Get results and stay motivated with your new workout routine by avoiding these common pitfalls
#1: Setting Unrealistic Goals
If you decide that running a 5K is your goal, but you’ve never run before, trying to finish one by the end of your first week of training isn’t the best idea. ”The biggest mistake that new exercisers make is setting incredibly unattainable goals,” says Samantha Clayton , a certified personal trainer and former Olympic sprinter in Malibu, California. Starting your first week off by going for your first run in years, several days in a row, will most likely have you throwing in the towel by Wednesday.
Before you can run, you need to start walking. “Small, simple and easy goals will build your confidence and help you to stick with it,” says Clayton. If, for example, your ultimate goal is to run a 5K but you’ve never run before, break down your larger goal into smaller, more realistic steps. Start off with brisk walking the first week, graduate to a walk/run combo the next, and then eventually progress into running longer distances until you’re ready to race to the finish line of your long term goal.
#2: Expecting To See Results Right Away
Have you been exercising for three straight weeks, yet that extra weight hasn’t budged? Even if your body looks no different than when you were choosing couch time over gym time, don’t throw in the towel. “Adaptations to the body take time,” says Clayton. “The perfectly sculpted guns and buns that you see all over the gym took weeks if not months of training to achieve, but many new exercisers expect immediate results.”
Success strategy: Just because you can’t see any visible changes yet, doesn’t mean your body isn’t changing. Instead of focusing on immediate visible gratification, focus on how you feel instead to stay motivated. Chances are you’ll start to feel better, have more energy, and slowly start to feel less winded and stronger before you’ll actually see your scale weight or dress size drop. “The truth is change takes time, so patience is key,” says Clayton. Most experts agree that it can take 6 weeks (or more) to begin to see changes in how you look.
#3: Doing Too Much, Too Soon
Trying to make up for lost time in the gym during your very first workout is a recipe for disaster. Just because you were able to lift/sprint/jump like that in college, doesn’t mean your body is ready (or willing) to do it now! Trying to impress your workout partner (or yourself) by taking on more than your body can handle can lead to injury or a pulled muscle fast, says Clayton.
Success strategy: Be realistic about your starting level, and progress slowly from there. Just starting a strength training routine? Be sure to master new exercises with just your body weight first, and then add in light dumbbells once you’re able to maintain proper form.
#4: Using Improper Form or Technique
“It is so important to do exercises right — one correct squat is better for your body than 10 poor ones,” says Clayton. Doing exercises improperly, leaning on handlebars of cardio equipment or even setting up weight machines incorrectly can easily cause strain or injury, sidelining you from future workouts. And don’t count on watching other exercisers at the gym to learn, says Clayton. Following someone that may look like they know what they are doing could be dangerous, especially if they aren’t a trained professional or working at the same fitness level as you.
Some common mistakes you might be making? Many beginners mistakenly bend their knees past their toes on squats and lunges , and allow their hips to sag on planks and pushups. If done improperly, you’ll fail to target the right muscle(s) and you’ll also put yourself at risk for injury or muscle strain.
Success strategy: “Do your body a favor and learn the correct technique from the pros,” says Clayton. If you’re interested in strength training, for instance, pick up a book like Weight Training for Dummies , pop in an instructional DVD or schedule a session (or two) with a personal trainer for professional help mastering new moves and key form tips.
#5: Having No Goals At All
Unrealistic goals may not be helpful, but having no goals at all won’t do anything for you over the long term either, says Michele Olson, Ph.D. , professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. “Goal-setting is long known to be effective in helping one adhere to exercise and is extremely important to get a new exerciser on track and moving in purposeful directions.” Success Strategy: Once you’ve determined what your main goal is, break it down into mini-goals that have a timeline to stay inspired and on track. “Reaching each mini-goal is quite inspiring and fuels the desire to continue on an exercise plan to reach important, larger goals,” Olson says.
And once you’ve determined your goal, visit SStickk.com for help achieving it! This site is dedicated to helping you stay accountable and on track with your goals (you can raise the stakes by pledging money, getting a referee to help monitor your progress and ask for support from the community). Best of all it’s free (unless you don’t achieve your goal, in which case you may end up donating some of your wagered money to charity). Prefer to use an app? Check out MyFitnessPal which doubles as a calorie and exercise tracker where you can log in your workouts and meals — perfect for anyone with a weight loss goal.
