People make small but
costly mistakes when exercising every day, and one tiny change can have a huge
impact on their results, says Los Angeles-based trainer Ken Alan, a spokesman
for the American Council on Exercise. Thanks to Alan, and the panel of training
experts who weighed in on these faux pas and fixes, you'll error-proof your
exercise and see tremendous payoffs, and the time you invest in your workouts
will be smart and well-spent. We begin with five errors often made in your
approach to exercise, then we'll take a look at five moves frequently flubbed.
faux pas; Getting married to your
the facts If you do the
same routine over and over, your muscles will simply adapt; you're likely to hit
a plateau because each exercise stimulates only a limited number of muscle
fibers. However, if you challenge
your muscles from a variety of angles by adding or alternating moves
periodically, you'll get significantly more fibers into the act and develop more
tone and strength.
the fix For each muscle
group, learn an additional 2 or 3 exercises, trying new angles and equipment.
(If you can't get instruction from a trainer, there are plenty of books and
videos organized by routine for each body part.) For instance, if you usually do
the dumbbell chest press on a flat bench, try it at an incline. If you normally
use the chest-press machine, try the dumbbell chest press or the bench press
with a barbell. Expand your repertoire enough so that you can change your entire
routine every 6-8 weeks.
faux pas; Performing your reps too
the facts If you zoom
through your repetitions when strength training, you'll be using momentum
instead of muscle power. You won't get the same stimulus for muscle building and
you won't burn as many calories. You'll also be more susceptible to training
iniuries such as torn muscles or connective tissue.
the fix Take 6 seconds to
perform each repetition: 2 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to lower it.
(Since you have gravity to help you lower the weight, you need to slow down even
more on this phase in order to give your muscles a sufficient challenge.) Our
experts agree that slowing down is the single most significant change you can
make to get better results from strength training.
the faux pas; Exercising
too hard, too often
the facts If you don't rest
enough between hard cardio or strength workouts, you'll stop making progress and
may even lose some of the fitness you've gained. You're also likely to burn out
To keep your muscles fresh and your motivation high, alternate shorter tougher
cardio workouts (for instance, 20 minutes) with longer, easier days (40-60
minutes). Don't go all out more than twice a week. Keep in mind that the more
intensely you train, the more time your body needs to recover. It's a good idea
to do a couple of tough workouts and take 1 day completely off each week. On the
strength-training front, take at least 1 day off between sessions that work the
same muscle group.
the faux pas; Coasting on
the facts Sticking with the
same aerobic workout can sabotage your results as much as pushing too hard. To
truly boost your fitness (which enables you to burn more calories with less
effort), you need to venture outside your comfort zone a couple of times a week,
to the point where you're somewhat winded and can feel your heart pounding.
the fix Instead of zoning
out or doing moderate-intensity cardio all the time, mix in some high-intensity
intervals twice a week. For instance, after warming up for 10 minutes on the
treadmill, increase the speed or incline for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then
recover with 1-3 minutes of easy-to-moderate exercise. Keep alternating for
10-20 minutes, then cool down. You also may want to do longer high-intensity
intervals-say, 5 minutes-where you don't push quite as hard as you do on the
the faux pas; Lifting the
wrong amount of weight
the facts If you lift
weights that are too light, you won't see improvements in strength, tone or bone
density. If you lift weights that are too heavy, you'll compromise proper form,
increasing your injury risk. You'll also be forced to recruit additional
muscles, for instance, using your entire body to complete a biceps curl, thus
cheating the targeted muscles of a good workout.
the fix for the most
significant strength building, perform 4-6 repetitions per set; for more
moderate strength building, perform 8-12 repetitions per set, choosing weights
heavy enough that you struggle through your final few reps, but not so heavy
that your form falls apart. If you get to your final rep and feel that you could
perform another one, increase the weight by 5-10 percent. You may find that when
you've considerably increased the amount of weight you're using, you'll drop to
fewer reps, which is fine, as long as your targeted muscles are fatigued by the
final rep. Don't worry: Lifting to fatigue will not leave you with monstrous
Squat - the faux pas; Letting
your knees shoot ahead of your toes, lifting your heels, dropping your knees
the facts These mistakes
place excess pressure on the tendons and ligaments of the knee.
the fix Holding a
dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hipwidth apart, legs straight but
not locked, chest lifted, abs contracted. Keep body weight toward heels and bend
knees to sit back and down, lowering thighs to as parallel a position to ground
as possible, torso erect and knees aligned with ankles (shown). Straighten legs
to stand back up. Strengthens buttocks, quadriceps and hamstrings.
