Fitness Time-Wasters: Top 10 to Avoid at the Gym (cont.)

5. Getting Stuck in a Rut. Muscles have memory, says Pillarella. They adapt, they adjust -- and our bodies plateau.

"If you always use the same piece of equipment, your body will become adept at that type of exercise," she says. Instead, mix it up.

"If you always use the treadmill, get on the bike," Lockhart suggests. "If you always work at the same pace, practice doing intervals -- shorter surges to build your upper-end capacity. It'll jog the body's systems -- make your body wake up and have to regroup."

To add intervals, increase incline or speed for short periods during cardio exercise, says Trese. With your strength routine, change the order of the exercises or rotate from machines to free weights. "With more versatility, your muscles won't be prepared and your body will not automatically know how to respond," Trese says. This will keep things fresh for your mind, too, she says, "making workout routines less boring."

Lockhart advises varying your exercise program every six to eight weeks if you're working out consistently. This is enough time for the body to benefit from the routine without getting complacent.

6. Watching TV or Reading. "People tend to get on cardio equipment and think they're paying the piper, but they're so into their book they're wasting precious caloric time," says Pillarella.

The bottom line is that when you're focused on other things, your workout suffers, she says. You can walk at a 4 mph pace for 45 minutes and burn 300 to 400 calories, says Pillarella. But you could get the same calorie burn in 20 to 25 minutes doing intervals (running or walking as fast as you can for a minute or two) every 90 seconds. "It's the total number of calories burned that counts," she says.

If you need a diversion to make it through your session on the elliptical machine, try music, suggests Comana. Invigorate your workout with a fresh mix on your iPod instead of spending your time staring at the crawl on Fox News. "Music can inspire you to pick up the tempo," Comana says.

7. Resting Too Long. The machine you want to use is occupied, so you grab a towel, get a drink of water, run to the bathroom -- and the next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed.

To avoid such time-wasting, rest only 30 to 90 seconds between strength exercises, says Comana. To maximize time, alternate a set of exercises for your biceps with a set for triceps, he says. That allows you to shorten the rest interval in between -- while one muscle group is working, the opposing group is getting active recovery.

You can also save time during your warm-up by mimicking exercises you'll be doing in the workout. For example, Comana says, if you plan to work your legs by doing lunges and squats with weights, warm up with high knee steps, butt kicks, lunges with a twist, and sumo squats. "Perform movements that are the same as you'll do in the exercise so that you can better prepare the body for the exercise," advises Comana. "You're warming up the joints while tying into the neuromuscular system to create movement preparation."

8. Isolating Muscle Groups. How can you fit in separate exercises for your biceps, triceps, deltoids and lats when you only have 30 minutes to work out?

For body-builders, concentrating on two or three muscle groups per session might be fine, but this doesn't work for the average person. There's not enough time to get to all the muscle groups in three 30-minute sessions a week. Instead, says Pillarella, choose exercises like squats and push-ups that target several muscle groups at once. You'll get a better workout in less time and you'll also be training more functionally (mimicking the way you use your body in daily life).

9. Changing Clothes at the Gym. Dressing at the gym can be a big time-waster. Change before leaving work or the house and you're less likely to change your mind about working out once you hop into the car, Trese suggests.

You're also less likely to get into a conversation in the locker room that could shave 10 minutes off your workout. "Some people even go to the extreme where they wear their workout clothes to bed so they can just get up and go," says Trese. If you don't like the idea of sleeping in shorts and T-shirt, try laying out your workout clothes the night before to save time in the morning.

10. Waiting until Afternoon to Work Out. With determination, it's possible for late risers to fit in regular afternoon fitness sessions.

But there's no question that people who work out in the mornings are more likely to stick to their routines, Trese says. There's less time to make excuses, and fewer things to get in the way of a workout. If you promise yourself a 4:30 p.m. walk, it's much more likely something will come up, Trese says. Before you know it, it's 5:30, and you've missed your window. Waiting until late in the day, "is setting you up for a downward spiral," she says.

Additional information on maximizing your workout routine:

Published June 16, 2006.


SOURCES: Fiona Lockhart, CSCS, spokesperson, National Strength and Conditioning Association; sports conditioning coach, Minneapolis, Minn. Teri Trese, MS, fitness trainer, Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, Aventura, Fla. Fabio Comana, MA, MS, ACSM H/FI, CSCS, certification and exam development manager, American Council on Exercise (ACE), San Diego, Calif. Debi Pillarella, MEd, 2004 ACE Director of the Year; exercise program manager, The Community Hospital Fitness Pointe, Munster, Ind.

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