Fitness: Top 20 Mistakes Beginners Make (cont.)

Have a qualified trainer show you the proper settings for your physique, and write them down on a card that you carry to the gym.

Flexibility Flubs

10. Stretching cold muscles. Stretching before your workout puts you at risk for pulled or torn muscles. "Always stretch at the end of your workout," says Pillarella.

"Why do we call it a workout? It should be a playout."

11. Bouncing. Bouncing during a stretch can increase your risk of straining or pulling muscles, Pillarella says. Instead, "hold a static stretch with no movement at the joints. Your body should feel lengthened but not to the point of pain."

Routine Maintenance

12. Forgetting about fun. "If you're bored with your routine, and your treadmill has faced the washer since 1980, how much fun is that?" says Isphording, "I'd never want to do your workout, either. ? And why do we call it a workout? It should be a playout."

Exercise with your friends or family, just as you go to movies or dinner with people. "Unless we reframe it in our minds, it will never be fun," Isphording says.

13. Doing outdated exercises. Still doing the exercises you learned in high school, like windmills and leg lifts? Some of these oldies are a waste of time; others can cause injury. Take an exercise class or work with a personal trainer to freshen your routine.

14. Getting stuck in a rut. What's wrong with doing the same exercise routine, day in and day out? "You're working the same muscles, going at the same speed, and once you get in shape you no longer breathe heavily," says Isphording. "The muscles become very efficient. They expend less energy, and you burn fewer calories."

Find different types of exercise that you enjoy, and make it a point to vary what you do.

15. Seeking a quick fix. Many people expect dramatic results from a little exercise. "Current recommendations are for 3 1/2 to four hours of physical activity a week just to prevent weight regain," says Kasper, who is a professor in the department of kinesiology at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga. "If you want to lose weight and you're walking 30 minutes, three times a week, without changing your diet, it will take roughly one month to lose a pound."

Want to lose faster? Exercise more.

16. Being a weekend warrior. "If you're only exercising two days a week, you'll never get where you want to be, and you'll feel awful every Monday," says Isphording. "It leads to injury and burnout, and you're missing the secret to success: showing up."

17. Taking on too much at first. "Whether on a treadmill at home or working out at an exercise facility, people tend to do too much too soon," says Kasper. "They put themselves at risk for an orthopaedic injury."

He advises working with a qualified trainer who will do a screening, teach proper techniques, and set up an appropriate fitness program.

Sins of Omission

18. Skipping the warm-up. "Without a warmup, you're asking your body to work before the oxygen and blood flow reach the muscles," says Pillarella. "You increase the risk for injury, and with cardiovascular exercise, you raise the heart rate too fast. Before you exercise in earnest, spend 5-10 minutes going through the motions of your workout at an easy pace to raise your body temperature from the inside out."

If you don't warm up before lifting weights, meanwhile, you risk torn muscles and won't be able to lift as much weight, says Isphording. Get your blood flowing by spending a few minutes on the treadmill or exercise bike, or even walking in place.

19. Forgoing the cool-down. Don't come to sudden stop at the end of your workout. "If you don't cool down, you risk muscle soreness because you haven't flushed the lactic acid out of your system," says Isphording. "It takes five to 10 minutes at a slower pace, depending on your fitness level, to let your heart rate come down."

20. Skimping on water. Muscles need fluid to contract properly, so if you don't drink enough, you can get muscle spasms or aches.

"If you're thirsty, you're already a percent dehydrated," says Pillarella. "Drink water before, during, and after exercise."

And, Pillarella says, "unless you're a high-intensity athlete who's depleting electrolytes and potassium, you don't need Gatorade. Water is the preferred drink."

Originally published Oct. 13, 2004.
Medically updated Oct. 7, 2005.

SOURCES: Julie Isphording, host, Fitness Information Talk and On Your Feet. Mark Kasper, EdD, spokesman, American College of Sports Medicine; professor, department of kinesiology, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Ga. Debi Pillarella, MEd, spokeswoman, American Council on Exercise; program manager, Community Hospital Fitness Pointe, Munster, Ind.

©2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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