7 common workout mistakes to avoid

These tips may help you keep up with your get-fit resolution this year

Yoga classes. Getty Images
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The quest to get fitter and healthier in the coming months is the most common New Year's resolution of our time. It's also one that leaves most of its makers conflicted (and hence more likely to fail). On the one hand another year has bolted past, and it's time to recommit to the one goal that's the bane of most overworked people's ­existence. And on the other, there is the unappetising prospect of doing the walk of shame, once again, to the gym or exercise class.

To make your life just a little bit easier as you recommit to getting fit, we ask three experts to list the workout mistakes that are startlingly common but often go undetected. Keep these in mind and perhaps this will be the year that you stick your resolution.

1. Not having a clear goal

"Plan your work and work your plan … rather than improvise when you get to the gym," says Omar Al Duri, author of Reset and host of Halftime Show on Pulse 95 Radio. "A lot of people tend to go in with an idea of what they want, but not a clear objective so they may get lost along the way. Setting yourself a goal is key to a successful workout."  

2. Taking phone breaks

Al Duri's top tip is to stay away from the phone – yes, even on the stationary bike. "Ask any trainer and they'll tell you people spend way more time on the phone than the short recovery periods they need and that are helpful between ­exercises. So steer clear of emails, Instagram and ­clicking pictures for the 45 to 60 ­minutes that you're exercising. Apart from the fact that you'll exercise better if you're not taking sporadic, unregulated breaks, you also need some time to yourself – physically, mentally and spiritually."

Man with headphones in the gym using phone. Getty Images

3. Lack of monitoring

Having said that, a tracking device is very useful; it keeps you in check and informs you whether you’re slacking. “A heart-rate monitor is a good workout aid because it tells you what colour and training zone you’re in. It’s also ­important to know if you’re overdoing it,” says Al Duri. “There are periods in your exercise cycle where you need to be at 60 per cent to 70 per cent of your capacity. If you don’t have a personal trainer, a tracking device can tell you if you’ve gone off the rails.”

4. Going on an ego trip

Finally, says Al Duri, don’t necessarily go for the heaviest weight when designing your programme. “A lot of guys especially tend to have an ego trip and want to lift the ­heaviest. It happens everywhere both for simple and compound movements. A more productive way is to go for the tempo with slower repetitions and the full range of motion, rather than going heavier and not doing the ­exercise properly.”

In a similar vein, resist ­increasing the intensity of your training too quickly, says ­Mickey Mehta, Bollywood ­celebrity fitness trainer and ­holistic health guru. “­People get into high resistance, high-intensity training too soon, rather than ­progressively. I would say increase the intensity or resistance by 2.5 per cent every month. You should be able to do 14 to 15 reps easily, without straining. That’s the perfect benchmark. When you’re able to do that, it’s time to increase the intensity.”

Akshata Bhat, a yoga expert at Ananda Yoga Studio in Dubai, adds that it’s not just the gym where you need to exercise caution; going too deep before the muscles are ready is all too common in yoga as well. “Educate yourself. Know what muscles a particular pose is meant to use and attempt it only when you know that those sets of muscles are ready,” she says.

"A common mistake is people getting overexcited and getting into posture deeper than what their body is ready for. A classic case in point is the headstand; everyone wants to do it as soon as they start their yoga practice. What they don't understand is that the headstand is dangerous because the body is resting on three points: the head, neck and elbow. You're ready only when the upper arms are strong enough to support all your weight, which requires at least three to four months of core strengthening and upper body training. If your arms can't take your weight, you end up putting it on the head and neck, which can lead to cervical injuries and damage the surrounding muscles.

“This holds true for all postures,” adds Bhat. “You do something you’re not ready for and your body compensates with some other muscle that should not be used, which could be counterproductive. Also don’t be shy of using props and aids to help you ease into a pose incrementally.”  

5. Pain does not equal progress

Exercising is not about pain, explains Bhat. "Sure, there might be some stretch and strain when you're deep in a ­complex pose in yoga, but if you're ­feeling intense pain, you need to back off. I'm amazed by how many people routinely stay with searing, tearing pain, their faces all scrunched up, thinking they're ­achieving something by pushing themselves."

6. Beware of the virtual trainer  

Bhat believes replacing an ­instructor with an online tutorial is tricky, and that the internet should be used as a refresher at best. "­Unlike a YouTube tutorial, your ­instructor is physically present to respond and react, monitor your progress, encourage you, correct you and answer your questions," she explains. "Also, when you're using a video, your mind is still active, not quiet, which is a tenet of yoga. You're talking to yourself, giving ­yourself instructions about the next step. An instructor's presence allows you to switch your mind off, and sink deeper and focus on your body."  

7. Skipping the warm-up and cool-down

This is a basic requirement and a basic mistake, says Mehta. “We don’t give ­importance to a thorough warm-up. I’ve seen it so many times – a few minutes of warm-up for an hour-long workout. For optimum benefit, a warm-up should take up at least a third of your workout time, so 20 minutes for a 60-minute session, or 15 minutes for a half-hour workout,” he ­advises. “Lack of a proper warm-up can lead to injuries and muscle spasms. You also won’t get the desired benefits of ­immunity, weight management and circulation. It can also lead to unnecessary strain on the heart.

For optimum benefit, a warm-up should take up at least a third of your workout time, so 20 minutes for a 60-minute session, or 15 minutes for a half-hour workout

“Not powering down after a workout is another common error,” adds Mehta. “People don’t relax and stretch their bodies and bring their heart rate back to normal. It’s important to calm down and breathe a lot. You have to breathe out the by-products of wear and tear, lactic acid build-up, and bring your mind to the here and now.”

Not focusing on the breath enough is detrimental to the simplest of yoga postures, too. “People either forget to breathe while they are holding a pose or their breath speeds up because they are pushing too hard into a pose and their heart accelerates,” says Bhat. “That’s not efficient ­respiration within the realm of yoga because your body and muscles are not relaxing. When your body goes into stress response, your muscles tighten even more. So you think you’re going deeper into a pose, but actually the opposite is happening. Yoga is not successful unless your breath is slow and deep.”