Few things are more frustrating than seeing little progress after starting a workout routine—and sticking to it—no matter how many gym sessions you log or sweaty laundry loads you do. It’s so frustrating, in fact, that it might even tempt you to quit.
But before you start slacking, know the simple mistakes that could be sabotaging your results—and that you can fix them!
Below are six of the most common workout mistakes people make—and the expert advice you need to get your motivation and progress back on track.
1. Your Goals Are Unrealistic
Set the bar too high and you’re sure to fail. Whether it’s scoring a six-pack in a month or vowing to hit the gym every single day of the week, setting unrealistic goals is probably the number-one way people sabotage themselves, says trainer, yoga teacher, and nutrition coach Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, C.P.T. When you can’t achieve these unrealistic goals, you’re bound to feel discouraged, which might lead you to give up on your exercise routine altogether.
The Fix: Check in with yourself to make sure your goals are realistic, and adjust if and as needed. Choose a goal you think you can accomplish and then commit to reaching it. So while scoring a six-pack in a month may not be feasible, goals like sticking to a regular workout routine or losing half a pound or so per week are attainable, says trainer and author Jeremy Scott, C.P.T., C.N.S.
Step one is creating a workout schedule that fits your lifestyle. You’re more likely to stay motivated when you have a schedule in place you can really commit to—even if that means squeezing in a quick 15-minute HIIT workout instead of spending an hour at the gym some days.
Then, adding mini fitness goals to your daily routine— such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work—can be really motivating, says Fitzgerald. This way, you’ll be more active—and feel more accomplished—every single day.
2. Your Pre-Workout Snack Game Is Off
What you eat (or don’t eat) before you get your sweat on can make the difference between having a killer workout and feeling like a sloth. Most people make one of two opposite mistakes: either eating too much too close to a workout or not eating enough.
Eat too much and your body doesn’t have time to digest and absorb the nutrients in your food, and you might feel sick to your stomach during your workout, says Fitzgerald. If you don’t eat enough, though, you could feel lightheaded and tired, and be more prone to muscle cramps, adds McCall. Your body relies heavily on glycogen (carbs stored in your muscles) during harder workouts, so if you don’t have enough available your body will turn to other less-ideal energy sources—like protein—and your performance will take a hit.
Another overlooked fuel issue: Not drinking enough water in the hours before a workout. Water comprises the majority of our muscle tissue, so you want to be well-hydrated before you exercise, says Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., master trainer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Dehydration can make your body temperature and heart rate rise, which both put extra stress on your body during exercise—so much so that poor pre-workout hydration can actually cut your ability to do high intensity exercise almost in half, according to Sport Nutrition, Second Addition.
The Fix: If you work out first thing in the morning, don’t worry about eating much (if anything) beforehand, since your body still has fuel stashed away from your food you ate the night before, says Fitzgerald. If you’re saving your gym session for later in the day, though, and haven’t had a meal in a few hours, eat something that contains some protein and carbs about an hour beforehand, so you have time to digest. Some of our favorites are toast or a banana with nut butter, a serving of edamame, or Greek yogurt with berries. The carbs will cover your energy needs while the protein will keep your body stocked on the amino acids it needs to support your muscles, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As for hydration, McCall recommends drinking 16 ounces of water an hour before working out.
And don’t forget to refuel after you work out, too! Nosh on something high in protein and carbs within an hour after you exercise, Fitzgerald recommends. The carbs will restock those energy stores while the protein will help your muscles repair and grow stronger. Fitzgerald’s go-to post-workout snack? Chocolate milk—because it provides protein, carbs and fats.
3. Your Workouts Are Too Repetitive
Yep, there is a such thing as too much routine. Mindlessly run through the same workouts day after day—whether it’s a spin class, weight-lifting session, or any old cardio—and your body will adapt and, eventually, you’ll stop seeing results, according to Fitzgerald. “If your body isn’t being stressed enough, or you’re not putting enough intensity into a workout, your body gets used to it,” Fitzgerald says.
