When it comes to working out, most of us follow the same routine — rock up to the gym after work, get changed, hop on to the treadmill, pick up some weights, pump out a few sets then rush home for family commitments.One of the most important aspects of your health and fitness journey is longevity and the ability to keep exercising for the years to come. This means that you have to do things correctly and pay attention to the details. So let’s slow it down and pay attention to 5 of the most common mistakes made when exercising which can set you back, and learn more about how you can avoid them.
5 Common Mistakes When Exercising
1. Static Stretches
We’ve always been taught to do static stretches from our school PE classes and martial arts lessons to team sport activities. Take the mandatory hamstring stretch where you straighten your legs and touch your toes for 20 seconds before stretching the rest of your body - this static stretch was practised to prevent injuries. But, when an injury occurred, the blame was placed on the stretch not being done properly. The truth is that static stretches can do more harm than good.
Research has shown that static stretches can potentially cause injuries because it causes muscles that are lengthened by the stretch to weaken leading to reduced joint stability. Strength, power and speed output were also shown to decrease. This proves that the alternative dynamic stretch is more effective to prime our body to take on the strain. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, bodyweight squats and lunges, PVC pipe mobility drill and ground-based moves like the Scorpion or Crab Reach.
2. Insufficient warm up
We always focus on the finding the best workouts for maximum calorie burn, then forget about warming up sufficiently. A sedentary office worker who spends eight hours hunched in front of a computer in a cubicle will need to do more mobility work prior to a workout compared to a housewife who spends the day on her feet running after kids and doing chores.
Doing the treadmill for a few minutes and thinking this is a warm-up is not enough for most of use who are sedentary. Instead, do a comprehensive session filled with dynamic stretches, activation exercises, movement preparation and breathing exercises. These will help mitigate any injuries caused by stiff and underactive muscles while getting our mind focused.
3. Lack of mindfulness
Our lifestyles are shaped by technology and instant gratification. This means we are more easily distracted and less patient. A safe and effective workout requires the opposite reactions - patience and focus. How can we be more mindful when we exercise?
Put the mobile devices away, or at the very least out of sight and on mute. Disengage from conversation with your sweat buddies or trainers because multitasking is not an option when your safety is at stake. Pay full attention to posture, form, technique and breathing as this makes a big difference in results. Be present in your workout so you can gauge how well your body is coping, track progress and avoid being overwhelmed.
4. Bad technique
When exercising, it’s not always about what you do, but how you do it. Some of the most effective exercises which increase strength and muscular gain are often the most technically demanding ones. With more techniques involved such as maintaining a neutral spine, knees and toes alignment or keeping arms at a certain angle while lifting, safety will be compromised if attention is sub-par.
Deadlifts, squats and overhead presses have received bad press for causing strain and injury to the lower back, knees and shoulder. The fact is that when these are done correctly, they are great for joint health! With the countless fitness apps and videos online, it’s easy to follow them and assume competency of the moves without the supervision of a fitness professional.
Being open is the first step to mastering anything in life and this is especially true with fitness. If in doubt, invest in learning from an expert and prevent unnecessary setbacks.
5. Know the difference between good and bad pain
No pain, no gain; but not all pain is equal. ‘Good’ pain is what we feel when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone to improve strength and skills; and that burn in the muscles that subsides within a few seconds of resting.
‘Bad’ pain doesn’t subside and is usually felt around the tendons, ligaments and joints. It tends to be sharp, shooting and numbing and is felt in a specific spot or a more localised area. Even if you’ve just started the workout, stop and address this kind of pain immediately and never assume it will subside if you resume exercising.