Many of us strive to make working out a priority. See, it's right there at the top of the to-do list, along with trying to stress less, subbing healthy meals for takeout, and scoring an awesome promotion at work. Whew! But if you're hitting the gym on the regular and not seeing results, a sneaky bad habit might be to blame. Here are seven ways you might be sabotaging your workout and super easy, expert-approved tips for getting back on track.
1. You stretch before working out
This sounds a little counterintuitive — didn't the middle school gym teacher always enforce forward bends and sit-and-reach before exercising? Turns out this type of stretching — called static stretching — can actually hurt your workout. A study in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research found that static stretching before working out reduced muscle strength and speed. But this doesn't mean a free pass on warming up. "It is still extremely important to warm up before your activity because it will help prevent injury and prep muscle for the task ahead," says Ben Hart, a personal trainer at Equinox in New York City and co-founder of Qinetic. Dynamic stretches such as walking lunges, high knees, butt kicks, and jump squats can all boost performance.
2. Multi-tasking is your middle name
You know that reading Life & Style and texting your boo while on the treadmill is bad. But juggling too many moves within a single fitness task can also be counterproductive. "Often, you're better off focusing on just lifting weights or doing a balance exercise instead of doing both at the same time," says Jessi Kneeland, a New York City-based personal trainer and founder of Remodel Fitness. That way, you can use a higher weight or hold balance poses longer, ultimately getting better results.
3. Feeling sore has you skipping the gym
When your muscles are aching, you'd rather melt into the couch and catch up on House of Cards than head to the gym again. But squeezing in a little movement can actually ease tender muscles. "Soreness is mostly lactic acid build-up, a by-product of working out," says Hart. "You'll be doing your body a huge favor if you do some light activity or dynamic stretches instead of just waiting for the soreness to subside." So if last night's CrossFit kicked your butt, find relief in 20 minutes of walking or slow jogging or a series of dynamic stretches (see No. 1).
4. On the opposite end, you live by, "No pain, no gain."
It's great to be gung-ho about physical activity, but even top athletes need time to recover, especially during pain or injury. Soreness is a normal part of the body's healing process, but how can you tell if you need to skip a workout for real? If it hurts to touch the muscle or the pain is uneven — your right shoulder killing you, but your left shoulder is fine— that's usually a sign that you need to ease up, says Kneeland. Rest instead and reevaluate the situation the next day.
5. You have one go-to workout
Humans love routine, so it's no surprise that once we find something we like, we go on autopilot. But if you're doing the same workout every time, it's more harm than good. "Staying in a comfort zone is a hole many of us get into so you'll want to switch it up every six weeks or so. This will keep your body guessing and give you better results," says Hart. It's good to try out new classes too: If Pilates is your only jam, switch it up with a barre or kickboxing class twice a week to hit different muscle groups and rev up cardio intensity.
6. You skip weights and rely on cardio
Lifting isn't everyone's favorite thing, and a fear of bulking up can make you avoid dumbbells like Shia LaBeouf's performance art. But strength exercises have their perks. "Cardio can help you change your size, but strength training will help you change your shape. It builds muscle, boosts your metabolism and mood, helps you burn more fat," says Hart. Weights can improve health too: A study in PLOS One found that lifting weights reduced type 2 diabetes risk in women. Alternate cardio and strength training to get lean and toned all over.
7. Working out feels really easy
No need to be keeling over in pain, drenched in sweat post-workout, but you want to feel like something happened. Otherwise, it's time to turn the dial up a notch. "The best way to do this is to track and progress your workout: Add extra reps, increase your weight, or do more rounds each week to make sure you're pushing yourself hard enough and getting results," says Kneeland.
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