On one level, exercise is simple. You move around to keep your body healthy and strong.
But on another level, it gets kind of complicated. First, there are so many different forms of exercise. And then when it comes to figuring how much you really should be doing, what type of activity will be best for you and your goals, and, of course, making sure you’re engaging in that activity safely and with proper form, it can feel quite overwhelming to even begin thinking about where you should start.
Not to mention, all of these different variables make it easy for everyday exercisers to continually repeat exercise mistakes — mistakes that could be holding you back from reaching your goals.
As a personal trainer and owner of Body Business, Tanya Otterstein-Liehs says she sees a variety of different mistakes while observing people who work out at the gym.
“Including even the people that have been going to the gym for years,” she said.
Below she shares some of the mistakes she sees most commonly and offers her expert advice on how to avoid and correct them.
“People will spend an hour on a piece of cardio machinery, without ever increasing their heart rate or producing sweat,” Otterstein-Lieh explained. “To improve your cardio, you need to make your heart work. Do the ‘talk test’ — are you able to hold a conversation like you’re walking in the park, or do you need to break up your conversation as you stop to catch your breath? If you are having a good, beneficial cardio session, your heart rate will be up and you will be breathing heavy and sweating."
“Doing the same workout all of the time with no variety will not allow you to see constant change occur in your body,” says Otterstein-Lieh. “It’s like driving your car to work every day and using the same route. Do you do it without even needing to think about what road to take or where to turn? Could you do it with your eyes closed or in your sleep? The same thing happens with your muscles. It’s called muscle memory. Repeating the same exercise all the time with no changes basically puts your muscles to sleep, they don’t even have to work anymore to do the exercises.”
“To see results happen, you need to constantly change your exercises, your workout, your routine. Include some variety by adding some new exercises or increasing your weight — anything to make your muscles work hard again will lead to seeing improvements. Did you know that repeating the same exercise can also lead to injuries? It’s because your muscles can become overworked.”
3. Form and Technique
“Improper form and technique will lead to injuries and strain on your body. It’s always a good idea to understand the exercises you are doing and what muscles you are working, including where they are and what you should be feeling when executing them,” Otterstein-Lieh explained. “If using weights, for example, watch yourself in the mirror — are your legs positioned properly? Are your arms where they need to be? Are your weights aligned where they need to be?”
Otterstein-Lieh says squats and sit-ups are two exercises most commonly performed incorrectly.
“When performing squats, think about sitting your glutes back onto the edge of a stool,” she explained. “As you squat back, feel the weight in your heels — you’ll find you can actually lift your toes off the floor — you should be able to see your toes. If not, push your bum back further and always remember to keep your chest up.”
For sit-ups, Otterstein-Lieh says, make sure your hands are clasped together at the back of your head and you’re holding the weight of your head in them.
“As you exhale, squeeze, contract and engage your abdominals to bring your chest and upper body forward,” she explained. “Remember not to pull on your head to lift but use the muscles of your abdominals. Ensure that your lower back remains flat on the floor and keep your eyes focused slightly ahead of you.”
4. Working With Weights
“Shying away from using weights or using too heavy or not enough weight can all have a huge effect on your body,” says Otterstein-Lieh.
She noted that women often shy away from weights for fear of gaining “too much” muscle mass but explained getting “bulky” is a myth because women don’t have enough testosterone to build muscle the same way men do unless they are specifically training to do so.
Strength training, with weights or other forms of resistance is an important part of any exercise regimen because it helps to build lean muscle, maintain and strengthen bone density and even plays a role in burning fat. Just be sure to use weights that are appropriate for your level of strength.
“Using too much weight, where you find it extremely difficult to lift your dumbbell, for example, will lead to injuries due to improper form and technique,” Otterstein-Lieh said. “Too little weight will not challenge your muscles enough. A good rule to follow — if your workout is based on repetitions, the first five repetitions should feel great, not too difficult, however you can feel your muscles working and by the time you reach eight, you should find it difficult to complete one or two more reps. Your muscles should feel tired and worked.”
5. Abdominals Exercises
“Hundreds of sit-ups, speedy, neck-wrenching crunches and countless minute-long planks are not going to give you washboard abs unless you burn off that layer of fat that is sitting on top of them,” Otterstein-Lieh said. “Sure you’ll have a stronger back due to your core being stronger, but if it’s washboard abs that you’re trying to show off in your bathing suit, abdominal exercises alone are not going to get you there.”
“It’s a combination of what and when you eat, how often you exercise, how you deal with stress, your overall health and finally how you treat your body that is going to allow your abdominals to take shape. Basically it’s a full circle working together to create a healthy balance to well-being.”