As the saying goes, "old habits die hard." When you've been doing the same thing over and over again, it is indeed difficult to make changes. Unfortunately, many people have developed bad exercise habits, and bad exercise habits can lead not only to ineffective workouts but, in many cases, to injuries. As we near the end of the year, it's a good time to identify any negative habits and adjust your workout routine accordingly. Here are six common fitness errors that may be hindering your progress.
Ignoring warmups: It is important to rev up the circulation and loosen tight muscles before your workout. For many years it was believed that you should warm up by stretching one muscle group at a time. Times have changed. That type of stretching, known as static stretching (stretch and hold), is now recommended at the end of the workout, after your muscles are warmed up. Dynamic stretching (active stretching movements) is the preferred way to warm up.
Lat pulldown behind neck: Pulling a bar down behind your head was a popular movement years ago, until it was determined that such movement causes neck and back injuries because it forces the shoulders into an abnormal plane of motion. Pulling the bar in front of the body — to chest level — is the preferred way to do this exercise, which strengthens the back muscles.
Crazy crunches: We've all seen it: A person lies on the floor, hands behind head, and uses momentum to pull on the neck and "throw" the chest up to knee level. While this can be very bad for your back, there's another drawback: It doesn't actually strengthen the abs. Ab exercises on the floor do not require much movement. Once you lift beyond your shoulders, you begin recruiting back and hip muscles to help, which cancels the concentrated abdominal work and jeopardizes the back.
Forgetting your core: Many people perform ab exercises and neglect the rest of the core. Because back issues are often a result of a weak core, it's important to strengthen the entire core, not just the abdominals.
Swinging and jerking: This usually happens when people lift weights that are too heavy or lift too fast. Both can lead to muscle strain, with back muscles being particularly vulnerable. Lifting weights that are too heavy will reduce your range of motion, and lifting weights too fast is really momentum, not muscle, doing most of the work. Your workout will be safer and much more effective with slow, controlled movements.
Lack of variety: Repeating the same movements over and over or continually repeating the exercises in the same order can become boring and lead to burnout. It also can lead to an exercise plateau because the body has adapted to the exercise and gains in fitness are seemingly "stuck." To prevent this, add an element of surprise. Try mixing up your routine and occasionally introducing new movements.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at email@example.com.