Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eight Fitness Mistakes We All Make

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I've made every mistake there is.

If you have friends or loved ones who are also keeping fit and living their lives, then you've probably heard stories from them. If you've ever watched people in a race or just kind of looked around at the gym, you've undoubtedly seen lots of people making mistakes.

But let's not judge. Hey, we're all human. And the real error is not learning from your mistakes. So here are a bunch that I think are pretty common.

Not Going Hard Enough: When you're exercising, you have two main goals in mind: getting stronger, and improving your cardiovascular health. (Yes, improving flexibility and mobility are goals, too, but only insofar as they help you with strength and fitness.) But if you're comfortable the whole time, you're not really getting stronger or fitter. You're not breaking the tissues that will repair and build muscle. You're not expanding your lung and heart capacity. Don't be that guy who reads the paper on the treadmill or pushes super-light weights just to feel the pump.

Pushing Yourself Too Hard: Regular Guys have only so much time to exercise. The whole point is to keep fit and live your life. So the temptation is to push yourself to total failure on every set, to run or bike or swim every distance the fastest you can without having to let up. But you shouldn't.
  • You're setting yourself up for injury. The more tired you are, the more your form suffers.
  • You're going to wear yourself out. 
  • Your body will still get great benefit from moderate-intensity work.
  • Endurance is an aspect of aerobic fitness. The longer you can go, the more you can do.
Yes, there is benefit to pushing yourself to failure some of the time. Unless you're an elite athlete, you probably have not gotten your VO2 max as high as it can go. And if you don't lift heavy some of the time, and do it till you can't, you won't recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers that build explosion and power.

Wasting Time: So you really have only so much time. You can sit there on the bench between sets, check your text messages, scope the cute gals (no staring!), or whatever it is you do while you recover. Or you can work another part of your body. When I'm lifting, between sets I'll work my core muscles with stuff like bicycle crunches, flutter kicks, leg circles, bodyweight squats, lunges, etc. -- muscles that I'm not lifting with. It keeps my heart rate up, I get in some necessary core strengthening, and it really doesn't add any time to my workout.

Not Resting Enough: I just ran into this two weeks ago. From the last week in July until the end of September, I'd been attacking my fitness program with no abandon. I ran or lifted at least five days a week, and generally more. And then I ran into a very busy stretch at work and tried to keep it all up. You can guess what happened. One morning at the gym, I was dragging. I had a splitting headache. And I totally failed during a set of dumbbell presses. I realized: What the hell am I doing? This is ridiculous. I was completely fatigued and wound up needing the rest of the week off from workouts. Sometimes you can keep up that pace. And sometimes, life catches up with Regular Guys. Cut yourself some slack -- long term, you're better off.

Disregarding Form: As I mentioned, if you exercise around other people enough, you're bound to witness a ton of bad form. Maintaining good form has two main benefits: You maximize efficiency, and you minimize injury risk. I've found that, as a real general concept, breakdowns in form involve asking too little muscle to support too much weight. That can mean:
  • Simply trying to lift more than you're capable of.
  • Over-extending your body. For example, flared-out elbows are a major no-no for most upper-body lifts.
  • Over-striding while you're running, instead of keeping your weight centered over your feet.
That's just a real general guideline. Do some reading up on stuff you're not sure about. Ask a trainer for help. Watch a video. Whatever it takes to get things right.

Doing Too Much of One Thing: We've covered this before. An effective fitness program includes both cardio and resistance training. The amounts should be based on your current levels and your overall goals, but ignoring one or the other will keep you from achieving those goals. Beyond that, however, you can get stuck in smaller ruts.
  • If all your runs, rides or swims are the same general distance and intensity, you're not going to build your VO2 max, and you're not going to effect the molecular changes that come with endurance training. For example, competitive runners employ eight different types of training runs.
  • We've all seen the leg-day memes, but it's really no joke. Your body has about 640 muscles. And in any training session, you're never going to be able to hit all of the major muscle groups effectively. Even if you had the time -- which no Regular Guy does -- you'll deplete your energy long before you hit everything. So if you're doing the same handful of upper-body lifts every time, you need to branch out.
  • If you're looking to build both endurance and power -- and unless you're a specialist, that's what you should be doing -- you want to recruit both fast-twitch and slow twitch-muscles. That means you should mix up low rep/high weight and high rep/low weight lifts.

All your macros, not a ton of calories, and delicious!
Ignoring Nutrition: I'm not a nutritional zealot by any stretch of the imagination. Unless you're a competitive bodybuilder, you don't need to go down the rabbit hole of metabolic timing, extreme macro counting, yo-yo bulking and cutting phases, food measuring and the such. And a diet that makes no room for enjoyment is pointless -- a perfect physique shouldn't come with a side order of misery. That said, working out is not license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Some basic guidelines:
  • To build muscle, you need protein. I shoot for 30 grams per meal, plus a whey shake after resistance training and high-protein Greek yogurt for a late-afternoon snack.
  • If your caloric intake is greater than your output, you'll gain weight. If it's lower, you'll lose weight. If it's the same, you'll stay the same. I'm not a slavish calorie counter, but you have to have a ballpark idea.
  • The quality of your food matters, but only after you work out your CICO.
  • You should also learn a bit about pre- and post-workout nutrition. I try to get a little bit of carbs before a morning workout. After a run, I replenish with chocolate milk. If I'm lifting, it's a protein shake.

Not Learning About Your Body: Really, this could be a whole blog post on its own. But what I'm focusing on is understanding the signs that you need to take a break. You know I don't like the admonition to listen to your body, but you do need to understand what's a minor blip and what's a harbinger of big problems. And when it's the latter, you need to take the right steps to fix the problem. That almost always starts with some time off.

So What About You?
What are some of the mistakes you've made? And what have you learned from them? What advice would you give to someone who's just starting out, or struggling? I've found that one of the best ways to learn is to share ideas with other Regular Guys, so don't be bashful! Comment below, on Facebook or on Twitter! And if you've gotten something out of this post, please share it with other people you think will, too!

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