The 6 Biggest Workout Mistakes

The 6 Biggest Workout Mistakes

When it comes to exercise, mistakes happen. We all make them. Having worked in the fitness industry for 15 years, I've seen plenty. Here are the 6 biggest workout mistakes I see people make all the time.

When I work with my clients and I watch their progress, I think about how much improvement they've made since we started together. Combining appropriate diet with specific exercises right for their body is the surefire combination that leads to big, long-lasting change.

Improvements are hardly ever made without making a few mistakes along the way. The food we eat makes a HUGE difference in the way we workout, so it should come as no surprise that three of the six biggest mistakes listed are related to diet.

1) The Calorie Countdown
Basing the quality of your workout entirely on how many calories you burn from beginning to end is useless. It might be interesting to know that you burned 400 calories in 40 minutes, but the real benefit of your workout comes from what you do with your body while you're exercising.

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2) Avoiding Strength Training
Cardio-only workouts are ok to do once in a while, but if you're not strength training, you're missing out on some big benefits. Strength training doesn't have to involve doing heavy shoulder presses or 300 pound squats. You can get some pretty great benefits by using tubes, bands, medicine balls, suspension training systems (like TRX) and your very own body.

Aim to strength train two to three times a week. Take action today and in a few weeks you'll see a difference. Strength training helps to:

  • increase lean muscle mass
  • strengthen bones
  • improve cognitive function and mood
  • boost productivity

**SAMPLE WORKOUT**  Not sure what to do or don't want to hit the gym without a game plan? Here is a workout you can download and take with you. It involves no special weights, just your own body. What are you waiting for?

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3) Steady State Cardio
If you're workout regularly consists of riding on an elliptical machine for 45 minutes or jogging on a treadmill to bank 4 or 5 miles, you're doing your body a disservice. While there is nothing wrong with working out at an easy/moderate pace every now and then - even once a week - continuous steady state cardio puts your body on the fast track for storing fat. Even though you still burn calories while your exercising, after you hit the 20 minute mark, your cortisol levels start to increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone with close ties to belly fat. What's more, as soon as you finish your cardio workout, there is no caloric after burn.

So what can you do? Increase the intensity! After you get on the elliptical, treadmill or cardio piece of your choice, warm up for 5 to 10 minutes max. When your workout is done, try the following:

  • 30 Seconds Full Effort
  • 30 Seconds Easy Effort
  • 1 Minute Full Effort
  • 1 Minute Easy Effort
  • 2 Minutes Full Effort
  • 2 Minutes Easy Effort
    (REPEAT this series 4 to 5 times and you're done!)

note: Full Effort = everything you've got, 100%. Easy Effort = walk it out or take all resistance off, recover.

High intensity interval training (HIIT), like the workout above, can be done with cardio equipment, weights or your own body. This is just an example. The benefits outweigh slow and steady cardio by a landslide.

  • Workouts are usually shorter, albeit more intense
  • Fat metabolism is increased long after the workout ends
  • Cortisol, insulin and adrenaline (stress homones) are better managed
  • It's not nearly as boring as moving along at the same pace

4) Eating "Energy" Foods or Drinks Just After a Workout
Unless you worked out for 90 rock-solid minutes, you probably don't need the sports drink, smoothie or energy bar. They're all largely carbohydrate-based and often loaded with sugar. Our liver does an amazing job hanging on to extra energy in the form of sugar. After a workout, you should have enough left in the tank to get you to your next meal. If your workout is first thing in the morning, then yes, you should eat after your workout, but make sure you include a good amount of protein and fat, too.

If your workout was less than 90 minutes, but placed a lot of demand on your body (heavy weight lifting, high intensity interval training), then you need protein! This will help your muscles recover quickly. Your muscles are most sponge-like for protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.

If sitting down to a big chicken salad isn't covenant in your sweaty clothes, then keep grab-n-go options handy, including hard boiled eggs, organic plain Greek yogurt with berries, nuts or a clean protein shake.

5) Moving in a Straight Line
For the most part, people live and exercise in a linear fashion. Our hips and spine don't get nearly the amount of rotation they need and deserve. Stiff joints, tight hips and a sore back can often be the result of not getting enough motion. Fortunately, you don't need to do much or spend too much time correcting this. Take a few minutes to swing your legs from side to side, pull your knees into your chest, twist around a little bit to give your spine some motion. All of these are simple movements. If you don't move it, you'll lose it.

6) Post-Workout Calorie Compensation
You had a great workout this morning and tonight you're going out for a delicious dinner. The dessert menu comes around. Normally you take a pass, but since you crushed all those calories you can afford the extra brownie or scoop of ice cream, right? Wrong! Don't do it.

Think of exercise as your body shaper. Think of a clean diet as your resident weight loss guru and flat belly maker. In general, people think they burn a lot more calories in 45 minutes or an hour than they actually do. Even if you fried 500 calories, chances are that dessert will gobble up everything you worked so hard to get rid of…in a fraction of the time.

Rely on your diet to control your weight, not your workouts. Your workouts can make your tush tighter and quads stronger, but all that will be hard to see if your diet keeps getting derailed by "bonus" foods that come as a reward for working out.

Traci is a nationally-recognized health and fitness coach, and the current coach working with Steve Harvey's Bridal Bootcamp. Traci has also been featured on Dr. OzThe TODAY Show, in SHAPE, SELF and local news programs. Her specialty is weight loss through clean eating and interval-style training. Traci is available for private coaching and corporate consulting. To contact Traci, please email

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