Though many gyms have reopened across the country, not everyone is running back to the weight room while the coronavirus continues to rage on. In fact, 24 percent of Americans don’t plan to return to their go-to fitness facilities at all and 42 percent say they actually prefer their home workout set-ups, according to a recent poll.
Fortunately, going gym-less isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “You can absolutely meet your fitness goals and make gains with limited space and equipment,” says strength and conditioning specialist Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2xl. However, you need to avoid some common home workout mistakes to continue making progress, injury-free.
Here are the biggest saboteurs to avoid when getting your sweat on from home—plus how to correct them.
1. Skimping On Rest
Although the pandemic may have landed you with more time at home to exercise, you can definitely take it too far. Behold: overtraining syndrome.
Marked by symptoms like chronic fatigue, plateaued or decreased performance, moodiness, and restlessness, overtraining syndrome is the result of too much exercise and not enough rest and recovery, explains strength and conditioning specialist Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., author of The Five Minute Exercise Plan.
Even if you don’t take it to the extreme, failure to rest can still stall progress. “It’s during periods of rest that both muscular and cardiovascular adaptations and gains occur,” he says. No rest? No progress.
The Fix: Generally, two or three days of rest and active recovery should do the trick, says Luciani. Your true northern star here, though, is your own body. How are you feeling during your workouts? How are you feeling afterward? If you’re feeling consistently unmotivated to move and are couch-bound afterward, cut back.
Read: 6 Times You Shouldn’t Work Out
“You don’t have to do absolutely nothing on rest and recovery days,” Luciani adds. “Lower-intensity activities like walks, hatha yoga, casual bike rides, and jogs are all fine.”
2. Doing The Exact Same Workout Every. Single. Time.
Beyond ramping up the odds of overtraining syndrome (or an overuse injury), doing the exact same workout every time you exercise just isn’t effective. “Your body needs to be constantly challenged in new ways to continue to adapt and change,” says Holland. This is one of the guiding principles in exercise, called progressive overload.
Let’s say, for instance, you run the same 5k route every time you exercise. After three to four weeks, your body will have adjusted to the stimulus, Luciani says. After that, to continue getting faster, you’ll need to start challenging your body in a new way.
The same-old, same-old isn’t great for motivation, either. “Psychologically speaking, doing the same run over and over and over again will decrease enjoyment,” Holland says. “Ultimately, this decreases the likelihood that you’ll continue working towards your goals.”
The Fix: Mix things up! You can do your same 3.1-mile loop, so long as you tweak it. For example, “you could run at a faster pace for five minutes, then walk for one minute until you complete the course,” Luciani, says. “Or, you could run at the same pace and do two stair springs every time you see a set of stairs.” Both of these tactics vary the intensity, challenge the body in new ways, and allow you to continue getting fitter.
3. Not Varying Workout Format
“Every single workout style format (EMOM, AMRAP, for time, etc) gives your body a different stimulus,” says Luciani. AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) workouts, which have no-built in rest, for instance, are generally higher-intensity than EMOM (every minute, on the minute) workouts, which do. Meanwhile, you can usually lift heavier during EMOM workouts because there’s built-in rest, making them better for strength-gains.
Read More: 6 Trainers’ Favorite All-In-One Workouts
“Varying the format supports a more well-rounded fitness routine,” she says. “It can also help keep you mentally interested.”
The Fix: There’s a fine line between variety and randomness—and you want the former, not the latter. “Week over week, your body needs some kind of structure to actually reap the results.” That’s why Luciani recommends setting a schedule. On Mondays and Wednesdays, for instance, you might do AMRAPs, while on Tuesdays and Fridays you do EMOMs.
4. Flopping On Form
It’s easy to focus on your form when you’re surrounded by mirror-covered walls at the gym. At home, though, not so much.
“Form is always the most important piece of the fitness puzzle,” says Luciani. Letting your form slip while you hit it in the garage, yard, or living room is the quickest way to sideline yourself with injury. (Lower-back injuries are especially common with bad form, Luciani notes.)
The Fix: “If you have a mirror you can move to your at-home workout station, I recommend it,” says Luciani. If not, record yourself. Between sets and during water-breaks, take a peek at your form and adjust accordingly. “You can also find an online trainer who can provide form tips and cues based on your videos,” she adds.
5. Going Barefoot For Everything
Lately, the barefoot workout craze from a few years back has made a resurgence. This time, though, it’s because folks are getting after it right from their (carpeted) living rooms. While barefoot training does come with some perks (like stronger foot muscles and improved proprioception), Luciani warns against quitting sneaks cold turkey.
“The cushions in your shoes take over the job of the muscles and joints in your feet, allowing them to weaken over time,” she explains. If you’ve been wearing shoes your whole life (*raises hand*), your arches and ankle joints likely aren’t strong enough to suddenly support you during barefoot exercise. (This is especially true if that exercise is high-impact or high-intensity.) Unfortunately, this often leads to plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and even stress fractures.
The Fix: “Keep your shoes off for lower-impact activities like yoga and pilates,” Luciani says. But lace up for any plyometric, weighted, or high-impact activity (like running or HIIT).
6. Neglecting Your Lower Body
Unless your home gym is also equipped with a squat rack and leg press machine, transitioning your leg day workouts from the gym to home is going to take a little savvy. The problem? Rather than getting ingenious, many folks forgo leg day altogether.
“You don’t want to build a martini glass-shaped body,” says Luciani. (In other words, you don’t want your upper-body musculature to become more dominant than your lower-body musculature.) “This kind of imbalance leaves you more prone to lower-back, ankle, and knee injuries and pain,” she explains.
The Fix: Stop snoozing on plyometrics! “Squat jumps, jumping lunges, and broad jumps are all lower-body movements that will light up and strengthen your leg muscles,” says Luciani.
You also want to prioritize unilateral lower-body exercises, like split squats and single-leg squats, which help you build a more symmetrical lower-body.
7. Exercising While Distracted
Finally, one of the biggest home workout mistakes in the game: “Many people want to take their mind off of their workouts in order to improve their enjoyment of them,” says Holland. Enter: watching the television on the treadmill, listening to a crime podcast while doing abs, or chatting on the phone while lifting.
Some distraction is okay—and even beneficial. One 2014 Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study, for example, found that while exercise alone is enough to boost mood, exercising while watching TV boosts it even more.
However, there is definitely such a thing as being too distracted. “Whether you’re doing a cardiovascular or strength workout, if you’re too distracted to prioritize form, you prevent yourself from maximizing your results and can even get injured,” says Holland.
Consider key cues while moving. For instance, are you engaging your core during every single air squat? And are you keeping your ribs tucked during your overhead press? If not, you need to up your focus.
The Fix: Luciani recommends limiting screen time to repetitive, lower-intensity movement, such as jogging, biking, or rowing.
Even then, set a five-minute timer on your phone to ensure you regularly scan from head-to-toe and adjust any form mishaps that have accrued. If you have to make adjustments every time you hear that buzzer, you’d be better served shutting off the distraction and narrowing in on your exercise.
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