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There are many paths to health through fitness and no “perfect” workout routine. Your personal path is more about consistency and perseverance than the exercises that you actually do. But there are some common mistakes that many of us make that can either slow our progress, increase our risk of injury, or just turn us off to enjoying exercise. The good news is there are simple solutions to each if you encounter one of these common mistakes.

Treat your body gently prior to exercise and it will reward you in return.

Mistake One: Making Six-Pack Abdominals or a Flat Stomach a Priority

Let’s face it: most of us are never going to have washboard abs or that six pack we see in fitness magazines and on TV. Frankly, that shouldn’t even be a goal for most of us unless we are near our ideal body weight and have our fitness program down to a T.

Solution: Be honest with yourself about your priorities. Do you still have a lot of work to do towards becoming fit and should having a six pack be your priority? For most of us, there are probably other more attainable fitness priorities. A better and more achievable approach may be to focus on improving core strength through exercises that involve both the abdominals and back muscles. Rather than doing endless sit-up and crunches, incorporating exercises like the plank can help to strengthen the core without the discomfort of sit-ups. (See Ornish Living article, Why Plank Pose Beats Sit-Ups for a Strong Core.)

Mistake Two: Strength Training the Same Muscle Groups on Back-to-Back Days 

Many people I’ve worked with over the past 20 years feel that the more strength training they do, the better. This leads them to lifting weights every day and often doing the same exercises most days of the week. Initially, this may sound great, but over time it will actually lead to overuse and potentially to muscular weakness and fatigue.

Solution: The recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine on strength training are clear about the need for rest and recovery of a muscle after lifting weights. They highlight non-consecutive days of training for any one-muscle group. This allows the muscle to recover and improve on the off days without wearing the muscle out.

Mistake Three: Consuming Sports Drinks, Sodas or Other Fluids During Exercise

When it comes to hydration, I’ve seen it all. This includes everything from people coming to exercise after admittedly drinking alcohol or walking in the door with a large coffee. First off, alcohol and exercise don’t mix. Second, while there is some literature indicating that caffeine can help with some exercise, it isn’t a part of the Ornish nutrition plan. Caffeine is also not recommended for many heart patients because extra caffeine can make us jumpy and nervous, and exacerbate cardiac arrhythmia. If weight loss is your goal, using sports drinks for hydration before, during or after exercise may be a mistake. Many sports drinks are filled with calories from sugar that can defeat that goal of burning calories.

Solution: Unless you are participating in high level sports or endurance activities like a 10K, half marathon, or over an hour of other endurance exercise, water should be our primary source for hydration.  It provides the cleanest source of fluid replacement, no calories, and is easily absorbed by our body.

Mistake Four: Not Warming Up

A common problem I’ve seen over many years is people disregarding a proper warm-up prior to exercise. Many people exercise first thing in the morning or after work where we’ve been relatively inactive most of the day. Without warming up, we put our bodies in a stressful situation with an elevated risk of discomfort, injury and poor performance.

Solution: Ensure you warm up prior to your specific exercise session. A warm-up is a bridge to take you from your normal day-to-day activities to a more intense form of exercise. A warm-up can be as simple as a moderate walk for five to ten minutes prior to fast walking, or running, or riding your bike at five miles per hour prior to picking up the pace. Treat your body gently prior to exercise and it will reward you in return.

Mistake Five: Comparing Yourself to Others

It’s hard not to watch and admire the person running on the treadmill or lifting the heavy weights next to you at the gym. While watching and admiring is fine, many of us begin to compare ourselves to that person and often begin to do more exercise than we should due to their influence. We begin to say to ourselves “they are jogging at four miles per hour so maybe I can speed up too.” The problem is that often we comparing ourselves to someone who is either younger, more fit, or who doesn’t have our physical limitations. It can be both dangerous and discouraging to compare ourselves to others.

Solution: Look internally at yourself rather than externally for feedback. Admire others who can exercise well, but compare you to you. How is your fitness today compared to last week or last month? Are you making the progress you want with exercise? Exercise is meant to be personal. What works for one person may not work for another so keep it personal. Find your own personal path to exercise success and stick with it.

What exercise mistakes have you made and how did you fix them? What exercise mistakes do you still struggle with?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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