By Dr. Mercola
Exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and depression, and it can increase your energy levels, help you think clearer, and even slow down the aging process. However, there are pitfalls that can hamper your workout progress.
I was guilty of mistake #3 and #4 below. For thirty years, my only form of exercise was long distance running with little to no strength or interval training.
As noted in the featured CNN article,1 your setbacks may be due to certain bad habits, and by nipping them in the bud you can start reaping results again. Here, I’ve chosen seven common mistakes that may be thwarting your fitness efforts.
Mistake #1: Skipping the Warm-Up
While you can get away with skipping the warm-up when you’re doing a low to moderate impact workout, not warming up can easily lead to injury when you’re doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises, especially sprinting.
As noted by John Paul Catanzaro, a Certified Kinesiologist and exercise physiologist, it takes 10-15 seconds of muscular contractions to raise your body temperature by 1°C, and a proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by 1-2°C (1.4-2.8°F).
This is enough to cause sweating, and is really all that’s required in terms of warm-up. So, all you really need are a few repetitions of motions that increase the blood flow to the appropriate muscles. Aerobic activity isn’t necessary, and will actually take longer as its target is non-specific.
A more comprehensive list is included in Catanzaro’s original article, but here are a few examples of simple movements that will get your blood flowing. Start slow and shallow and gradually increase speed and range with each repetition; 5-10 reps per movement are all you really need:
Whether or not you really need to stretch before your workout is another source of confusion for many. The answer really depends on the type of exercise you’re about to do—in some cases it’s very important, and in other cases it may even be contraindicated.
For example, a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research2 concluded that stretching should be avoided prior to strength training, noting that the passive stretches may impair strength by causing joint instability.
In other instances, such as when you’re doing high intensity sprinting exercises, prior stretching is imperative, and should NOT be skipped. Failing to stretch in this case can easily lead to injury. For a demonstration of proper stretching technique, please see the following video.
Mistake #2: Not Feeding Your Muscles After a Strenuous Workout
One way to boost your fitness results is to work out while fasting. When you exercise in a fasted state, it essentially forces your body to shed fat, as your body’s fat burning processes are controlled by your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and your SNS is activated by exercise and lack of food.
Intermittent fasting calls for you to exercise in late morning or early afternoon, and fasting (or eating only light raw foods, vegetable juice, and/or whey protein, or eggs) until 30 minutes after your workout. If you have trouble exercising on an empty stomach, you can include 20 grams of a fast-assimilating protein like a high-quality whey protein concentrate 30 minutes before your workout.
Of course, a number of individual factors play a role in whether it’s appropriate to exercise while fasting, such as your age, when you last ate, whether or not you’re pregnant, taking medications, your medical history, level of fitness, and the type of workout you engage in.
That said, it’s important to remember that whether you’re fasting or not, you do need to eat something after exercising. This is particularly important if you’re doing strength training, in which case you need to eat a fast assimilating protein within 30 minutes after your workout. Whey protein is a useful option here.
After a cardiovascular workout, wait 30-45 minutes, and then consume a high-quality source of protein (whole food) and vegetable-type carbohydrate. An example would be a spinach salad and some chicken.
After a resistance/strength training workout you need a different approach. The meal after a resistance workout needs to be absorbed rapidly to help repair your damaged muscles. As a general rule, you have a one hour window of opportunity to shuttle in the required nutrients. Ideally, you’ll want to eat your post workout meal around 15-30 minutes after an intense weight training session.
If you miss this one hour window after your intense workout, your muscles’ ability to repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger significantly diminishes. What makes whey protein such an ideal choice here is that it does not require your stomach and digestive tract to work very hard to assimilate it.
Your digestive tract is very vascular and uses significant amounts of blood to do its job. But after a strenuous workout, much of your blood is in your muscles. As a result, your digestive system doesn’t have an adequate amount of blood to digest a whole lot of food. The whey protein, however, is already pre-digested so it’s rapidly absorbed.
