It can be tough to tell if you’re exercising the “right” way.
If you don’t work with a trainer, how are you supposed to know if, say, your form is spot on, or whether your workout routine matches your goals, or whether that exercise you do 100 reps of every day is really doing anything.
So, BuzzFeed Health reached out to fitness experts with all kinds of backgrounds and specialties to ask them for the most common mistakes people make with their exercise routines. Here’s what they told us:
1. Relying solely on cardio for weight loss.
“If your longterm weight loss effort focuses only on cardio and your diet is on point, then, yes, you are likely to lose weight, but you will also be losing muscle. By doing that, you are not contributing to preserving your muscle mass, which is responsible for accelerating your metabolism and burning fat. When you lose lean body mass it stalls your metabolism and your body will become less efficient at burning fat and losing weight and will get weaker.
So while cardio can be a great place to start, combining it with strength training is essential if your goal is to lose weight and burn fat.”
2. Not pushing yourself enough and/or going way too hard.
“Most people are working out at the wrong intensity. They are either working way too hard, or just not pushing themselves enough.
The foundation of your fitness routine should be workouts that are comfortably hard. Your effort, on a scale of 1 to 10, should be at about a 6. Do high-intensity workouts only 2 or 3 times a week (depending on your fitness level/experience) and make sure those workouts are shorter. They should be done at an effort level of about an 8 on a 1-10 scale and include rest periods.”
3. And doing tons of high-intensity workouts before your body is ready.
“While there is a time and place for high intensity, keep in mind that building a strong aerobic base — which is crucial for cardiovascular health — is just as important, and is what allows you to do those higher-intensity workouts.
Exercising at a moderate intensity is also technically the ‘fat burning zone’ and puts less stress on the body over longer periods of time.”
—Josh Holland, Trainer, Qinetic
4. Lifting weights really fast.
“It is commonly assumed that faster is better when it comes to working out; the faster you run, cycle, or dance, the more calories you burn. However, that doesn’t necessarily apply to strength training. Often times, slower is more effective. When you work slower, momentum isn’t assisting you as much, and therefore your muscles are forced to work harder. As an added bonus, there’s less risk of injury.”
—Amanda Freeman, Founder/CEO, SLT
5. Not eating enough fat.
“Eating fats will help give you consistent energy throughout your day and support hormonal levels that will help you get the most out of your workouts in terms of improved recovery time between workouts, reduced inflammation, and lean muscle gain. Fats also help regulate blood sugar and help you stay satiated.”
6. Changing up your workout constantly.
“When you workout-hop — go from class to class — you never master the form and technique for a given workout and your body is at greater risk for injury. If you are always changing your workout you never get better at any of it.
Commit to one or two workout regimens and stick to them. Work with smart trainers and teachers and closely monitor your progress to make the best possible gains for your body.”
—Alycea Ungaro, Owner/Founder, Real Pilates
7. Overestimating the number of calories you’re burning.
“People think they burn a lot more calories than they actually do! Sometimes people will think that the one-hour class they take has burned 1100 calories, or that their 20-minute high-intensity workout is burning 600 calories. But most people who are exercising for general health and fitness and weight management aren’t likely to burn anywhere near that.
Unless you’re an elite athlete or working out over an hour per day, I recommend not counting more than 300 calories coming from fitness towards your overall intake.”
8. Doing push-ups with sketchy form.
“I find most people tend to:
* Allow their hips to dip too low in the front plank position. This can be due to lack of core strength.
* Tilt their neck down so that their face touches the floor before their chest as they’re lowering down.
In the first example, you’re straining your lower back, and in the second, your neck. In both cases you’re probably not getting the most out of the movement and you’re also increasing your risk of injury, all because of not-so-great form.
The fix: Squeeze your glutes and brace your abs. Both will help with better alignment and putting you into a better, joint-friendly position. If you can’t complete a full push-up without letting your hips sag or keeping your neck neutral, start with push-ups off your knees instead.”
—Tony Gentilcore, Boston-based personal trainer and strength coach
9. Working out on an empty stomach.
“Not fueling up or eating properly beforehand can seriously affect your performance during a workout. Having a full tank allows you to perform better and go harder, which means better results. Think of it like a high-performance car that has no gas in the tank.”
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10. Following quick-fix diets or using “miracle” supplements.
“Although there are some supplements that have been scientifically validated to aid in health and performance, there is no supplement you need to take in order to improve your general health and physical appearance. The two things you do need to do for those goals, however, are:
* Participate in some form of physical activity.
* Eat mostly foods based on fruits and vegetables and on high-quality meats, eggs, and fish (or protein substitutes, for vegetarians and vegans). Limit your intake of refined foods, simple sugars, hydrogenated oil, and alcohol. And don’t overeat.
Remain skeptical of ‘magic’ and ‘miracle’ claims, and avoid being taken in by marketing hype.”
11. Doing the exact same workout over and over.
“Once your body becomes adjusted to a workout it will most likely reach a plateau, making it difficult to continue getting fitter. Make sure you’re pushing yourself incrementally more each time you work out — adding some weight, reps, or sets, running a little farther or faster, and doing different kinds of cardio, and learning different lifts.”
—Anowa Adjah, owner and CEO of Powerhouse Physiques
12. Avoiding yoga because you think you’re not flexible enough.
“I often hear people say they don’t go to yoga because they ‘aren’t flexible enough to do yoga.’ This is such a misconception! Aside from the fact that the physical component of yoga is only one piece of the amazingness that is yoga, even if we are talking about the physical practice, being super flexible is not a prerequisite. The idea is to connect mind and body — to truly listen to your body and move with breath.
There’s nothing in there that says you have to be able to touch your toes or stand on your head or backbend like crazy. Sure that can come with time and practice but it might not and that’s OK, too.
If you are willing to step on your mat with an open mind and willingness to explore your breath and movement, you can do yoga.”
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13. Or trying to get flexible using static stretching.
“Static stretching is not the only way to improve flexibility. In Pilates, we strive to dynamically move through the joints’ entire range of motion to enhance flexibility. Working with control, breath, and attention to precise alignment at the end ranges of motion allows our body and brain to familiarize themselves with the new movement, and eventually give us access to the new range.”
—Katie Yip, New York City–based Pilates teacher
14. Swinging the kettlebell all wrong.
“Some people really don’t understand the concept of the hip hinge, which is crucial for a proper kettlebell swing. If you don’t understand how to hinge, the swing becomes a squat-like movement. Also, a lot of people think the swing is an arm/shoulder exercise. It’s actually the vigorous force of the hip thrust that drives the kettlebell up.
—Noelle Nieva, CrossFit coach and licensed massage therapist, Brooklyn Body Shop
15. Relying on lots of reps of light weights when your goal is to get stronger and change your body composition.
“Lifting heavy weights is better for total body transformation and to improve your strength and overall health. Using heavier weights also releases more muscle growth and fat-burning hormones than lifting light weights. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism and you’ll burn more calories and fat even when you’re not working out.”
16. Doing countless crunches to get rid of belly fat.
“Your abs are muscles that will get stronger as you exercise. But doing hundreds of crunches is not an effective way to get rid of belly fat. Instead, incorporate plank variations and compound exercises like goblet squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and fat-burning moves like burpees, and plyometric exercises to your full-body workouts. These exercises strengthen the core and will help burn overall body fat.”
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