5 Workout Mistakes to Avoid for Better Results

By: Caroline Hwang

When you stick to a routine, it's easy to become, well, stuck. If you're not trimming down, toning up, or feeling any fitter, it's likely due to one of the following exercise errors. Read on for how to reboot -- and get the body you want, pronto!


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Mistake #1: You Rely on Cardio to Peel Off Pounds

For most women, sweaty aerobic exercise alone isn't enough. "Research shows that weight loss is minimal if it isn't accompanied by dieting," says Amy Luke, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago. "We may compensate for the extra energy we're burning during physical activity by doing less the rest of the day, or more commonly, we feel famished after working out, so we eat more."

The Solution: Keep your diet in check. To drop a pound, which is 3,500 calories, in one week, aim to eat 300 fewer calories every day (300 x 7 = 2,100) while burning 300 calories from exercise five times a week (300 x 5 = 1,500)."You plan for exercise. You need to plan what you're going to eat afterward," says John Porcari, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse and a FITNESS advisory board member. Drinking lots of water helps too.

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Mistake #2: You Race Through Your Reps

Two things could be going on here: Either your weights are too light, which is often the case for women, or they're too heavy, and you're letting momentum or gravity take over. Either way, your muscles aren't being sufficiently challenged, which is why they're not getting more toned.

The Solution: If you don't believe you've done just about all you can do by the end of a set, pick a heavier weight. "You want there to be a bit of strain on the second-to-last and last reps," says Barbara Bushman, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Missouri State University in Springfield. Reach for a lighter dumbbell when you aren't moving the weight with steady control as you lift and lower..


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Mistake #3: You Overcrunch Your Abs

If you're doing more than three sets of 15, you're wasting your time. "Extra crunches aren't going to cinch your waistline," says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, and a FITNESS advisory board member. "You're working the rectus abdominus, which is only one of four muscles in the abdominal wall. But it's the other three deeper muscles [internal obliques, external obliques, transverse abdominis] that give you a leaner look by helping you with your posture."

The Solution: Take a temporary break from your usual crunches and try these Pilates-based moves: (1) the plank (balance on floor on forearms and toes and hold for 30 seconds), (2) double-leg stretch (lie on your back, knees bent 90 degrees with feet in air and shins parallel to the floor, shoulders off the floor with arms loosely hugging knees; extend your legs and arms out in a wide V, then return to start), (3) the side plank (lie on the floor on your right side, propped up on right elbow, feet stacked; lift your hips up, using your left hand on floor in front of you for support. Hold for 5 counts, then lower. Do 10 reps; switch sides and repeat). Do 10 reps of each move, three or four times a week.


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Mistake #4: You Aim to Stay in the Fat-Burning Zone


It's no wonder you think you need to do this to lose weight: Many cardio machines tell you when you're above and below the zone. But this reason for sticking to low-intensity exercise has been completely debunked. "Because fat takes longer than carbs to be converted to energy, you burn a higher percentage of it when you're sitting or walking than when you're running. So the old thinking was that with low-intensity exercise you could torch body fat and lose weight," Porcari explains. But the theory didn't work in practice. "In one study, we had people walk or run for half an hour. On average, the walkers burned 240 calories, 44 percent of which were fat, so they burned 108 fat calories. The runners burned 450 calories, 24 percent of which were fat, so they burned 120 fat calories. Whether you look at total calories or fat calories, the runners clearly came out ahead," Porcari says.

The Solution: There's nothing wrong with low-intensity exercise, particularly if you have joint problems. "But to lose weight, you'll probably need to do it for longer than half an hour. Just for general health, the recommendation is 30 minutes five days a week," Porcari says.

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Mistake #5: You Skip the Warm Up

You may think you're saving time, but you're actually just compromising the first 5 to 10 minutes of your workout. "Your body literally needs to warm up so that blood flow increases, the nervous system wakes up, and the body starts to use energy and oxygen more efficiently," says Michael Bracko, a sports physiologist and director at the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary. The upshot: Every step feels like less of a slog, and calorie burn kicks into high gear.

The Solution: Bracko says that the best warm-up is to do your chosen exercise at a low intensity. Runners, for example, should walk, then jog. "Keep at it until you break a sweat," Bracko says. Alternately, you can try "dynamic" stretches, which are moves that take your body through the range of motions you're about to do. For a runner, that can mean high knees, butt kicks, and forward, reverse, and side lunges. "Avoid static stretching, where you're holding poses for several counts. That actually calms the system down and can impair performance," Bracko adds.

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