Making mistakes in the gym is not only reserved for beginners. Even athletes can encounter challenges within their regimens, and such mishaps can disrupt their training, recovery and muscle strength. If you don't pay attention to your body and potential workout hazards that can put you at risk of injury, then you can derail your progress and damage your muscles and bones over time.
As a certified health coach, I work with people on finding exercise they love and can safely integrate into an exercise program. We discuss the importance of listening to the body, and uncovering its needs and weaknesses. By respecting the body and utilizing it to its full potential without pushing it to unfair, hazardous heights, staying consistent with workouts can be easy, effective and fun. While caution for injuries and pain is prevalent among beginners, I often find that seasoned athletes encounter the most amount of trouble, through overtraining, chronic fatigue and soreness, and unrealistic, intensity levels in performance.
Yet, by paying attention to common mistakes and the rest, recover and repeat, method, workouts can be a great way to better your health and energy. Here are fifteen common exercise mistakes that even athletes can make.
1. Putting Too Much Pressure On Shoulders
"The primary causes for shoulder injuries are a lack of shoulder mobility, over training the shoulder press, and a lack of scapular strength," advises PJ Stahl, a Reebok Trainer based in L.A. over email with Bustle. Shoulders can carry a lot of strength and can have a wide range of motion, but if you overtrain those areas or don't fully strengthen in all the right areas, you can become injured.
2. Not Understanding That Body Parts Are Related
When your back is tight, it might be coming from tension in your glutes or hips. Or, if you knees are in pain, it might be coming from hamstring struggles. "For the lower back injuries, I see a lack of hamstring and thoracic mobility, not maintaining a neutral spine during exercises and lack of overall glute strength," says Stahl. Being mindful of these different areas and how they interact can help you get to the problem easier and faster.
3. Not Giving Your Body Love & Rest
Taking time to foam roll, cool down, stretch and massage tense muscles can prevent injury, but some athletes keep this time too short, thinking that their bodies will recover quickly on their own. Book a massage or take a relaxing bath in the evening. Plus, make the water hot for extra benefits, as hot baths can heal muscular aches and symptoms of arthritis. Have some wine, play some music, light a scented candle, or toss in a bath fizzy or oil with relaxing properties to enhance the experience.
4. Jumping Into New Activities Too Fast
Even if you are a master at spin and dance, you might not know how to swing a kettlebell properly. Starting slow when beginning a new sport can prevent injury, advises Stahl. A big mistake is overwhelming the body with too much and too many types of activities that it isn't used to performing in a short period of time. Ease yourself into it, and see how you feel in the coming week before increasing the intensity.
5. Having Strength, But Not Flexibility
"Flexibility is just as important as strength," says Stahl. "Imagine if your body cannot do a specific range of motion for a movement. If you try to force your body through that range of motion, your body is going to compensate and deviate," he continues. Work on being more flexible each day, as research touts the benefits of flexibility and how it can affect your performance in other sports.
6. Not Working On Technique
Building muscle tone can happen with proper honing of technique, but sometimes athletes get stuck in the intensity of the workout and dismiss form. "Many people get injured from repeated bad form, and it is so disappointing because they put forth the effort and most of the time, they didn't even know they were doing it wrong," says Michelle Dolente, a Reebok Trainer based in D.C. over email with Bustle. Ask for help when starting something new. "I have trained numerous athletes who are fit but were never taught to engage their muscles, so they aren't as defined as they would like," says Dolente.
7. Sticking With What They Know
Varying your activity is a great way to work all muscles and provide them with proper recovery and rest. "Beginner and seasoned athletes alike often fall into the trap of staying in their comfort zone and sticking to the same program that they have used in the past," says running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer, over email with Bustle. Try new moves; it'll be safer for your body and more fun!
8. Not Being Cautious In Yoga
Yoga is great for you, but it can also increase risk of injury if done improperly. Shoulders, necks, and backs can all be affected negatively if there is too much pressure on these areas. "A proper chaturanga uses your triceps and back muscles to take the pressure off of your shoulders. Too much weight in your shoulders will eventually wear them out and require physical therapy or even surgery," says certified healthy lifestyle coach Liz Traines, over email with Bustle.
9. Not Being Careful With The Knees
Knees can be tricky and definitely require rest. Runners are especially prone, as running puts great pressure on the knees. Additionally, certain lower-body movements can strain knees when form is not correct, such as in squats and lunges. For squats, "focus your weight into your heels and butt (not your knees and toes). Ensure you're sticking your butt out almost as far as you can and really engaging those muscles. Your knees should be at a 90 degree angle (they should not go past your feet)," advises Traines.
10. Ignoring An Injury
It's hard for athletes to pull themselves out of exercise when a routine is so ingrained in their lifestyle. However, ignoring an injury or pain can result in something far worse. "Injuries never happen at a good time, but just ignoring them is pretty good insurance that you will get injured again, and the next time it is usually much worse," advises Dolente. Make sure to check with a doctor, and respect the recovery process in order to heal properly.
11. Not Seeking Medical Attention
Often times athletes think they know how to recover: icing, anti-inflammatories, and rest; yet, injuries usually require more medical care and expertise in order to recover safely and prevent future injuries. Ignoring medical attention will "result in more time away from the gym. I always recommend making an appointment with a chiropractor or physical therapist to treat the issue, because taking time off alone will not usually fix the issue," says Dolente.
12. Neglecting The Whole Body When Injured
Usually an injury is concentrated in one or two areas of the body, leaving room for other forms of exercise in order to stick with a consistent exercise routine. For instance, a knee injury might allow for low-intensity exercises and focus work in other areas. "Ask the medical professional what exercises will be okay during this time. If you injure your knee or legs, chances are you can still work on core and upper body," recommends Dolente. "Hurt your wrist? Focus on lower body exercises and core," she adds.
13. Having A Negative Mindset When Not At Best
Athletes can be hard on themselves, feeling frustrated when their performance is dwindling and hopeless when challenged by an injury. However, putting the injury or fatigue in proper perspective and accepting your body for its need of rest and recovery can make you cope better through fitness struggles. "Remember it's only temporary and taking time off now will be a good investment to prevent you from getting a bigger injury down the road," says Dolente.
14. Exercising Too Much
Some athletes tend to overtrain, which can be hazardous for the body's inflammation states, recovery and hormones. Experts discuss the many dangers of overtraining and how it affects the body over time, and if athletes aren't careful to tone down the intensity and duration, they can be at risk of thinning bone and weakening muscles.
15. Not Eating Well
It's not all exercise; diet is critical in maintaining a healthy, effective workout regimen. Consuming between 20-30g of protein post-workout is ideal, but some athletes drink protein shakes that contain 60g and up! Too much protein makes the body overly acidic and can lead to lower bone density. Plus, some athletes don't fuel themselves properly before working out, either. "The most important nutrients for staying healthy and fit are protein, fiber, healthy fats and water," says Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, and Reebok Fitness & Nutrition Expert, over email with Bustle. Consuming these throughout the day can make a world of difference to a workout.
While exercising can be beneficial for our health and overall physical and mental wellbeing, it can also be a weakness when we abuse our bodies and take our fitness routines to unsafe, extreme levels. Creating a perfect balance of activity, food and recovery is the ultimate way to achieve long-term benefits and results and to make us feel happier and more energized post-workout.
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