Avoid These 3 Fitness Faux Pas

Don't pass up dumbbells because you feel intimidated in the weight room. Here are three things you need to know about strength training.

1. The faux pas:
Getting married to your strength routine.
The facts If you do the same routine over and over, your muscles will simply adapt; you're likely to hit a plateau because each exercise stimulates only a limited number of muscle fibers. However, if you challenge your muscles from a variety of angles by adding or alternating moves periodically, you'll get significantly more fibers into the act and develop more tone and strength.

The fix: For each muscle group, learn an additional 2 or 3 exercises, trying new angles and equipment. (If you can't get instruction from a trainer, there are plenty of books and videos organized by routine for each body part.) For instance, if you usually do the dumbbell chest press on a flat bench, try it at an incline. If you normally use the chest-press machine, try the dumbbell chest press or the bench press with a barbell. Expand your repertoire enough so that you can change your entire routine every 6-8 weeks.

2. The faux pas: Performing your reps too quickly.
The facts If you zoom through your repetitions when strength training, you'll be using momentum instead of muscle power. You won't get the same stimulus for muscle building, and you won't burn as many calories. You'll also be more susceptible to training injuries such as torn muscles or connective tissue.

The fix: Take 6 seconds to perform each repetition: 2 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to lower it. (Since you have gravity to help you lower the weight, you need to slow down even more on this phase in order to give your muscles a sufficient challenge.) Our experts agree that slowing down is the single most significant change you can make to get better results from strength training.

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3. The faux pas: Exercising too hard, too often.
The facts If you don't rest enough between hard cardio or strength workouts, you'll stop making progress and may even lose some of the fitness you've gained. You're also likely to burn out on exercise.

The fix: To keep your muscles fresh and your motivation high, alternate shorter, tougher cardio workouts (for instance, 20 minutes) with longer, easier days (40-60 minutes). Don't go all-out more than twice a week. Keep in mind that the more intensely you train, the more time your body needs to recover. It's a good idea to do a couple of tough workouts and take 1 day completely off each week. On the strength-training front, take at least 1 day off between sessions that work the same muscle group.

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