Hey, gym rats. Stiff neck? Bored with your cardio routine? Or perhaps you aren't seeing the results you're accustomed to. It's not the exercises. It just could be . . . you. Here's how to avoid common exercise mistakes and maximize your time and gym dollars.
Sally Anderson, special to the Times
Quality, not quantity: Don't put yourself on automatic pilot as you run through your exercises, or prop up a magazine or book while walking the treadmill. Distractions reduce the intensity of your workout. Don't be a slave to fast repetitions, either. If you're doing your reps too quickly, you'll be using momentum rather than muscle power. Slow down and perform fewer reps, using correct form, and you'll give your muscles a more significant challenge.
This weight's . . . just right: If your weights are too light, you won't get significant gains in strength, toning or bone density. If your weights are too heavy, you will be compromising proper form, increasing the risk for injuries. How do you know how much weight to use? The targeted muscles should feel fatigued with the final repetition. Begin with a weight that you can lift 10 to 12 times, gradually increasing to two sets of 10 to 12 reps. If you cannot do 10 reps, the weight is too heavy. If you can easily do two sets of 12 reps and feel that you can do more, it is time to increase the weight. You would then reduce the repetitions and gradually build up again until you can reach 10 to 12 reps.
No more same old, same old: Repeating the same exercise routine may be good for enhancing sport performances but not so for achieving gains for strength or weight loss. The principle of adaptation kicks in and eventually your body adapts and you reach a plateau, burning fewer calories as the familiarity of the exercises will require less energy to perform. The key to challenging your muscles? Put variety into your workout at least every four weeks: Learn two or three different exercises for each muscle group; change the sequence of your exercises; and increase and decrease intensity by performing intervals when doing cardio.
Your mother was right; stand up straight: "We see many people in the gym leaning on equipment," says Debi Pillarella, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. "We call it 'gym slouch'. They're on the Stairmaster (elliptical cross trainer) or treadmill, leaning over and hanging on for dear life." Good posture is important on the treadmill. When you continue to lean forward, your spine does not receive sufficient support and your lower back does not like it. And if you can, as you walk try to swing your arms naturally; you will burn more calories.
Use your muscles, not your head: During crunches, lift from your abdominals, not your head and neck. Pulling on your neck rather than lifting your shoulders results in a sore, stiff neck and, worse, you won't even be working the abs. "Do mindful exercise," says Pillarella. "The contraction should be from the rib cage to the hip bone. Put your mind into the muscles that are working and keep all the other muscles quiet."
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.