One of the most common reasons that people give for neglecting their health and fitness is that they have a difficult time fitting a regular workout routine into their daily, or even weekly, lives. We are a generation who requires that we get our bang for our buck: we don’t want to waste a moment or a penny on anything that is a wasted effort.
So why is it that so many of us use our precious time spent at the gym inefficiently, guaranteeing that we are not going to see results, and that we are then going to fall into a defeatist coma?
The following are the most common mistakes that we make in the gym, rendering our time and effort pointless.
Warm Up And Cool Down
I have a friend who, when she exercises, does so with gusto. She will throw herself into a grueling routine and stick with it until the point of exhaustion or even pain. The problem: she refuses to warm up or cool down. This is a person who doesn’t believe in stretching her overwrought muscles. It is not a coincidence that she has busted both ankles and had to give up running, her passion, due to weak joints.
If you are the type of person who will throw themselves into a merciless routine, the least you can do for your body is this: warm up, cool down, and let your body rest. If you are exercising strenuously using cold muscles, you will likely injury yourself.
A quick warm up gears your body up for a workout, and a cool down, complete with stretches, allows you to stretch out contracted and exhausted muscles. If you do not follow this routine, throwing your body into an equally strenuous routine the next day is going to cause fatigue and set you up for injury.
Dependence On Machines
One of the goals of working out is to prepare your body for its everyday uses. This includes stretching, bending, lifting at awkward angles. Almost every movement you make in the real world uses a group of muscles in concert with each other. At the center of everyday movement is your core. Your core includes the group of muscles in your abdomen, back, hips, and chest. These muscles allow to you maintain balance and support the strength in every other muscle in your body.
Using stationary machines is not a bad thing. They have their place in a workout routine. But depending solely on resistance machines means that you are strengthening every muscle independent of the whole of your body. When you use a padded seat to support your core while doing an exercise, you are allowing your core muscle groups to rest, which does nothing for the transfer of muscle use into every day activities.
Instead of focusing your entire strength training on the machines, make sure that you incorporate free weights, resistance bands, exercise balls and medicine balls. These types of equipment force you not to isolate the muscle you are working, but to also work all of your ancillary muscle groups to force you to stabilize yourself, building balance, flexibility, and core strength, while at the same time working your focus muscles.
This is related to the same argument as dependence on machines at the gym. Isolating small groups of muscles and working them hard is great if you are a professional bodybuilder who is into the “sculpting” mode of his training. If, on the other hand, you are looking to increase your metabolism (making your body a more efficient fat burner) and build bulk, then forget spot training on small muscles like your calves or forearms.
Work on large groups of muscles, like your upper back muscles and chest, or your glutes, hips and quads. Concentrating on groups of muscles will not only speed up your workout (as you will hit more muscles at once), it will build lean muscle tissue in large mass muscles, which has the bonus side effect of burning fat at a faster rate, even at rest.
Intensity is a two-prong problem. The first is in the context of resistance training. If you overexert your body by cramming too many sets, reps, and variety of exercises into a workout, you are not doing yourself any fitness favours. You should be working your muscles to the point of exhaustion. If you are doing 5 sets of 20 reps, you are working out inefficiently. Increase your weight and lower your reps. The point is to work your muscle to its maximum exertion.
Doing so over 5 sets with lighter weights is just inefficient.
The other important part of working out is aerobic workout. While resistance training is important to build muscle, strength, and balance, aerobic activity is important for burning calories and improving the health of your cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, circulation) and your stamina. If you concentrate on a low-intensity aerobic workout, you are just doubling your time in the gym.
Certainly, it is better to go for a brisk walk than to sit on your butt. But, if we are speaking in relative terms, it makes much more sense to work harder (RUN) at a higher intensity (on an incline) to get your heart rate up to its target for 20 minutes than it does putzing around for an hour and never getting your heart into its target rate. It is both more efficient and it is more effective.
Why is it that we are so inclined to suffer through an ineffective, inefficient workout rather than do it right in half the time? Part of it is misinformation, and part of it is laziness. Many gyms have “personal trainers” who are trained on their gym’s equipment, but not necessarily schooled in effective fitness and health. Make sure that you are taking your advice from a certified trainer, not just some part-timer who took a two-day workshop.
Another part of it is that, in the struggle to get North Americans off the couch and back into some semblance of fitness, there are all sorts of sources out there that proclaim the “participaction” lifestyle of “just getting up and moving.” And that is a start. But as you move forward and want to see real results, the principles are just as simple: in order to have an effective workout routine, you need to be knowledgeable in effective technique, you need to use your brain, and you need to work really hard. If something isn’t an effort—a great effort—it probably isn’t efficient.