Most gym-goers have a basic understanding of safety and what should and shouldn’t be done to avoid injuries—things like using proper form, not lifting weights that are too heavy and stretching after a workout. While these essentials are important, there’s more to protecting yourself during exercise than most people realize. In fact, you may be making mistakes every day that you don’t even know are causing you harm or preventing you from getting the best possible workout. Here are five blunders to banish from your routine:
Not adjusting equipment seats properly
Setting machine seats correctly for your body top should be a top priority. If you’re straining or feeling discomfort (especially in your joints) during an exercise, re-position the seat. On most machines, you’ll want to line up the joint you’re moving with the joint of the machine that’s moving. Doing this will not only help you to avoid pulling on your joints, but the exercise will be more effective.
On a stationary bike, sitting too high or too low can negatively affect your lower back. In addition, sitting to high can strain your achilles tendon, while sitting too low can cause your pelvis to roll under. To properly adjust the seat, observe where your leg is when pushed downward. It should be nearly straight, with your foot parallel to the floor. If it isn’t, raise or lower the seat.
Not taking a rest day
You’re feeling great, workouts are going as planned and you have tons of energy—so why would you take a day off from the gym? Overtraining eventually will mentally and physically wear you down. After some time passes without a rest, you may start to feel aches, pains, muscle and joint soreness, fatigue and lack motivation. You may even become sick. Continuing on this way can cause serious injury!
Rest days should be a regular part of your workout routine. Some people like to schedule a certain day off during the week; others take days as needed. For me, I may train two days, take off a day, then train 3 days, take off a day—it depends on the week and how I’m feeling. Regular rest days will keep you healthy, motivated and seeing results. Tip: Add a glutamine supplement to your pre- and post-workout supplement regiment. It can help with muscle fatigue and soreness and aid in recovery.*
Not keeping proper posture on cardio equipment
How many times have you seen someone hunched over a cardio machine, hanging on for dear life? How about that person gripping the handles so tightly that all of their body weight falls onto their wrists? As tempting as it may be to slouch and droop when you’re feeling fatigued, don’t. It will only lead to neck and back pain. Same goes for the grip of death. Putting all of your body weight onto your wrists could irritate your tendons.
Instead, focus on standing up straight, with your hips directly under your shoulder and your elbows down and in toward your body. It’s OK to swing your arms lightly. If you need to use the rails for balance, touch them with your fingertips or open palms—don’t grip them too tightly. Tip: If you can’t keep good posture because of fatigue, it’s a sign that you’re done!
Not wearing proper athletic shoes
Most workout shoes are made for specific activities. If you’re taking a Zumba class where you’ll be twisting and turning, but you’re wearing running or tennis shoes designed to keep your foot planted, you could injure your knee ligaments. Wearing improper shoes for running or jogging can cause back, hip and knee problems. Invest in proper footwear for the activity you’re planning to engage in to help prevent pain in the future. If you tend to have knee soreness during workouts, you could also try using a padded knee support brace.
Engaging in uncontrolled ab exercises
Faster is not always better. We’ve all seen the person at the gym or in a group class moving at super-high speed or twisting uncontrollably during ab exercises. The painful look on their face should say it all! Using momentum like this to complete the motion can cause injury in the neck, back and abs—not to mention, it doesn’t work the muscles you want to work. So not only are you putting yourself at risk for injury, you’re also wasting your time.
Ab exercises don’t require a lot of motion. Aim for a concentrated contraction, which is more effective to the core area than doing hundreds of crunches. Avoid pulling on your neck or using momentum to complete the exercise. Tip: If you start to feel tightness in your hip flexors or back, call it a day—you’re done!