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Losing flab, not focus

Are you one of those people who signed up at the health club in January, vowing with the arrival of the new year to get in shape? About 35-million people nationwide are enrolled in gyms and fitness clubs, and the number is on the rise.

But now that it's March, more than a few of you may be wavering. Whether enrolled in an exercise program or simply opting for more walks around the neighborhood, fitness wanna-bes should beware of sabotaging their success.

Here are five workout mistakes to avoid, according to Tampa Bay area experts who have been at the fitness game a lot longer than the time it takes to flip a calendar page.

_ SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times staff writer

1. Doing too much too soon

Pushing through an exercise program too quickly often causes an injury, and the injury causes you to drop out, says Pat Arthur, director of the Physical Therapy Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"I always quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: Stay hungry," Arthur says.

Particularly for people 45 or older, an exercise program should progress slowly. If doing repetitions, don't add more than one per day, he says. If walking, increase walk by one minute per day. If you are still straining, wait until the workout is "only somewhat hard" before adding more, Arthur says.

"Your body will have time to adjust, and in a couple of weeks you'll be where you wanted to be anyway."

2. Failing to focus

The effectiveness of physical exertion is boosted by attentiveness. There are mental and emotional payoffs if you "attend" your workout.


Concentrate, says Beth Cole, instructor of power and ashtanga yoga at the Don Vista Community Center in St. Pete Beach.

You must leave the world behind, she says. Stop thinking about the office or your grocery list. Begin by remembering to breathe.

"When people start yoga, most have never worked with their breathing before," Cole says. "The breath links the body and the mind."

Exercise is not about competition with others or with one's self. "Come into a state of surrender," she says. "When you feel yourself struggling _ if your breathing is erratic _ focus on breathing, or back out" and bring the workout level down a notch.

3. Skipping the warmup

"The biggest mistake people make is that they don't warm up and stretch properly," says Joe Lavore, physical therapist and owner of Rehab Therapy Works in Brooksville.

After working for years with members of the Central High School athletic teams, Lavore has found that jocks are as guilty as weekend warriors of failing to sufficiently prepare the body for exercise. He suggests an easy jog or brisk walk for five minutes, followed by stretching exercises for another five. Yes, the walk comes before the stretching, he insists.

"A walk is to get you loosened up and your blood pumping," Lavore says.

A stretch is always done "s-l-o-w-l-y," he says. For example, while standing, put one foot on a chair or rail, then gently stretch your head and upper body toward the foot without bending the knee.

Walk and stretch at the end of a workout as well, Lavore says, to prevent muscle and joint injuries caused when a body is not given time to work in sync.

4. No goals, no glory

Fitness testing before beginning a workout program _ and as you progress through it _ will not only tell you what your body needs but prove to you that it's responding, says Mark Smith, fitness and wellness director at the downtown St. Petersburg YMCA.

"Getting on a scale is not the way to go. That discourages people because you're building muscle, and muscle weighs more," Smith says.

Tests performed by a professional to measure strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness at the beginning of a fitness program are used to design an individual workout plan. Retesting every six to eight weeks will chart oh-so-encouraging progress, Smith says. Beginners need to give their program 90 days to show significant results, he says.

To help keep you motivated, find a workout buddy so you have extra incentive on those days when you'd rather roll over in bed than get up and at it.

5. Missing opportunities

Do not let life's hectic pace throw you off your fitness plan because your plan is too complicated.

"You don't have to go to a gym. It's a lot easier to do these things than you think," says Heidi Vizzone, swimming teacher at the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club.

"Do 20 minutes a day three days a week," she says. "Dance while you're making dinner. Take a walk to pick up your kids instead of driving and waiting in the car line."

Who needs fancy equipment, Vizzone says. Soup cans or frozen jugs of water can become free weights. Swimming works every muscle, even those in the face, without machinery.

Lie on the ground and do leg lifts.


"People need to understand that it doesn't take a lot," Vizzone says.