6 Mistakes You're Making That Are Sabotaging Your Workout
Most of us usually walk into the gym or a class to get the best workout possible, amped up to put in hard work.
But what many of us don’t realize is that seeing results takes more than just plowing through a workout. More often than not, it’s the subtle, tiny details inside and outside of the gym that can make all the difference in reaching our goals.
The following six mistakes are ones that I see every week and that can cause many to plateau. Strategizing ways to avoid these missteps can make all the difference in the long run.
You’re not fueling and hydrating properly before and after your workout.
Some people like to work out on an empty stomach. And if you’ve trained your body to do so, this isn’t the end of the world. That said, eating a quick snack about 45 minutes before your workout can help sustain your energy levels during strenuous activities.
Aim for slower digesting carbohydrates (your body’s main source of fuel) and protein (your body’s muscle repairer) in order to maximize performance levels. Great examples of slow-digesting carbs are bananas, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal, and great examples of protein are nuts, hard boiled eggs, and chicken or turkey slices.
Within about 90 minutes after your workout, try to replenish your body with fast-digesting carbohydrates and protein. Fast-digesting carbs include white rice and cereal (make sure to stay away from sugary options, though). Drinking enough water throughout the day is also critical for both performance and recovery.
You go into your workouts without a game plan for the day and for the long run.
If you have no clear goal as to what you’re working towards, then why are you working in the first place? Is your goal to lose weight? Gain strength? Maximize your ability to sustain longer-duration workouts? These longer-term goals are important to consider as they will directly influence how you program your workouts.
After you’ve identified these, make sure you’re spending a few minutes before every workout determining what you’re going to do that day that will bring you closer towards your long-term goals. For instance, this Monday you may want to focus on a few push movements (chest press, overhead press, etc.) complemented by a few pull movements (pull-ups, bent-over barbell rows, etc.). Or you can pick a particular body part and focus on that, such as legs and abs.
Additionally, determine which days you’re going to work out and which days are going to be your (active) recovery days. Your training should be equal parts strength/resistance training and cardiovascular training. Track your workouts and progress over time. This will not only show you how much you’re improving, but it will also reveal holes in your training and motivate you to work on new things.
You’re distracted during your workout.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing people texting, watching YouTube videos, or taking countless photos of themselves in the gym. Other distraction culprits include TV screens around the gym and working out with friends. If you’re spending recovery time in between sets chatting or staring at your phone or a TV, you’re not maximizing your time.
Instead, program your workouts in supersets. For instance, if on Monday you decide to focus on specific muscle groups like chest and back, first perform a set of chest-focused work. While your chest is “recovering,” perform a set of back-focused work. Alternate between the two so that you recover one muscle group while working the other. This will hold you accountable to your rest time and ensure you get the biggest bang for your exercise buck.
You rush through your workout, leaving no time to focus on warming up, cooling down, and correct form.
We’re all busy, which leads many of us to rush through our workouts so we can continue with the rest of our day. Unfortunately, this rushed approach to fitness often causes injury and pain. Skipping a warm up of dynamic movement and stretching can result in overly strained muscles and torn ligaments. Speeding through technical lifts during a workout, such as deadlifts, snatches, and overhead squats, paves the way for injury.
And if you think you can skip out on a cool down, think again. Flexibility and mobility are such integral parts of optimal performance, and they help to minimize pain. Dedicate at least 10 minutes every day for stretching, mobilizing, and foam rolling.
Your eating doesn’t match the effort you put in at the gym.
You wouldn’t fuel your car with the cheapest gasoline available so why would you load your body with nutrient-lacking, overly processed foods? Exercise is important when it comes to staying healthy, but nutrition is just as important (if not more so).
This doesn’t mean you need to completely deprive yourself of the foods you love. A good rule of thumb is to eat nutrient-dense foods about 80% of the time, and enjoy some “treat” meals and snacks 20% of the time.
To avoid those midday energy crashes, stay away from overly processed foods (those with a long list of unrecognizable ingredients) and inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten, corn, and soy. Look to make small swaps when possible — grill your chicken instead of frying it, and try a nut milk in your coffee instead of cream.
You don’t allow your body to properly recover.
If you’re undoubtedly dedicated to your fitness regimen and work out almost every day, you may struggle with taking a rest or active recovery day. The thing is, your body needs rest in order for your muscles to adapt and recover.
After an intense workout, your body will trigger an inflammatory response to help you recover. But if you do too many days of high-intensity exercise, that inflammatory response can be counterproductive to your overall recovery and fitness progress. Even worse, you increase the likelihood that you’ll experience strains, pains and serious injuries.
The best way to help your body recuperate is to incorporate active recovery days into your weekly schedule. That means easy sessions done at no more than 60 to 70% of your maximum effort. On active recovery days, focus on low impact movements, such as yoga or a light jog. On full recovery days, go for a long walk or enjoy quality time with friends — this, allows you to mentally disconnect from your fitness routine.
It’s also beneficial to integrate myofascial release and trigger point therapy, such as using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or getting a deep tissue massage. In the same vain, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep prevents your muscles from recovering and affects your psychomotor skills (your reaction time) while you’re working out.
About the Author:
Dan is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor based in New York City. Once a management consultant and brand strategist, Dan realized his true passion lay in health, wellness and fitness, and that's when he traded in his suit for Nikes. He is focused on pushing himself beyond his limits while doing the same for his clients and students, all in a safe, exhilarating, creative and fun environment. Dan's fitness expertise spans many modalities, instructing and coaching at some of the top tier gyms and studios in NYC including Barry's Bootcamp, CityRow, and CrossFit NYC. In addition to fitness training, Dan also offers nutrition counseling to his clients. Follow Dan on Instagram at dan_cas7illo.