Don’t Make These 5 Common Workout Mistakes

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You could be sabotaging your workout without even knowing it. There are subtle things that you might be doing (or not doing) that make your workout less effective. By fixing these five things, you’ll be on your way to faster running times, being stronger all over, and generally fitter and healthier.

5 Not Stretching

Flexibility training isn’t just for yogis and gymnasts; everyone can benefit from it. After warming up or as part of your cool-down, run through a series of stretches for the major muscles groups that you exercised during the main part of your workout. For example, if you emphasize your lower body with squats and lunges, make sure you stretch your quads and hamstrings. Make sure you hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds for them to be effective.

4 Improper Form

Doing moves incorrectly isn’t just inefficient, it can even be dangerous, especially if you’re weight training. When doing a new move for the first time, make sure you know how to do it properly before you hit the gym. If you are still unsure, ask a personal trainer or weight room supervisor where you work out. Some of the most common mistakes include arching or hunching your back (keep your back straight) and extending your knees over your toes or bowed in/out (keep your knees in line with your thighs and over your ankles).

3 There’s No Variety

Variety is the spice and life, and that’s true for your workout, too. By varying the types of exercises you do, you’ll be more likely to stick to your workout plan. So try taking a group exercise class, work with a personal trainer, or find a workout buddy to keep you committed. Whatever it takes to bust you out of your workout rut, do it. If you’re a runner, run different routes. If you do a lot of strength training, make sure you find different, new moves to emphasize different parts of your body. That way, you’ll reduce the likelihood you’ll get bored and quit.

2 Exercising at the Wrong Intensity

This covers both extremes of the spectrum—working out too hard and not hard enough. If you work out too hard, you put yourself at increased risk of injury. Too long and you’re risking over training, which can result in exhaustion and depletion of electrolytes. On the other hand, if your workout isn’t challenging enough, you’ll never see change or improvement. So up the intensity of your cardio a bit, add a few extra pounds to the weights you lift, and eliminate ineffective exercises. To ensure your workout is balanced, aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise three to five days a week, mixing in cardio, strength exercises, and flexibility training.

1 Skipping the Warm-Up or Cool-Down

It may not seem like much, but warming up and cooling down are important parts of any workout. Not warming up and jumping straight into your workout is like stretching a frozen rubber band without thawing it. And not cooling down is rough on your heart, because it gives your body a chance to return to its normal, resting state. All it takes is five to 10 minutes of light cardio (walking, easy biking, rowing machine) or body-weight exercises like crunches, lunges, squats, and push-ups (if you’re doing a weight-lifting workout). Your cool down can be the same or include some stretching.

While it’s good to cut these mistakes out of your workout, the most important mistake you make sure to avoid is not working out at all. Think of your workouts as learning ex-periences, and no workout is a bad workout as long as you’re doing it safely. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t keep practicing and working out.

Rachel is a USC graduate who loves running, yoga, and writing about those two things. She’s worked for publications including Men’s Health, People.com, and Organic Spa Magazine, and recently helped produce several fitness apps with personal trainers and fitness instructors.

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