Nearly nine out of 10 people who so energetically begin an exercise program will walk away within six months. Many become disenchanted by failing to achieve the desired results from their efforts, while other exercisers quit the regimen because of newly acquired aches and pains.
While taking time to introduce strength-training exercise into your life is a positive step toward fitness and health, you need to recognize the common exercise mistakes that can be more harmful than helpful. Some errors not only compromise the quality and effectiveness of the workout, but also they have potential for causing pain and injuries that develop only at a later date.
How you perform the exercise has a direct relationship with the results. "It's easy over time to develop work habits that can lead to injury," says Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "Also, it's important to update your program periodically: Continuing research . . . sometimes shows that the conventional wisdom for performing some exercises is wrong. It pays to be up on the latest."
Here are five common strength-training exercise mistakes:
• Never hold your breath when lifting weights, as it can make you dizzy; exhale on the exertion.
• Do not extend your knees over toes, because this places too much stress upon the knees. Typically this mistake is made when the person is performing squats and lunges.
• Failure to protect the back. When lifting weights in a standing position, contract your abdominals, do not lock your knees and avoid overarching your back.
• Lifting too much weight too soon. The safest way to increase muscle strength is to use gradual progressive resistance.
• Lowering the weight too quickly. You will have more strength gains by emphasizing the lowering of the weight (known as eccentric contraction). Count two seconds up and four seconds down.
• Jerking or "throwing" the weight. This is an indication the weight is too heavy. This movement can lead to muscle strain, with the back being particularly vulnerable. If you are lifting the weight correctly, you should feel tension only in the targeted muscle, not in the surrounding joints. Your moves should always be smooth and you should feel in control at all times.
Stretching before you work out
At one time, stretching before you exercised was recommended; however, it is now believed to be counterproductive to stretch a "cold'' muscle.
Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. and strength-training consultant for the American Council on Exercise, International Fitness Institute and the national YMCA, says that because tendons have a limited blood supply, it takes them longer to warm up than muscles. Performing stretches before a workout — when tendons are cold — increases the risk for small tears in the connective tissue in or around the tendon. These tears are painful and slow to heal.
Instead, stretch after the warm-up. And always stretch after the workout: This is when stretches are most effective for developing flexibility.
Never changing your workout
When you repeatedly perform the same exercise in the same training mode for long periods of time, you will eventually hit a plateau. In the fitness world, this is termed the principle of adaptation.
You will notice a decrease in further gains in improvement.
Suggestions: After you have built a basic strength and endurance foundation, you can add stimulation to your workout by adding cross training to your routine: Change the exercise sequence, vary rhythm patterns of lifting and lowering, substitute one exercise for another that targets the same muscle groups.
And be sure to add integrated exercises such as squats, lunges and medicine ball routines, which work the entire body. These changes in movement patterns stimulate recruitment of different muscle fibers, increasing strength gains as well as adding interest to the workout.
Unbalanced muscle workouts
Generally, most people tend to focus their exercise on just certain muscles, particularly abdominals and arms. Strengthening some muscles while neglecting others can lead to lower back pain, knee problems, poor posture and other injuries. We need muscular balance to protect our joints.
Suggestions: Exercise all the major muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs, hips and legs.
Believing strength training can spot reduce
There is no such thing as reducing excess fat in one part of your body by repeatedly exercising that area. You will lose fat when you burn off more calories than you take in; your genes will determine the sites where you will lose. The exercise will likely tone specific muscles but not cause fat there to disappear.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning ANY exercise program. Sally Anderson, a trainer, is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
Four of the best moves for targeting common problem areas, as compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise and demonstrated by Jerry Biehn, 51, while working out at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg:
The push-up strengthens upper body — shoulders, arms and chest.
With arms supporting upper body (elbows slightly bent), extend the legs, placing palms of hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping body straight by contracting abdominals and gluteals, count to three, as you slowly lower yourself until upper arms are parallel to floor. Using chest and upper arm muscles, push back to original position.
Tip: You might want to try modified push-ups, which are performed by supporting lower body with knees instead of toes. This reduces amount of pressure on arms.
The lunge (left) strengthens lower body — buttocks, thighs and calves.
Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Step forward with left foot, keeping left knee centered over ankle. With chest lifted, bend both knees until left thigh is parallel to floor and right thigh is perpendicular to floor; back heel will be lifted off floor.
Push off with left foot and return to original standing position; repeat on opposite side. Begin with 8 to 10 repetitions, gradually increasing to two sets of 10. Adding handheld weights is an option.
Tip: Do not step too far forward or you may have problems with balance. Hold onto a chair for support, if needed. Beginners do not have to bend knees as low.
Standing angels in the snow stretches chest muscles while strengthening muscles in middle of back, a good exercise for strengthening rounded shoulders.
Standing with back against a wall, extend arms shoulder height with elbows bent. Slide arms up the wall, keeping elbows and back of hands in contact with the wall. Lower arms to original position.
Tip: This is harder than it looks. In the beginning, your elbows may not touch the walls as you are lifting your arms upward. Perform arm movements slowly, repeating eight times.
The bicycle crunch (below) targets abdominals.
Lying on back with hands supporting head, lift upper body several inches off the floor. Bring one knee in toward your chest while extending other leg several feet off the ground. Slightly rotate opposite shoulder toward bent knee, then slowly reverse the movement.
Begin with 8 to 10 repetitions and gradually increase to two sets of 10.
Tip: Always keep the small of your back in contact with the floor, and do not pull on the neck. If you have back issues, do not lower legs too close to floor.