Bent over Lat row - the faux pas; Rounding your spine and not flexing from your hips, pulling the weights
up too far behind you
the facts These mistakes
place stress on your spine and reduce the demand on your back muscles, making
the move less effective.
the fix Stand with feet
hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by sides. Bend knees and
flex forward from the hips at about 90 degrees. Let arms hang in line with
shoulders, palms facing in. Contract abs to support back. Draw shoulder blades
down and together; maintaining body position, bend elbows up and in toward waist
until upper arms are in line with torso and forearms are perpendicular to
ground, knuckles pointing down (shown). Slowly straighten arms to starting
position without changing torso position. Strengthens middle back, rear
shoulders and biceps
Triceps kickback - the faux pas; Swinging your upper arm, dropping your opposite shoulder, trying to
lift your arm and the weight too high behind you
the facts When you make any
of these mistakes, your triceps aren't sufficiently challenged and you also may
place stress on your shoulder and elbow joints.
the fix Hold a dumbbell
in your right hand and stand to the right of the long side of a bench, feet
hip-width apart or in a staggered stance. (you also can kneel on the bench with
your left knee.) Flex forward at hips at about 90 degrees and place left hand on
bench for support. Keeping torso stationary, bend right elbow so upper arm is
parallel to ground and forearm is perpendicular to ground, palm facing in.
Position elbow close to waist and
contract abs. Keeping upper arm still, use triceps to straighten arm behind you
until end of dumbbell points down (shown). Slowly bend elbow to return to
perpendicular position. Strengthens triceps
Crunch - the faux pas; Jerking
your neck, not lifting shoulders, failing to engage abs
the facts These mistakes
will result in a sore neck and your abs won't get any firmer.
the fix Lie on your back
with knees bent and feet flat on mat, hipwidth apart. Place hands behind head,
thumbs behind ears, fingers unclasped. Hold elbows out to the sides. Contracting
abs, draw hips and lower ribs together, keeping buttocks relaxed. Without
pulling on neck or drawing elbows in, curl up and forward, keeping head and neck
relaxed as shoulder blades lift off mat (shown). Hold then slowly lower back
down. Strengthens abdominals
Dumbbell bench fly - the faux pas; Lowering your arms too far
the facts This mistake
places major stress on your shoulders and rotator cuff, the delicate muscles
that sit underneath the shoulders. Plus, it becomes difficult to press arms up
and use the chest muscles effectively.
the fix Lie face up on
bench, knees bent and feet on edge. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended
above midchest, in a slight arc, palms in. Contract abs and keep chin level.
Maintaining elbow arc, lower elbows down and out to the side until they are even
with or slightly below shoulders (shown). Press dumbbells up and in to starting
position, without letting dumbbells touch or allowing shoulder blades to rise
off the bench. Strengthens chest and front shoulder
Mistake-proof your mind set
Your attitude may be the
one final adjustment you need to maximize your results. Avoid these three mental
Focusing on the numbers
Instead of worrying over
how many calories you burn or steps you climb, focus on the energy and the
strength you feel and how wonderfully you're treating you body. While monitoring
your intensity and applying the numbers to ensure you're mixing things up enough
is critical for optimum progress, you should simply be aware, not fixating.
Obsessing over one body part
Focusing too much on your
"problem area" can backfire, causing you to neglect other muscle
groups that are as important for your appearance as they are for your fitness.
For instance, if your midsection is your main concern, doing hundreds of
crunches isn't the answer: sure, do ab exercises for tone, but don't forget that
developing your chest, back and shoulders can take the focus off your middle.
Always strive for a balanced workout.
away from the unfamiliar
It'5 only natural to be
intimidated by equipment you've never used or classes you've never taken. But
venturing into new territory may be just the ticket to better results. If you've
been avoiding free weights, ask a trainer to teach you a few dumbbell exercises;
if you've shied away from Spinning, hop on a bike. Getting past your fears also
will give you a sense of accomplishment and confidence-and what could feel
better than conquering the unknown.