Confession: I cheated on my body.
OK, let me explain. Toward the end of a group fitness class a couple weeks ago, the instructor had us doing squats. I was exhausted, so even though he was telling us to pause at the bottom of the movement, I was bouncing up and down like a 'tween at a Miley Cyrus concert. I felt great in the moment, but guilty post-class because I knew I had cheated myself out of the final few minutes of what could have been an even more effective workout.
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This inspired me to poke around to find the most common ways women cut corners during a workout. Look around next time you're in the gym and I guarantee you'll see at least one person who's cheating their way through a sweat session (be especially suspicious of anyone smiling!). I won't be one of them.
Below are three ways you might be cheating on your workout:
Leaning into the treadmill rails. Holding onto the handrails for a split-second to steady yourself is totally fine, but when you rely on them throughout a workout, you sacrifice big benefits and risk injury. You lose natural movement because you can't pump your arms, and you mess with posture, stride, and overall effectiveness. Studies have shown that holding onto the handrails can reduce heart rate and oxygen consumption, limiting the effectiveness of your sweat session. If you feel like you absolutely must hold on, reduce the pace to a speed that lets you comfortably walk or run, sans rails.
Relying on momentum during strength training. Bouncing up and down is the most common way to cut corners in the weight room. "When you get to the connecting point of an exercise--the moment in which you go from contracting your muscle to releasing it, before lowering a biceps curl or rising out of a squat, for example--freeze for a second, then squeeze and contract the muscle you're focusing on for a second or two," says Lalo Fuentes, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer in Los Angeles. "Stopping releases the momentum of the movement, so you can't rely on it for the second part of the exercise. When you freeze, then squeeze, it fires up more muscle fibers for better toning."
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Dropping the weight rather than lowering it, s-l-o-w-l-y. In strength training you contract a muscle, relax it, and start again. "Try taking as many a six counts on the release phase. If you don't let the weight simply drop, the muscle fibers stay more engaged during the entire move because they can't relax," says Michelle Kennedy, an exercise physiologist in Washington, D.C.
Fess up: How do you cut corners during a workout?
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Photo Credit: Condé Nast Digital Studio