G. Pace/FilmMagic/Getty Images By Jessica Smith
Get results and stay motivated with your new workout routine by avoiding these common pitfalls
#1: Setting Unrealistic Goals
If you decide that running a 5K is your goal, but you've never run before, trying to finish one by the end of your first week of training isn't the best idea. "The biggest mistake that new exercisers make is setting incredibly unattainable goals," says Samantha Clayton, a certified personal trainer and former Olympic sprinter in Malibu, California. Starting your first week off by going for your first run in years, several days in a row, will most likely have you throwing in the towel by Wednesday.Success strategy: Before you can run, you need to start walking. "Small, simple and easy goals will build your confidence and help you to stick with it," says Clayton. If, for example, your ultimate goal is to run a 5K but you've never run before, break down your larger goal into smaller, more realistic steps. Start off with brisk walking the first week, graduate to a walk/run combo the next, and then eventually progress into running longer distances until you're ready to race to the finish line of your long term goal.
#2: Expecting To See Results Right Away
Have you been exercising for three straight weeks, yet that extra weight hasn't budged? Even if your body looks no different than when you were choosing couch time over gym time, don't throw in the towel. "Adaptations to the body take time," says Clayton. "The perfectly sculpted guns and buns that you see all over the gym took weeks if not months of training to achieve, but many new exercisers expect immediate results."Success strategy: Just because you can't see any visible changes yet, doesn't mean your body isn't changing. Instead of focusing on immediate visible gratification, focus on how you feel instead to stay motivated. Chances are you'll start to feel better, have more energy, and slowly start to feel less winded and stronger before you'll actually see your scale weight or dress size drop. "The truth is change takes time, so patience is key," says Clayton. Most experts agree that it can take 6 weeks (or more) to begin to see changes in how you look.
#3: Doing Too Much, Too Soon
Trying to make up for lost time in the gym during your very first workout is a recipe for disaster. Just because you were able to lift/sprint/jump like that in college, doesn't mean your body is ready (or willing) to do it now! Trying to impress your workout partner (or yourself) by taking on more than your body can handle can lead to injury or a pulled muscle fast, says Clayton.
Success strategy: Be realistic about your starting level, and progress slowly from there. Just starting a strength training routine? Be sure to master new exercises with just your body weight first, and then add in light dumbbells once you're able to maintain proper form.
"It is so important to do exercises right -- one correct squat is better for your body than 10 poor ones," says Clayton. Doing exercises improperly, leaning on handlebars of cardio equipment or even setting up weight machines incorrectly can easily cause strain or injury, sidelining you from future workouts. And don't count on watching other exercisers at the gym to learn, says Clayton. Following someone that may look like they know what they are doing could be dangerous, especially if they aren't a trained professional or working at the same fitness level as you.
Some common mistakes you might be making? Many beginners mistakenly bend their knees past their toes on squats and lunges, and allow their hips to sag on planks and pushups. If done improperly, you'll fail to target the right muscle(s) and you'll also put yourself at risk for injury or muscle strain.
Success strategy: "Do your body a favor and learn the correct technique from the pros," says Clayton. If you're interested in strength training, for instance, pick up a book like Weight Training for Dummies, pop in an instructional DVD or schedule a session (or two) with a personal trainer for professional help mastering new moves and key form tips.
Unrealistic goals may not be helpful, but having no goals at all won't do anything for you over the long term either, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. "Goal-setting is long known to be effective in helping one adhere to exercise and is extremely important to get a new exerciser on track and moving in purposeful directions."
Success Strategy: Once you've determined what your main goal is, break it down into mini-goals that have a timeline to stay inspired and on track. "Reaching each mini-goal is quite inspiring and fuels the desire to continue on an exercise plan to reach important, larger goals," Olson says.
And once you've determined your goal, visit Stickk.com for help achieving it! This site is dedicated to helping you stay accountable and on track with your goals (you can raise the stakes by pledging money, getting a referee to help monitor your progress and ask for support from the community). Best of all it's free (unless you don't achieve your goal, in which case you may end up donating some of your wagered money to charity). Prefer to use an app? Check out MyFitnessPal which doubles as a calorie and exercise tracker where you can log in your workouts and meals -- perfect for anyone with a weight loss goal.
If one of your big reasons for working out is weight loss, don't expect to drop any weight without changing your diet, too. One of the biggest mistakes beginner exercisers make is not realizing that dietary intake and nutrition are an important part of any exercise plan, says Olson.Success Strategy: In order to see visible changes in your body, pay attention to what you fuel it with -- not all calories are created equal! Eliminate as many empty calories as possible and focus on foods that provide your body with the nutrition and energy your body needs, especially now that you're exercising.
And be careful not to adopt the 'I burned it, I earned it' mentality -- it's so easy to eat back any extra calories burned at the gym, and it takes less than five seconds! To lose weight, be sure to maintain a daily caloric deficit with both exercise and nutrition (cutting back 250 calories a day from your diet and burning an extra 250 more can help you drop one pound per week, for example). You may also need to amp up your water intake too, especially if sweating has become a regular habit.
While that workout plan you tore out of your magazine may be solid, it may not be the best plan for your body and your goals. Doing three to five days of cardio and two days a week of strength training might work for some people, but you may need to start elsewhere, says Olson. For example, you may need to improve your flexibility and drop a percentage (or two) of body fat before jumping on the stair stepper machine for a full 45-minutes or completing the entire circuit in the weight room for the first time, she says.
Success Strategy: Create your own plan. Look to magazines, websites and other resources for ideas, but always ask yourself how those recommendations fit into your personal goal timeline and individual preferences. Here are some helpful tips from the Mayo Clinic to start designing your personal plan. Not sure how to get to where you want to go? Seek the advice of a professional to help you craft your own perfect route.