#6: Understanding That Diet Is as Important as Exercise
If one of your big reasons for working out is weight loss, don’t expect to drop any weight without changing your diet, too. One of the biggest mistakes beginner exercisers make is not realizing that dietary intake and nutrition are an important part of any exercise plan, says Olson.
Success Strategy: In order to see visible changes in your body, pay attention to what you fuel it with — not all calories are created equal! Eliminate as many empty calories as possible and focus on foods that provide your body with the nutrition and energy your body needs, especially now that you’re exercising.
And be careful not to adopt the ‘I burned it, I earned it’ mentality — it’s so easy to eat back any extra calories burned at the gym, and it takes less than five seconds! To lose weight, be sure to maintain a daily caloric deficit with both exercise and nutrition (cutting back 250 calories a day from your diet and burning an extra 250 more can help you drop one pound per week, for example). You may also need to amp up your water intake too, especially if sweating has become a regular habit.
#7: Following a One-Size-Fits-All Workout Plan
While that workout plan you tore out of your magazine may be solid, it may not be the best plan for your body and your goals. Doing three to five days of cardio and two days a week of strength training might work for some people, but you may need to start elsewhere, says Olson. For example, you may need to improve your flexibility and drop a percentage (or two) of body fat before jumping on the stair stepper machine for a full 45-minutes or completing the entire circuit in the weight room for the first time, she says.
Success Strategy: Create your own plan. Look to magazines, websites and other resources for ideas, but always ask yourself how those recommendations fit into your personal goal timeline and individual preferences. Here are some helpful tips from the Mayo Clinic to start designing your personal plan. Not sure how to get to where you want to go? Seek the advice of a professional to help you craft your own perfect route.
#8: Trying Every Trend
Just because ‘Tabata training’ is all the rage, doesn’t mean it’s the exercise program of choice for everyone , especially ‘newbies,’ says Olson. Begin with exercise basics and avoid jumping on any bandwagon until you’ve had a proper intro to exercise and have built up your basic cardio, flexibility and strength levels, recommends Olson.
Success Strategy: Sure, it’s fun to try new trends, but it’s also important to be honest about your current fitness level too. Focus on building up your aerobic base and general strength before jumping into more challenging trends. And, if you’re super excited to try that Zumba class, it may be helpful to look for a location that offers a beginner session that can orient you with some basic steps and the pace of the class before jumping right in with a group that may have been dancing together for years. You’ll be less likely to get frustrated and leave once the music starts blaring and the room starts moving. And make sure the trends you try fit into your overall plan (even if it’s just to have a little fun).
#9: Not Doing What Motivates You
Do you hate riding a bike and going nowhere? Then indoor cycling may not be the best cardio for you. Love dancing? Then a Jazzercise class might be a great fit. Find activities you love then figure out what your ‘fitness personality’ is, recommends Kim Truman , a certified personal trainer and peak performance coach in Dallas, Texas. Are you someone who likes to work out alone at home, or do you find inspiration from going to the gym? Do you need the extra accountability factor of a workout partner or a personal trainer? Answering questions like What types of activities do I enjoy? Where do I prefer to exercise? What motivates me most? before you start your workout routine can help you stay inspired to stick with it.
Success Strategy: Ask yourself (and answer) the above questions and stay motivated to achieve your goals by incorporating workouts, classes and activities that you enjoy doing, and that are in sync with your fitness personality, says Truman. Not sure what your fitness personality is? Take this fun quiz from About.com to find out what types of activities are right for you.
#10: Not Asking For Help
The first few months are the most challenging in changing habits and sticking with a new routine, says Patricia Frieberg , a certified group fitness instructor star of the “Power 4 Pink” DVD in Thousand Oaks, California. Taking advantage of the professional help that a trainer, physical therapist or even a nutritionist can provide may help you start off (and stay) on the right foot with your workouts. Hiring a trainer can help provide you with a scheduled time and monetary commitment to adherence to your new plan, says Frieberg.
