How Not To Work Out
There's so much advice out there about the best way to start, maintain or progress in your workouts but often, the pitfalls are ignored. Here are the top five things I have seen kill the exercise process by causing physical or emotional injuries. Do you want to succeed in your quest for fitness? If yes, then avoid these five major pitfalls.
1. Do everything . . . all at once . . . right now!
Every year on January 2, gyms across the Western world are packed with fresh-faced people full of resolve to be fitter; every year between January 15 and February 7, 50 – 80 per cent of those same people are back on their couch, despondent and mildly self-loathing. There are several influences on this massive failure rate among #newyearnewme exercisers, chief among them is that people will tend to do too much too quickly. It is neither plausible nor likely to expect drastic changes in your diet, exercise habits and knowledge, sleep routine, social circle and your alcohol and drug consumption to happen all at once and last long enough to have an overall positive impact on your workouts. Most likely, undertaking several lifestyle changes at the same time will cause you excessive amounts of emotional and physical stress, leaving you disappointed in yourself before Valentine’s Day.
The Lesson: Make changes and additions to your exercise and health slowly, one day and one habit at a time. This will lead to a higher likelihood of success in exercise and in life for the long-term.
2. Stretch without a purpose
We have been told since kindergarten to stretch as a vital component of our workouts. Simply put—WARNING: CONTROVERSY AHEAD—this is almost always bad advice. First of all, muscles don’t stretch; they contract. Yes, you move or avoid moving through an intricate system of muscular shortening. This is an earth-shaker for many people. Stretching can also impair muscle function and actually decrease range of motion (that’s Nerdese for “flexibility”). There are certain exercise processes where stretching might be appropriate. Some examples would include athletes and perfomers who require extreme range of motion for what they do (eg. Ballet dancers, gymnasts and martial artists), as well as post-operative surgery patients who have had certain structures, such as ligamentous tissue, repaired or reconstructed. In those cases, however, the muscles are NOT stretching—ligaments and other structural tissues are. And, optimal function will not occur in those cases unless full muscular control is maintained or restored.
The Lesson: There is a high likelihood that you are wasting your time when stretching. To increase range of motion, you would be safer and spend your time better in activities that emphasize range of motion with active muscular control, such as isometric training and Yoga.
3. Depend on “cardio” for losing body fat
45 minutes at 50 per cent effort; HIIT (high intensity interval training) four times per week; trail running; hiking; cycling; heart-rate at exactly 65 per cent to optimize your fat-burning zone. All of these things have one common element: they were all popularized efforts in marketing to make you believe that they would shed body fat based on time and machine-based readouts of calories lost. Although they can all help to do so, fat loss—the achievement of superficially visible “abs”—requires efforts in your nutrition and lifestyle choices, the development of the muscles themselves and, above all else, an element of self-control when it comes to all exercise and life choices.
The Lesson: Focus on being strong and healthy while being mindful about your lifestyle and exercise choices. This will lead to long-term fat loss without being wholly dependent on “cardio”.
4. Workout to please others
This is the single biggest mistake I see in clients and exercise participants that I have come across in my career. Working out to please a spouse or partner, a parent, your personal trainer or anyone is 100 per cent failure-oriented. You will likely resent your own effort even if you do get into better shape while also participating in a toxic, codependent relationship.
The lesson: Exercise first and foremost because you welcome it as a healthy and fruitful life choice, and do not EVER be a puppet for someone else’s needs.
5. Just do it
Because if exercise were that easy to do, then everyone would. We would all be in great shape and gyms would be full for 52 weeks per year rather than six. Exercise is not easy, nor should it be.
The Lesson: With exercise, take your time, be mindful. Question popular beliefs and actually ask the questions. Invest your time and money in learning about yourself, your goals and how to best achieve them. Avoid too-good-to-be-true solutions. And, above all else, never “just do” anything in exercise without being satisfied that you reasonably understand what it is and why you are doing it—save that for the shoe commercials.