Mistake #3: Concentrating on a Single Body Area, and Working in a Limited Range of Motion
It’s wise to think of your body as a composition of symmetry, and focusing on certain movements and muscle groups while excluding others can cause imbalances. This in turn can lead to reduced balance and weaknesses in certain areas, such as your back, for example. You could say your body is only as strong as its weakest link.
As noted in the featured article: “Muscle imbalances can lead to overuse injuries, such as PCL tears from quad dominance, which will keep you out of the gym for a minimum of nine months.”
High intensity exercises can make a dramatic difference here, because these exercises automatically help create muscle definition all over your body, while simultaneously improving your aerobic fitness.
While I don’t recommend doing just one form of exercise, IF that’s all you have time for, then doing short but high intensity Peak Fitness exercises will give you the greatest all-around benefits, and this form of exercise differs from others in that it benefits your entire body.
High intensity exercises sequentially recruit all types of muscle fibers, starting with the smaller motor units made up of slow-twitch fibers—which are primarily aerobic in metabolism, have a lot of endurance, and recover quickly—to the intermediate fibers; followed by the fast-twitch fibers. The key to activating your fast-twitch muscle fibers is intensity, or speed.
When these muscles are recruited, it creates the stimulus needed to grow muscle. At the same time, it enlarges the glucose storage reservoir in the muscle, which in turn enhances your insulin sensitivity. I’ve often stated that normalizing your insulin is one of the primary health benefits of exercise, and this is particularly true in the case of high-intensity exercise. Conventional aerobics does not do this as efficiently. Activating your fast-twitch fibers also prompts your body to create human growth hormone (HGH), also known as “the fitness hormone,” which plays an important role in slowing down the aging process.
Another common mistake relates to range of motion, which is also important for overall functioning, balance and movement in everyday life. When performing strength exercises using weights, it’s important to employ a full range of motion. One example offered in the featured article is when someone tears a knee ligament simply by stepping off a curb. This could be the result of not doing full-depth squats. Basically, your body is unaccustomed to stabilizing your knee during motion outside the limited range of a partial-depth squat. The other side of the coin here is avoiding using heavy weights beyond your normal range of motion. Doing so will place you at risk of injury as well. So, when you start out, use a weight that allows you to perform the exercise through a full range of motion, without overstraining.
Mistake #4: Training Too Long and Too Frequently
Exercising too much, either by working out too long or too frequently, can backfire in a number of ways. Many fail to appreciate the importance of recovery between sessions, and research has shown that endurance training can do more harm than good in the long run. As noted in the featured article: “A common physiological response to training is the release of certain hormones into the bloodstream, such as testosterone and dopamine. Going past 45 to 55 minutes per workout can put the body into a negative hormonal state.” Adrenal fatigue and reduced performance can result when you exercise excessively.
To maximize your workout efforts, it is important to strive for that “Goldilocks’ Zone” where you’re pushing hard enough to challenge your body at your current level of fitness, while allowing your body to recuperate in between. Recovery is particularly important when you’re doing high intensity exercises. When you work your fast-twitch fibers, it takes about 48 hours for that fiber to heal and fully recover. This is twice the recovery time needed for long and slow exercise. An equation to keep in mind is that as intensity increases, frequency can be diminished. In fact, you need to allow your body to fully recuperate in between sessions, so it’s NOT recommended to do high intensity exercises more than three times a week.
Both Phil Campbell and Dr. Doug McGuff have addressed this in previous interviews. If you don’t allow your body to fully recuperate and rebuild, your efforts will not pay off beneficial dividends. Remember, while your body needs regular amounts of stress like exercise to stay healthy, if you give it more than you can handle your health can actually deteriorate. So it’s crucial to listen to your body and integrate the feedback into your exercise intensity and frequency. The following seven symptoms may signal that you need to cut back a bit and allow your body to recover between sessions:
Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized
You get sick easily (or it takes forever to get over a cold)
You have the blues
You’re unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep
You have ”heavy” legs
You have a short fuse
You’re regularly sore for days at a time
So, how do you know if you’re sufficiently recovered from your exercise? One tip gleaned from Dr. Doug McGuff is that you know you’re recovered when you have that restless energy and feel like you have to engage in some type of physical activity. You will just want to work out.
