Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I've Made Every Mistake There Is

Wearing two different shoes? Mistake!
I think I've been pretty honest with you since I started FftRG: I'm no expert.

I try to write based on my experiences with nutrition and exercise. And a lot of my experience comes in the form of mistakes. I'm pretty sure I've made 'em all. So let's talk about a few of the biggies.

Trying to work through injury. 
I think this is probably the biggest mistake you can make. As I've said a few times, no workout regimen will survive without a few bumps and dings. But there's a ding and then there's an injury.

When I was first getting serious as a runner, I tweaked my ankle. I was able to walk and go about life, and so I figured I could work around it. So I went to the gym, did some weight training, and then got on the elliptical -- you know, to save myself some impact. But my towel fell off the machine, and somehow the timer got reset. I got so frustrated with it I moved to the treadmill. Big mistake. What was a minor tweak turned into a really bad ankle sprain. I could barely walk, and it took more than a week before I saw any progress.

If it doesn't start healing on its own within a few days, it hurts more with exercise or it hurts more right after exercise, don't push your luck. And if a few days' rest doesn't help, it's time to see a doctor.

Starting your workout like your hair's on fire.
No matter what you're doing -- running, biking, lifting, doing bodyweight moves, whatever -- you have only so much energy for it. And once the tank is empty, it's empty.

Earlier this week, I wrote that I went out too fast on a run and wound up having to cut it short. On a short run in my neighborhood, that's no big deal -- it's just a trudge home. But on my last long training run before my marathon this spring, I made the same mistake. I was going for 21 or 22 miles. By mile 12, I had an inkling that I was in trouble. By mile 16, I was hurting. And somewhere around 19, I was on the verge of collapse. The worst part: I was almost 2 miles away from my car. I actually had to take a break from walking I was so tired.

When you're planning your exercise, keep your goal in mind. You get a lot more benefit from completing a full workout than from going "beast mode" and falling apart midway through.

Trying to go from 0-100 immediately.
I've talked about this before: Some years ago, I thought it'd be a good idea to get in shape by running. So I slapped on some old sneakers and took off at the pace I used to do in high school -- and made it about three blocks. I was talking to a friend recently, and he told me a similar story -- except instead of just running out of gas, he actually injured himself.

If it's been a while since you've paid attention to your fitness, you can't just dive in at the deep end. It's not just running -- overdoing any exercise when you're just starting out is asking for trouble. You can't run an eight-minute mile, and you can't bench your bodyweight.

But be patient -- gains won't come immediately, but they will come quicker than you realize. Give yourself two weeks, and I'll bet dollars to donuts that you'll have made significant progress. And by the time a month has passed, other people will start noticing, too.

Doing just one thing.
OK, so I've admonished you to find the thing that works for you and do that. But if you do just one thing, the same way, over and over again, you're doing yourself a disservice.

Don't get chicken legs!
Yes, any exercise is better than none. But if you run the same 2 miles at the same pace for a few weeks, it's going to start feeling easy. And if you're lifting, you need to work all of your major muscle groups. For one thing, you'll look silly with bulging biceps and toothpick legs. And I would argue that if you don't change things up, you'll create imbalances that could make things more difficult down the road.

And it should go without saying at this point that you need to do both cardio and strength training.

Not warming up.
Asking cold muscles to perform at mid-workout intensity is a recipe for disaster. I can't tell you how many pulls, strains and the such I've caused myself with impatience. I've been fortunate -- I've never suffered a major injury due to lack of warmup. But it's playing with fire.

The more experience I get as a runner, the more I've added to my warmup routine. I start with a minute of just basic walking. Then a minute of monster strides -- that's when you pick your knees up high like you're stomping. Then full kicks forward, and then backward. I'll also do a minute of these side kicks where I'll flex my hip and knee, and slap the outside of my shoe. And usually a dozen bodyweight squats or lunges.

Note that all my warmup moves are dynamic stretches, not static stretches. There's tons of research out there suggesting that static stretching of cold muscles and tendons can inhibit performance or even lead to injury.

Skimping on sleep.
There are all sorts of reasons why you should strive for a solid night's sleep. You don't need me to tell you about them. But it's especially important when you have a big workout coming up.

Get your beauty rest!
Runners will often tell you that your sleep two nights before a race is what matters, and that's been true in my experience. I ran a half-marathon in November, and woke up in the middle of the night because the heat had conked out. I still finished in a time I was pleased with, and I had a great kick in the last mile. I would posit that this is the case for any big event or workout.

Extrapolating, your overall sleep -- not just on one particular night -- is going to be the real factor here. Rest is what allows your muscles to recover, and there's a cumulative benefit, just like there's cumulative fatigue if you don't recover enough.

The next time a Nike or Under Armour ad comes on, do yourself a favor and turn it off. When someone tells you they're in "beast mode," ignore them. When you see crazy workouts on the Internet, click elsewhere.

Nothing like a little guilt to get you to overtrain!
There's a reason professional athletes have the bodies they do -- it's what they're paid for. Their office is the gym, the practice field, the track. They are most certainly not Regular Guys.

For Regular Guys, it's all about keeping fit and living your life. But when you overdo the exercise, everything suffers. You'll find yourself unable to focus on work, family and friends. It becomes harder to sleep. You may hurt your immune system. And worst of all, you may not even improve your fitness.

We all have a bad workout here and there -- that's normal. But if you have three or four in a row, and you can rule out other factors, take a look at your training log. Have you ramped up all of a sudden? There's a good chance you have, and there's a good chance it's making everything worse.

Not seeking advice.
If you've gotten this far, you're probably pretty open to having conversations with other Regular Guys about fitness. But don't be afraid to ask for guidance elsewhere. There are many Facebook groups and Reddit topics devoted to all sorts of fitness endeavors. And most experienced gym rats -- even the guys who look big and scary -- are actually more than happy to offer a tip or two. But you have to ask!

Forgetting a towel.
This one sounds kind of silly, but it's really a big deal. If you're working up a sweat, you need a towel. If you're at the gym, it's proper etiquette to wipe down a machine when you're done with it. And regardless of where you're exercising, you should be working hard enough that you perspire so much that it gets annoying.

Nothing you do at the gym will say "noob" more than not having a towel.

There are plenty of mistakes you can make -- this just scratches the surface. And as I wrote at the top, I'm pretty sure I've made them all. But the Regular Guy chalks that up to experience and is better for it. And maybe sometime down the road, you'll see someone doing something dopey, and be able to help them out with some friendly advice.

What exercise mistakes have you made? What was the takeaway lesson? Don't worry -- nobody's going to make fun of you. We've all been there! So let's hear it!

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