Success Strategy: Even if you’re on a budget, paying for professional help for a little while can maximize the money you may be spending on a gym membership (to ensure you’ll keep using it, not just paying for it). Discussing your goal with a trained pro who can develop a specific routine you can do independently is well worth the investment in the long run.
#11: Doing the Same Workout Over and Over
Once you’ve found a workout that you like, it’s easy to find yourself repeating it over and over and over again. The trouble is, even the best and most valuable workout loses its effectiveness over time, says Rick Richey, a master instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and owner of R2Fitness in New York City.
“I have had the opportunity to train and educate thousands, and one of the most important bits of trainer wisdom I try to get across is this: if you never change, you will never change ,” says Richey. This is true whether you are a habitual couch potato, or a gym rat — repeating the same routine won’t get you new results. Now this doesn’t mean you should be switching up your workouts every day, in fact, some repetition is necessary in order to master new exercises and build strength and stamina. But the timeframe for most adaptations to occur is about 4-6 weeks, says Richey.
Success Strategy: Once you’ve reached the 4-6 week mark (you’ll know you are there once your workouts start to feel ‘easy’ or ‘simple’), it’s time to mix things up. Try changing the amount of weight you’re using, the length of your workout or just switch up the order of your exercises. Aim to continually add a ‘new’ exercise to your routine at this 4-6 week mark in order to keep seeing results.
#12: Focusing Only On Aerobics for Weight Loss
Spending hours on the treadmill in hopes of dropping pounds faster? Beginner exercisers often think that aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight, when the reality is that your body needs a balanced workout routine in order to change your body composition, lose inches and get stronger and healthier overall.
And don’t be fooled, strength training isn’t just about gaining muscle — it can double as aerobic exercise too. “The heart doesn’t know if you are on a treadmill, swimming, doing squats, or climbing a ladder,” says Richey. “The heart responds to metabolic demands, which resistance training can certainly provide.”
Success Strategy: For best results (inside and out) Richey recommends incorporating resistance, cardio, flexibility, core, balance and plyometric training. If you’re a treadmill addict, try adding in some circuit training and yoga to help shake up your routine and shed pounds faster.
#13: Doing Too Much Cardio
Even if you’re balancing out your cardio workouts with other types of training, you still may not be training as efficiently as you could be. “Doing too much of the same type of cardio is a mistake,” says Richey, who recommends an integrated approach to cardio. Change up your routine by alternating longer, lower intensity sessions (such as brisk walking at a steady pace) with shorter sessions that incorporate interval training (shorter, higher intensity bursts coupled with short recovery periods) with a variety of different activities, such as walking, running, swimming or cycling.
Success Strategy: Make your cardio workouts a part of your balanced, well rounded workout routine. Decide ahead of time which days you’ll dedicate to cardio, and schedule in a variety of different session lengths, intensity and formats.
#14: Not Eating Enough (Or Too Much) Before or After a Workout
Showing up to your workout without having eaten for hours, or having eaten too much is a recipe for disaster. Many beginner exercisers unknowingly sabotage their workouts by not fueling their body properly at the right time — either due to a loss of energy from an empty tank, or having to quit because of a too-full stomach. And eating too much after you finish your session often means you’ve replaced all the calories you just burned off (and sometimes more).
So what’s the best strategy? “The most important thing is that you have enough energy (from food) to sustain the intensity and the duration of your workout so that you are not going to binge after and offset your hard work,” says Rania Batayneh, a certified nutritionist, eating strategist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You in San Francisco, California, who recommends sticking with a 200 calorie (or less) snack combo of protein and carbohydrates before and after a workout. Fueling around your workouts is about keeping your blood sugar stable, which helps keep your energy up so you don’t crash, she says.
Success Strategy: Try a healthy snack that’s 200 calories or less (like an apple with a handful of almonds) about an hour before an intense workout (if you are just going for a brisk walk you probably don’t need a pre-workout snack to get you through). If you find yourself spent and ravenous after a hard workout and you aren’t close to mealtime, replenish with a healthy post-workout snack (but again, watch your calories). And steer clear of bottled protein shakes and packaged bars – most are full of sugar and empty calories.