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Gym Sins
Workout Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

By John Winters
(2/6/01)

Mistakes are part of life. There are little mistakes, like bending your
elbow and shanking that easy nine iron into the rough. And then there are
big mistakes, like making a tee time and planning a day "with the boys" on
your anniversary. Either way, mistakes end up costing you.

When it comes to working out, there are plenty of mistakes just waiting
to sidetrack your fitness regimen. Usually these mistakes fall into one of
four categories: doing things wrong, doing too much, doing too little, or
doing nothing at all and having that second helping of cheesecake. The one
thing they have in common is their universality.

"Everyone makes mistakes," said Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the
American Council on Exercise and an exercise physiologist at First Fitness
Inc. in Salt Lake City. "They result in everything from imperceptible
problems to acute injuries."

Recently A.C.E. surveyed more than 3,000 fitness professionals and asked
them to name the worst mistakes they see. Here are their top ten workout
sins:

- Not stretching enough
- Lifting too much weight
- Not warming up
- Not cooling down
- Exercising too intensely
- Not exercising intensely enough
- Not drinking enough water
- Leaning heavily on the stairstepper or treadmill
- Jerking while lifting weights
- Consuming energy bars and sports drinks during moderate workouts

Hmm, sounds familiar, you say, as you skip that stretching routine and
prepare to jerk a 250 lb. barbell over your head before heading to the locker
room for an energy-giving Snickers bar. In truth, the A.C.E. list is filled
with common sense mistakes. It's just a question of taking the time
and effort to avoid making them.

Naturally some of us have gone well beyond the common mistakes and blazed new frontiers of screwing up. The hope is that we are the wiser albeit sorer for it. It would be nice to think we learned something about our bodies.
With all this in mind, we've compiled our own list of workout no-nos. Take notes.

Time Wounds All Heels
Rushing through a workout is a good way to end up sidelined with an injury. Stretching, warming up, and cooling down are usually the first things to go out the window, but that's not all you're missing out on when you hustle in and out of the gym. "You truly have to slow down and center yourself before exercising, and we don't do that in this society," Richard Cotton said. "You need to slow down and really focus. If you do, it's a double-edged benefit in stress reduction."

Weight Control
Lifting weights incorrectly is the cause of many muscular-skeletal problems, said Lori Thein Brody, a physical therapist and sports clinical specialist at the University of Wisconsin's Sports Medicine Center. The key to avoiding them is proper technique. Some tips are: lift with a slow, smooth, easy motion (like you would lift a
garage door); and begin bending from the waist and lower back, sticking your butt out when lifting from the floor or stretching. Also, many experts suggest doing lat pull-downs to the front of the body and not behind your neck. Finally, don't be intimidated. Ask a trainer for some guidance if you're unsure about how to do a particular exercise.

No Pain, No Pain
Repeat after us: "You don't have to kill yourself." It's one thing to be training for the Olympics, it's another to look passable in a pair of Speedos next summer. One thing to keep in mind is that your cardiovascular system shapes up faster than your bones, joints and muscles. Which means your heart and lungs may be ready to go the distance, but the rest of you may not.
Back off at the first sign of pain or overexertion.

Scaling Back
A good way to make sure you're getting an appropriate amount of exercise is to familiarize yourself with the perceived exertion scale (also known as the Borg scale), which measures activity from very, very light to very, very hard. Most men should be working out at a level that is slightly harder than moderate.
Also, avoid "workout persecution" (you know, where you pile on an extra three
miles to punish yourself for being so out of shape or for giving in to that steak and cheese sub at lunch).

Repetition Is Bad Bad Bad
Mix things up a bit and you'll be more likely to stay healthy. "Cross training is really the key," Lori Thein Brody said. "Don't train the same muscle groups the same way day after day."
She sees lots of overuse injuries in people who stick to just one sport or activity. Besides, you should be giving 48 hours of rest to any muscle group you've exercised, which is best accomplished by alternating workout routines.

Stay Inspired
Boredom has doomed many a well-intentioned fitness program, which is another
reason to mix things up, said Beth Warren, manager of the Dan Abraham Healthy
Living Center at the Mayo Clinic. "When there's not enough variety, people get bored," she said. So make a point to try out as many different exercises as possible and surprise yourself a few times a week. As the kids say nowadays: "It's all good."

Real Time
Set short-term goals as well as long-term goals. It's great to want to drop 30 pounds, but it's better to aim for simpler things, like getting to the gym four days a week or running a certain amount of miles each month. "So often people have this end physical appearance in mind and not the right steps to accomplish it," Warren said.

The Final Mistake
Dying is the worst mistake of all. A spokesperson for the American Heart Association said statistics concerning sudden death while exercising aren't kept, and that the numbers are low. Still, it happens, and you should be aware of it. Never push through pain anyplace in your body, and stop if you feel dizzy, shortness of breath, or tightness in the chest area.
The golden rule is always listen to your body. Stay tuned to what your muscles and joints are telling you and chances are you'll never go wrong.



John Winters writes about health and fitness and lives in Massachusetts.






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