Think of it this way: If a runner jogs at the same pace all the time, they’re not going to get any faster, she says. Bottom line: No matter how much you love a particular workout, it can’t be the only thing you do. And you definitely shouldn’t do it at the same speed or intensity every time.
Plus, doing only cardio—or only strength training—prevents you from developing well-rounded fitness. Cardio helps your heart pump blood (and oxygen and nutrients) throughout your body more efficiently, and helps you ward off cardiovascular issues and chronic conditions like diabetes, according to The Mayo Clinic. Strength training, on the other hand, helps your muscle fibers work more efficiently and grow, boosts your metabolism, supports strong bones, and improves your balance.
Women especially may get stuck in a rut of repetitive cardio-only workouts and miss out on the benefits of strength training because they’re afraid of bulking up, says Scott. But without a balance of cardio and strength training, you’ll likely sabotage your metabolism and even gain fat.
The Fix: Switch up your routine throughout the week to include a balance of cardio, strength training, and stretching (such as yoga), so that you challenge your body in multiple ways, says Fitzgerald.
To keep your cardio and resistance training effective, try alternating between high and low-intensity workouts. This will stimulate your muscles in different ways and give your body time to recover between tough workouts, says McCall. Think track or treadmill sprints versus a nice steady jog, or lifting heavy for just a few reps versus lifting moderate weight for a dozen reps.
Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat
From there, switch up the tempo, intensity, or order of your strength-training exercises to keep your workouts challenging, adds Fitzgerald. For example, if you usually do squats before lunges, try swapping them, adding more weight to your squats, or turning bodyweight squats into jump squats. You can also mix up your cardio workouts by cross-training and swapping a run for a spin class or a swim. This will help keep your muscles from plateauing and prevent overuse injuries from doing the same repetitive movements all the time, Fitzgerald says.
4. You Skimp On Warmups And Cooldowns
Your workouts are key to making continuous fitness gains—but what you do before and after them matters, too. Let’s start with warming up: If you jump right into a high-intensity workout without prepping your body, you put yourself at greater risk for injuries like pulled and strained muscles, according to Scott. And the same goes if you run out of the gym before properly cooling down, says McCall. During a hard workout, your muscles produce waste your body needs to clear out of its system—and your cooldown and post-workout stretch give it the opportunity to do so, he says. Skimping on that cooldown can delay your recovery process and leave you sore.
The Fix: Spend at least 10 minutes warming up before a workout, Scott recommends. Perform simple moves like lunges, arm circles, toe touches, and hip swings, which get your whole body moving and start to boost your heartrate.
Then, spend about 10 minutes stretching and foam rolling after nailing your sweat session. Stretch all of your major muscle groups for 30 seconds each, and pay special attention to your hip flexors, calves, and hamstrings, McCall recommends. Using a foam roller to massage out your muscles can also help relieve tension and boost recovery, says Fitzgerald. In fact, a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that foam rolling after strength training decreased participants’ soreness later on.
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5. You Don’t Take Rest Days
This one might come as a bit of a surprise, but to see results from your workouts you have to rest. Remember that glycogen we talked about earlier? Your body needs time to replenish the stores it used up during your workout, says McCall. If you continue to push yourself on an empty tank, you’ll just feel fatigued and under-perform.
Without solid glycogen stores, your body may turn to protein for fuel—and that’s the opposite of what you want! Your body needs protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and help your muscles continue to grow, so running off protein leaves you more prone to soreness and injury, he says. If necessary, your body will even pull that protein from your muscle tissue and your workouts can actually break down some muscle instead of build it up. And because muscle supports your strength and burns a lot of calories, this is bad news for your overall fitness and your metabolism.
The Fix: Fitzgerald suggests taking a rest day after two or three workout days—especially if any of those workouts were high-intensity (which puts extra stress on your body). Make the most of rest days by foam rolling and stretching to help sore muscles recover, she says.
It’s normal for soreness from a workout to last a day or so, but if you’re still feeling it after a few days, consider it a sign that you’re overdoing it on exercise and putting yourself at risk for injury, McCall says.