is that the cleaner you eat, the less you will crave salty, sugary, processed foods. They will stop tasting good to you when you cut them out of your diet for a while, because you will have broken the pattern of addiction!

Further Reading:

#2: You aren’t warming up or cooling down

woman warming up before exerciseFailing to warm up and cool down is an all too common exercise mistake. You’re pressed for time, so you jump right into the workout, and when your workout is over, you hit the shower and flee the gym as quickly as possible before you’re on to your next commitment. I can relate to being in the time crunch, but it’s not a good excuse. You need to either schedule more time to be at the gym, or shorten your workout slightly. You’ll thank yourself later for taking the time to warm up AND cool down, since both are essential to transitioning your body safely from a resting state to an active state and back into a resting state when you’re done. Warming up and cooling down help you avoid injury, excessive muscle soreness, swelling and blood pooling in your extremities, and exacerbating muscle imbalances.

How to Avoid This Mistake: Schedule extra time into your workout for warming up and cooling down. The first thing you should do when you enter the gym (or begin a workout of any kind) is some light cardio for about 5 minutes. I recommend using the treadmill or elliptical. Better yet, walk or bike to the gym if you live nearby; then, your cardio warm up is built in. Right after your light cardio warm up, stretch for a few minutes. Only then is it safe to begin your workout. When you’re done, the cool down process is like a mirror image of the warm up. Do some light cardio for 5 minutes, then stretch for a few minutes. That way, you’ll safely transition your muscles and your cardiorespiratory system back into a resting state.

Further Reading:

 #3: You aren’t stretching

woman stretchingThis one ties right into the warming up/cooling down issue above. Stretching is a vital part of both the warm up and the cool down. Without stretching, even the best workout is at best less effective, and at worst, harmful! Lack of stretching is a huge risk factor for musculoskeletal injuries, low back pain, hip and shoulder dysfunction, poor posture, and more. Neglecting to stretch is like preparing a beautiful, healthy meal from scratch, then promptly grinding it down the garbage disposal. Would you rather spend a few minutes stretching, or spend hours of time and thousands of dollars at a physical therapist later?

How to Avoid This Mistake: Immediately after your cardio warm up AND cardio cool down (described in mistake #2), stretch for 5 minutes or so. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds in each tight area. Everybody’s body is different, so if you’re not sure which areas need work, do a full-body stretch and you’ll discover in time which areas tend to be tight. You can also use a foam roller to do self-myofascial release right before stretching, which helps loosen you up. A personal trainer can help you identify which areas are particular tight and need to be prioritized in your stretching. Common areas of tightness include hip flexors, chest, hamstrings, calves, and neck.

Further Reading:

#4: Your fitness program isn’t balanced

balanced exercise programMaybe you’re a cardio master who spends hours pounding the pavement or hitting the elliptical. Or maybe you can always be found in the weight room pumping iron. I find it’s very common for people to prefer one mode or the other. However, you need to know that both strength training AND cardio are essential for optimal fitness. You definitely get some cardio during strength training, and some strengthening during cardio activities, but it’s not enough either way. You must devote yourself to both to look and perform your best. Ladies, take heed: it’s especially common for women to avoid weight training and focus on cardio, when in fact, weight training is exactly what women need to achieve their ideal body. The reverse is often true of male exercisers.

How to Avoid This Mistake: First, acknowledge the fact that both weight training and cardio are essential aspects of an integrated fitness program. Make time in your schedule for both. Adults need a MINIMUM of 90 minutes of vigorous cardio weekly, or 120 minutes of a mix of vigorous and moderate cardio. Attend a group exercise class like cardio kickboxing or Zumba and you’ve got an hour of mixed cardio knocked out of the box. As for strength training, the ideal program will look different for different people, but basic recommendations are to do a full-body strength training program three days a week.

Further Reading:

#5: You aren’t lifting enough weight

woman lifting heavier weightsFailing to lift adequate weight is a more common mistake among female exercisers than male exercisers (who often lift more weight than they’re ready for). Women often want the look of lean muscles, but avoid heavy weights for fear they’ll get bulky. I hate this fitness myth, and consider it a personal mission of mine to change women’s minds about weight lifting. The bottom line is that lifting weights makes women lean and toned, not bulky. Women don’t have the hormones necessary to easily beef up like a bodybuilder. A more moderate weight lifting program will not give the average woman the physique of a body builder. Big female bodybuilders (more power to them) train exhaustively six days a week, supplement their diets, and the really huge ones are often on steroids.

How to Avoid This Mistake: It’s pretty simple. Drop the silly tiny weights and lift an amount of weight that challenges you, whatever that is. You want to fatigue your muscles in your desired rep range. For beginning exercisers, find a weight that will wear you out within 12 reps to the point that you must rest before being able to do another set. If your muscles aren’t temporarily spent at the end of the set, you’re wasting your time.

Further Reading:

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are other workout mistakes you might be making…but those nasty ones above are the top five I run into in my day to day work as a personal trainer. I’d be happy to answer your health and fitness questions at if you’re unsure about anything.

About Mae Barraclough

Mae Barraclough, B.S., NASM-CPT, NASM-CES is a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and licensed Zumba Instructor. With her passion for health, fitness, and dance, Mae loves learning all she can and sharing her knowledge with others.

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