Mistake #5: Inadequate Sleep
I believe it is very important to strive for eight hours of sleep. That does not mean time in bed. Many fitness trackers like UP24 can help you determine how long you are really sleeping, but it is likely more than 30 minutes less than you think you are. While I do recommend exercising first thing in the morning, I don’t advise sacrificing sleep to do so. A high intensity interval session only requires about 20 minutes or less, two or three times a week, opposed to an hour or more on the treadmill, several times a week. Most people can carve out 20 minutes without losing sleep over it. Getting enough sleep is an important aspect of health, and lack of sleep can hamper weight loss efforts and contribute to a wide range of health problems.
Disrupted sleep cycles have the potential to stimulate cancer growth by altering hormone levels, such as melatonin, for instance, showing just how important it is to regulate your circadian rhythm. It’s commonly suggested that it’s best to avoid exercising late in the evening, as the increases in your adrenaline levels, heart rate, and body temperature may keep you from falling asleep. Without a doubt, many are sensitive to late-night exercise, such that a vigorous session will keep them awake. For others, it can have the opposite effect, so you’ll have to experiment to find what works best for you.
Mistake #6: Talking Too Much
While having workout buddies are a great way to keep motivated and help each other stay accountable, constant chatter can reduce your fitness payout in the gym. As noted in the featured article, “talking during a workout can decrease the metabolic, or fat burning, effect of your workout… The reason? When rest intervals increase, ‘the body will cool down, leading to a slowed metabolism,’ [New York-based trainer Nick] Ebner says. Also, talking during a set of squats and shifting your focus from the exercise form to the conversation “can lead to form breakdown, and in turn, serious risk of injury…”
In short, talking while exercising can lead to, or worsen, mouth breathing, and this has consequences for your health and fitness. In fact, the amount of benefit you derive from your exercise efforts is largely controlled by your breathing habits, which affect your performance, endurance, post-exercise energy levels, and even your ability to metabolize fat. The Buteyko Breathing Method—named after the Russian physician who developed the technique—is a powerful methodology for reversing problems associated with improper breathing, the most common of which are overbreathing and mouthbreathing.
The Buteyko Method teaches you how to bring your breathing volume back toward normal, reversing chronic hyperventilation or chronic overbreathing. When your breathing is normal, you have better oxygenation of tissues and organs, including your brain. This is particularly important during exercise. If you tend to hyperventilate through your mouth during exercise, you’re actually decreasing oxygen delivery.
The key here is to breathe through your nose, not your mouth. Nitric oxide is found in your nose, so when you breathe through your nose, you carry a small portion of the gas into your lungs. Nitric oxide plays a significant role in homeostasis, or the maintaining of balance within your body. It’s also a significant bronchodilator and vasodilator. The elasticity of your lungs also depends on nasal resistance, which you only get from nasalbreathing due to the smaller diameter of your nasal passages. Poor breathing is even associated with poor posture. So, breathing through your nose helps maintain your health in a number of important ways.
Mistake #7: Using Incorrect Form
Proper form is essential for most exercises. Done incorrectly, virtually any exercise can lead to injury. At best, you’ll end up with inferior results. So, make sure you get some guidance on how to perform each exercise correctly. The better your form is, the more effective your workout will be, and the faster you’ll see results. One of the key ingredients of proper form is to engage every single muscle to its full potential. This requires some mental focus, and not just half-heartedly going through the motions.
As just one example, when doing a controlled deep squat, you’ll engage not just your thighs and knees, but your entire core, back and muscle fibers throughout your legs and buttocks all the way down to your ankles and feet. Squats have long been criticized for being destructive to your knees, but when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue. As you can see, there are many ways to negate your efforts in the gym. But the solutions are there, and they are usually quite simple. Being mindful of these mistakes, and correcting them, can help you maximize your results.