If you’re like any of my family members, friends, or patients, chances are you made a resolution to be fitter and healthier in 2020. While setting new fitness goals is certainly commendable, you must have the proper knowledge and tools to exercise safely and reach your goals without injury.
As a sports medicine specialist, I see the negative impact of the common fitness mistakes people make firsthand. Here are three big ones to avoid.
1. Failing To Warm Up Properly
Let’s be honest: Sometimes just getting yourself to the gym feels difficult, never mind warming up before starting your workout. However, warming up for about 10 minutes is one of the most important changes you can make in order to have safer and more effective workouts.
Unfortunately, skipping warm-ups is one of the most common fitness mistakes I see.
Warming up increases blood circulation, which ensures your muscles have the oxygen they need to perform at their best. It also gradually increases your heart rate, which minimizes cardiac stress when you kick up the intensity.
In addition to these physical benefits, warming up also gives you the opportunity to mentally prepare for your workout. Put on your favorite playlist and take those 10 minutes to get your energy up and focus dialed in.
Before cardio workouts, try walking at an incline or jogging lightly on the treadmill. Before strength training, move your muscles through the required ranges of motion and perform 10 to 20 repetitions of all movements with just your body weight.
2. Over-Training The Same Muscle Groups
When it comes to strength training, more is not always better.
When muscles are stressed during exercise, small tears occur in the muscle fibers. Hypertrophy (commonly known as muscle growth) occurs when these tears are repaired, which causes the muscle as a whole to increase in size.
Training the same muscle too often, though, deprives it of the time it needs to repair and grow stronger. Not to mention, if you are focusing all of your time on training one muscle group—like the quadriceps, for example—chances are you are neglecting its complementary muscle group—like the hamstrings. Taking the time to focus on strengthening complementary muscle groups helps you increase your functional movement capacity.
Whether you break strength workouts into push and pull days or leg and upper-body days, plan your week to include rest days between workouts that target the same muscle groups.
3. Sacrificing Form For Heavier Weights
It is a common misconception that lifting heavier weights always makes you stronger. In fact, lifting too heavy can compromise your form and increase your risk of injury.
When you attempt to lift too heavy, the body compensates in a variety of ways, including improper alignment and the recruitment of muscles outside of the targeted area. For example, biceps curls are meant to recruit just the biceps. Trying to curl too heavy a weight, though, might force you to rely on momentum and strain your shoulders and back.
Read More: Should You Be Wearing A Lifting Belt?
Incorrect alignment also places improper load on your joints, which can lead to muscle, tendon, and ligament strains—or even tears.
Ultimately, working with a manageable weight not only protects you from injury, but helps ensure that you engage the right muscles.
Start with lighter weights so you can hone in on the proper muscle activation for each exercise you perform. Gradually increase your weight until just before you feel your form become compromised or begin compensating with other muscles.
The Bottom Line
Though it’s easy to get caught up in short-term goals when it comes to exercise, keeping these common short-sighted fitness mistakes in mind will help ensure that you can move well—and improve your fitness—for the long haul.
Dr. Brian J. Cole, M.D., M.B.A., is an orthopedic surgeon and Managing Partner at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago, Illinois. He is passionate about sports medicine research and is a renowned world leader in the field of cartilage restoration.