If you think that the 20 minutes you spent slacking on the elliptical actually burned 250 calories like the machine says, or that lifting weights will make you look like a linebacker (and not in a good way), you need us! We asked top trainers to give us the skinny on all that exercise hype. Here are some major mistakes you might be making.
By Kristin Koch for TheNest.com
Mistake 1: You don't work out because you're afraid it will make you super-hungry -- and eat more.
Actually, the opposite is true. Exercise has actually been shown to act as an appetite suppressant. Translation: Regular trips to the gym can actually help you stick to your diet. Yes, seriously intense sweat sessions (think: marathon training) can increase your appetite, but that's because your body is burning an enormous amount of calories and needs lots of nutrients to recover. But few of us train that hard on a regular basis. So if you're hungry all the time, don't blame the gym -- blame your diet. See, your body kinda has a mind of its own, and if you're not feeding it all the nutrients it needs, it will just crave more food (and often bad food) until it gets them. Maybe it's rebelling -- who knows? -- but the point is, as long as you're eating nutritious foods (and you're not using a trip to the gym as an excuse for a junk-food fest), you won't negate your hard work, even if you eat a bit more.The best metabolism-boosting foods
Mistake 2: You make a point to exercise first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, to burn more calories.
Research has actually shown that training later in the day can help you burn more calories than working out earlier in the day, since your muscle strength and body temperature peak in the afternoon, meaning you can work out harder with less effort. Plus, you've eaten more, so you typically have more energy. But it's really an individual preference: Just like in college when you might have studied during the day while your roommate went the all-nighter route, some people are morning exercisers and some feel more motivated at night. The key is consistency, so you'll get the best results by choosing whatever time of day you can stick to. If you do go the before-work route, just make sure you have a little something to eat (like a piece of fruit) 30 minutes before your workout. Like a car, your body needs fuel to run efficiently, so when you exercise on an empty stomach, you can't train as hard (or burn as many calories).
Mistake 3: You're a crunching queen -- hey, it's the way to get rock-hard abs.
Crunches alone will not give you a flat stomach. The fact is, if you want a killer core, you need to train all the abdominal muscles -- the rectus abdominus (muscles typically associated with a six-pack), the transverse (muscle that wraps around your stomach, acting much like a girdle to shrink your waist) and the obliques (muscles that run along the sides of your tummy and help with twisting motions) -- along with your lower back. These muscles all work together to provide stability and strength. A good way to hit them all is through functional movements like lifting, throwing, etc. But wait! There's a part two to all of this: Building ab muscles isn't going to do you any good come bathing-suit season if they're hidden under a layer of fat. No matter how many sit-ups you do, without regular bouts of cardio (at least 20 minutes, four to five days a week) and a healthy diet, you're never going to sport a six-pack.
Mistake 4: You spend two-hours-plus at the gym to max out your workout.
It's not about how long you spend working out; it's about how hard you work out. So you have permission to spend less time at the gym. The catch is, you have to kill it while you're there. You can easily burn the same amount of calories in half the time by increasing the intensity of your workouts: An hour of zombie-style training is less productive than 20 minutes of high-intensity, focused exercise. Bonus: By working out at a higher intensity, you'll continue to burn more calories for hours afterward.
Mistake 5: You have your routine down.
Unfortunately, what works, works only for a short period. Just like your mind has to work extra hard to learn something new, your body kicks into overdrive when you start a new exercise program it's not familiar with. If you do the same routine for too long, your body will adapt -- and soon what used to "work" no longer will (at least not as well). The key to seeing results is to constantly challenge your body and practice variety in your workouts so you don't plateau. Typically a routine "works" for up to two weeks before it needs to be tweaked. So change it up -- the tweaks don't have to be big. For example, change a barbell squat to a dumbbell squat, or swap dumbbells for kettlebells or sandbags. Or instead of your standard 30 minutes on the elliptical, do the elliptical in reverse for 10 minutes, then hop on the rowing machine for 10 minutes and finish with 10 minutes on the treadmill. Then reverse the order in your next workout.
Mistake 6: You stay fit by working out 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
There is a big difference between being active and being fit. The above guidelines are the bare minimum for keeping you active, which means you're basically just avoiding some of the negative effects (read: too much junk in the trunk) of a sedentary lifestyle. Being fit, on the other hand (and losing weight, or just maintaining it), takes more work. That means at least four to five sweat sessions a week of hard work.
Mistake 7: You stick to cardio and avoid weights so you don't bulk up.
Sure, lifting weights can bulk you up (the Arnold didn't get those biceps at Zumba class), but only if you specifically train to add mass. If you train to tone, you'll tone. You have total control over the effect weight lifting will have on your body. And guess what? The size of the weight has little to do with muscle mass. The size of your muscles is determined by three main factors: Genetics (were you born with the structure for large musculature?), gender (men have a greater potential to put on size) and type of training (it's not the size of the weight but how you lift it). In general, if you use light weights (three to eight pounds depending on your strength level) and do more reps (like two sets of 12-15 reps), you'll get sleek, lean muscle. Up the weights, slow it down and maximize the squeeze to bulk up.
Mistake 8: You don't feel any payoff unless your body hurts.
Some discomfort or soreness at the beginning stages of a workout routine is normal, since your muscles are adjusting to the new activities. It means you're challenging your body, which, in turn, means results. But chronic soreness doesn't mean you're getting an awesome workout every day. It means your body's not recovering -- which is bad since you get stronger and develop muscle while your body recovers (not while you're beating it to a pulp for the umpteenth day in a row). Safety alert: Make sure you're not confusing muscle soreness with joint pain. Joint pain may mean you did some damage -- see your doctor.
Mistake 9: You climb off the treadmill when it says you've reached your calorie goal.Hate to break it to you, but the calorie calculation displayed on most of those machines isn't accurate. Many pieces of equipment are built to show you what you want to see. And the assumptions needed to validate the machine's calculations (read: You're as jacked as Hugh Jackman in Wolverine and are putting your full weight on the machine) are seldom met. So use the counters as a light reference, but know that those numbers are anything but reliable. Instead, do your own calculations. If your thing is, say, running a 12-minute mile for 20 minutes, use a calorie -counting tool like this to find out how many calories per hour a person of your age and weight burns doing exactly that, and divide by three. (Then compare it with what the treadmill says you burned -- and you'll see how inaccurate it really is!)
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Mistake 10: You're envious of celebs, who apparently all won the genetic lottery and don't have to push it as hard as you do.
According to our experts, who have worked with quite a few celebrities, most celebs work hard (just like you do) for their bodies (albeit, most of them under the guidance of a trainer, a nutritionist and a personal chef). So stop cursing their DNA and start making exercise and nutrition priorities in your life. Of course, what makes it a little easier for celebrities is the fact that looking good is basically their job -- and a paycheck is major motivation not to slack off. Whereas your livelihood depends more on sometimes skipping the gym to make an early meeting, prep for a presentation or network at a happy hour. But you can do it!
Nestperts: Ramona Braganza, celebrity fitness trainer and creator of the 321 Training Method; Israel A. Sanchez (aka Coach Izzy), strength and conditioning expert, and founder of "Integrated Healing and Strength Systems"; Kathy Kaehler, celebrity personal trainer and food coach, and creator of Sunday Set-Up
Photo: Shutterstock / The Nest
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