Joining a gym and committing to an exercise program can be the first important step in your fitness and health journey. With so much information floating around, you may start to pick up some bad habits that can actually keep you from reaching your goals – or worse yet, give you more aches and pains than you started with.
Fortunately, by making a few corrections to these 5 common mistakes many women make, you will start to see a huge difference and finally get the results you’re looking for. Of course, men make many of these same mistakes – as well as others of their own.
Mistake #1: Too Much Cardio
I see so many women day after day, month after month, spending countless hours on the same elliptical machine or in spin class (don’t get me wrong; I LOVE spin), looking the same exact way they did months ago. It usually isn’t until I meet with them that I discover that they do little to no strength training.
Cardiovascular exercise generally will help you lose weight; however, this weight loss is usually going to be a combination of both fat and muscle. Some of you many not care about this as long as you’re getting smaller.
But here’s the deal. When you perform strength/resistance training, you are better able to strictly lose body fat, which helps create natural curves and that “toned” look. This lends for a more attractive physique, which will give you a much better overall transformation than if you just lost weight doing cardio.
Lifting moderate to heavy weights (see mistake #2) will add more muscle to your body, but that’s a good thing! The more muscle (lean mass) you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be which translates to more calories being burned around the clock.
TIP: Aim to get in 2-3 strength training sessions each week (20-30 minutes/session) that, in total, target all major muscle groups.
Mistake #2: Not Lifting Heavy Enough
I’ve heard this countless times: “I don’t want to lift heavy weights because I don’t want to bulk up.” Many women are stuck in the 5-15 lb. dumbbell range. The fact of the matter is that females do not have enough testosterone in their body to develop large amounts of muscle naturally. Plus, in order to build that type of muscle even with testosterone present, a great deal of calories must be consumed (which is another thing that most women are not doing).
Again, lifting heavy weights will raise your metabolic rate, promote greater fat burning, and help give you more definition.
TIP: What is “lifting heavy,” you ask? You should find weights for each type of exercise where you are working in the 5-8 rep range. If you can easily get up to and past 8 reps, then grab something heavier. You should be able to complete your reps with perfect form but be close to fatigue at the end of each set.
Mistake #3: Stuck in the Same Old Routine
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
How does this relate to exercise? For you to change your body, you need to periodically change your routine. There are different philosophies on how often to do this, although nearly everyone agrees that doing so is important to improve your health and fitness. Injecting variety in to your routine boosts metabolism, increases motivation, and prevents boredom.
Identify activities you are interested in and have access to. Examples could be participating in group fitness classes, replacing machine-based exercises with dumbbells or a suspension trainer, and injecting running intervals instead of jogging at a steady pace each time.
TIP: You will need to change your strength training schedule every 6-8 weeks. Vary the number of sets, repetitions per set, and amount of weight from one week to the next, while keeping in mind that you always want the last three repetitions of each set to be challenging.
Not sure where to start? Get in touch with a certified personal trainer at your local gym. There are also several strength training plans for women online.
Mistake #4: Mindlessly Going Through Workouts
In the era of smartphones, we are all constantly connected and accessible. (I’m guilty of this one sometimes!) It’s easy to send texts or check Facebook during your workout, or even go the other way and “zone out” from everything. I am a big advocate of using exercise to de-stress your body from a hectic day at work or with the kids, but treat your time at the gym as you would any professional appointment. That means, leave the phone in the locker unless you’re using a fitness app to get your daily workout or track your progress.
It’s so important to pay attention during your workout. You have your heart rate, exercise form, engaging your core, breathing correctly, and pushing yourself harder to keep you more than busy each sweat session. The more mindless you are, the bigger the chances are for injury (due to lack of good form) and not seeing the results you want (because you’re not pushing yourself as hard!)
TIP: Disconnect to tech, and get focused on what you’re doing in order to getting stronger and fitter!
Mistake #5: Abs Obsession
Everyone has a six-pack; you just have to lose enough fat so that it shows. Granted, you may want to train the abdominals so they’re stronger, but stop thinking that you need to dedicate half your workout or more to working abs.
Working your abs a few times a week is all you need. Spend the rest of the time building overall muscle and doing activities that work multiple muscle groups at once and burn fat in general.
TIP: Stick with weight or resistance that allows you to do roughly 15-20 reps. Most importantly, don’t use weights while working your obliques (the “side abs”). The surest way to build a blocky waist is to do side bends while hanging onto dumbbells.
My favorite abdominal exercises are simply front and side planks. Once you master these, there are plenty of variations to keep you challenged.
Have some ideas or questions? Leave a comment below to discuss!