"When I'm lifting free weights, I tend to go pretty fast on the downward motion when I'm supposed to be using more control," says Beth Pekol, who works in banking in Chicago.
"I lean on the StairMaster when I'm on it," says Shaun Stewart, a new bride who lives in Memphis. "I know I don't have good form, but when I feel the pressure on my knees, I just feel like I'm still doing something if I'm at least staying on the machine."
"I know I'm cheating myself when I double the amount of work I have to do in a short amount of time," says Eugenia Griffin, an esthetician who lives near Indianapolis. "I'll say I'm going to work out 30 minutes, but I'll try to fit a lot into 15 minutes."
"'Cheating' is a tough word," says Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist for MyExercisePlan.com. "People get tired and they don't realize they're making mistakes, especially when you're leaning into the stepper to support your weight.
"It's just a matter of realizing what you're doing," Cotton says. "Sometimes it's a higher priority to keep up with the person you're working out next to because you're looking at how many lights they have lit up and you're in a competition, so you lean a bit."
But, Cotton says, these women are like thousands of us who mean well in devising our workout plans but fall short when it's time to deliver: "You're increasing your risk for injury because exercising becomes uncomfortable,"
Cotton says of common mistakes people make when working out. "There are people who can tolerate discomfort just fine; they even look forward to it. But others, they think 'I don't like this. I hate this...' so when it's time to go to the gym, they suddenly find themselves with an excuse not to do it."
If you truly want to get the benefits of exercise, such as maintaining a healthy weight, having a good sex life and staving off conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, especially as you grow older, then you just have to stop cheating, er, making mistakes.
Following is a list of 10 common exercise mistakes:
1. Failing to stretch enough.
Make sure you stretch right after doing an aerobic activity to prevent risk of injury.
2. Lifting too much weight.
Never lift more than your muscles can handle. Gradually increase resistance to boost muscle strength.
3. Not warming up before an activity.
Muscles need time to get ready for the demands of aerobic activity. Start slowly then gradually boost intensity. "It's like your car runs more effectively after it's warmed up," Cotton says. "[Likewise], your muscles aren't prepared for the activity and it's not as effective. Your aerobic energy system works better at higher temperatures."
4. Not cooling down after a workout.
Take a minute to lower your heart rate and stretch. You'll gain more flexibility for your next activity.
5. Exercising too intensely.
Griffin admits this is her problem: "I get impatient. I figure if I work really hard, really fast, it's a good workout. I know I have to slow down." ACE says you'll get a more effective workout if you try to sustain moderate activity for longer periods than exercising intensely for only a few minutes.
6. Not drinking enough water.
Pekol learned about staying well hydrated two years ago when she developed a health problem exacerbated by not drinking enough water: "I always have water on hand throughout the day."
But the rest of us? Many exercisers wait until thirst hits to drink water, and by that time, you're on your way to dehydration. And when you're outside, Cotton says, you leave yourself vulnerable to heat stroke. Keep a water bottle close by all the time.
"Your body works more effectively when it's properly hydrated," Cotton says.
7. Leaning on the equipment.
People like Stewart, who 'fesses up to some heavy leaning while using a variety of fitness machines, only hurt themselves by misusing the equipment this way.
ACE says it can eventually wear on your wrists and back. Instead, lower your intensity to a point where you can maintain good posture. Rest your hands on the rails for balance.
8. Not exercising intensely enough.
Several times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes, work up a light sweat and get your heart rate up to your training zone.
9. Jerking while you lift weights.
What you're doing is using the momentum to lift, not your muscles, Cotton says. This leads to strain and injury, leaving your back muscles vulnerable. Pekol is working on controlling this: "I try to be more conscious of my movements. There's a mirror in my health club that I look in, and my instructor is helpful in pointing out when I'm going too fast. I think it's working. I definitely see better muscle tone. Now if I can just keep my promise to work out as much as I say I will..."
10. Eating/drinking energy and sports bars during short workouts.
Remember: High-energy is code for high-calorie. If you're not working out for two or more hours a day, you don't need 'em.
Richard Moore is the Founder an President of
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