If you’re going to work out, make it effective…
Daily we see people giving their all on cardio equipment in an effort to lose a few kilos, or heaving weights back and forth in an effort to ‘get big’. These are the same people who, a year later, have nothing to show for their three-one-hour-per-week-sessions except perhaps a sore back, an injured knee and a good deal of disillusionment, not to mention a wasted gym membership.
There’s got to be more effective ways to get where you’re going, and there are!
Here’s a list of seven things you should not be doing in the gym and some exercise alternatives:
1. Avoid fixed resistance machines. Do you decide every move you’ll make and every word you’ll say during the day before you even get out of bed in the morning?! No! So why decide every movement your muscles will make before you even get into the gym? Machine weights allow no freedom for the muscles, literally boring them senseless with the same movement pattern while decreasing neuromuscular awareness. That can be good in certain circumstances (like rehab or when fatigued), but generally, let your body play!
They also take away the role of the important stabilising (core) muscles which is where all real-life movements begin and is where our power comes from. So choose free weights or cables instead and try incorporating Swiss Balls (those inflatable balls you see in the gym) to increase the neuromuscular demands on your body. Most qualified fitness instructors or personal trainers will be able to show you how to get the most out of such equipment.
2. Don’t overdo cardio. Many people still believe you just need to do lots of cardio to reduce body fat. This is false. Too much cardio can actually result in your body producing hormones that encourage fat storage in the body (although we’re not part of the ridiculous ‘cardio makes you fat’ crowd).
You’re also possibly sacrificing vital calorie-burning muscle tissue if you do more aerobic exercise than your ingested fuel allows for. Aerobic or ‘cardio’ exercise is important as it allows nutrients to be transported to cells via the bloodstream when fat is released from the adipose (fat) cells. The bloodstream is the vehicle that transports it to be burned. Do your cardio after a resistance training session to promote fat loss, or try circuits which are excellent vehicles for reducing body fat and increasing cardiovascular fitness.
3. Think laterally (literally!). Muscles work as force couples – they play together like teams. Training in isolation can cause an imbalance, leading to injury and an unsymmetrical looking body. Also don’t overemphasise movements in one plane of motion (particularly front to back movements) as our bodies naturally twist and move from side to side as well. Think training “movements” not “muscles”; pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, bending, twisting are the basic movements of day-to-day life. Finally if you train slowly you will play slowly, so vary the speed (tempo).
4. Posture is key, so focus on mobility too. It’s not just an aesthetic thing, bad posture can also lead to injuries and regular bouts of associated pain. The details can be complex but it’s important to know that there are muscles in your body that naturally become short and tight and others that get long and weak by nature. The required response to correct this is to stretch the shorter, tighter muscles and strengthen the longer, weaker muscles. For example when someone has a posture that makes them look like the Pink Panther – protruding head and rounded shoulders – the chest is one muscle that needs a good stretch. Only stretch what is tight, as stretching the long and weak muscles will lead to further imbalances.
5. Crunch after crunch. There is no such thing as a spot reduction. 100 sit-ups a day will not flatten that tummy and it will only lead to poor posture by over-strengthening the upper abdominals and the powerful and greedy hip flexor muscles. The energy to do the crunch may actually come from fat stored somewhere else in the body. So choose exercises that engage lots of muscles. A squat, for example involves over 14 major muscles (and with enough weight will use almost every muscle in the body!).
6. Too many people wander around the gym half-heartedly doing this or that exercise. Have a goal and a defined plan to reach it. Decide what you’re going to do before you get to the gym and write it down. Having no plan will decrease your chances of success. You need to clarify your goals and determine the best way to achieve them or you may be wasting a lot of time (not to mention money).
7. Leave the mobile phone in the locker or in flight mode. Don’t let phones distract you in the gym – leave them in the locker or put them in flight mode. It might not be so good for your selfie game or your Tinder exploits, but it means you’ll actually focus on your training. Do exercises that require you to focus on each task as though it’s a meditation and treat every session as a chance to increase your awareness of how your body moves.
So, there we have it. 7 things you just shouldn’t be doing in the gym. A few simple changes can have a huge beneficial impact on how effective you are both in and outside of the gym, and how quickly you can get the results you want!
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,