8 Most Common At-Home Workout Mistakes, According to the Pros
While one might assume that the temporary closure of many gyms and fitness studios across the country, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, would lead to fewer workouts being completed, that hasn’t proven to be the case. According to a survey conducted by Find Your Trainer (aka FYT), 40 percent of Americans actually exercised more in 2020 than they did in 2019 – with 25 percent saying their year-to-year activity logs were about equal – and to top it off, three out of four Americans surveyed said they plan to workout even more in 2021 than they did last year.
This is a positive stat to see, the more people exercising – and improving their physical and mental health in the process – the better, but working out solo – without a skilled instructor there to guide you and push you along – can come with some drawbacks.
From poor workout form to skipping warm-ups, there are a number of training mistakes being made in home gyms across the country. And if you’re nodding your head at some of these listed below, you’re not alone.
Luckily, all hope is not lost. We reached out to a couple of our favorite fitness experts to get their take on the most common training mistakes being made at home and how you can correct them.
1. Training Too Hard
An intense workout shouldn’t feel easy, but if you’re experiencing pain beyond the typical muscle soreness, you’re probably training too hard. “It’s one thing to be exercising hard, to the point of discomfort, that means muscles are being challenged to work harder than normal, to do more than they’re used to; it’s another thing to exercise to the point of pain – whether that’s in a joint like the knees, a series of joints like the intervertebral segments of the lumbar spine (aka the lower back) or shoulders. During exercise, people should seek to work hard but to avoid pain,” says Pete McCall, certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and spokesperson for Voltaren.
Additionally, if the pain is not coming from over-exertion, McCall recommends using a mirror or filming yourself while exercising to identify why a certain body part – such as your knee or back – is uncomfortable and if form could be to blame.
2. Progress Too Quickly
Everyone wants to make progress in their workouts, however, moving on too quickly to the next move or a heavier weight, when you haven’t thoroughly completed your initial exercise, will ultimately do your body a disservice. “Although progression is required in order to continue to see improvements, always have movement quality and safety in mind,” says Max Castrogaleas, MA, CSCS, TSAC-F, EP-C, exercise physiologist at HSS.
“Before you decide to add an external load or try a more challenging exercise, check to see if you are performing the current exercise with proper technique. You can also make the current exercise more challenging by either changing the tempo or by increasing the time or repetitions.”
On a similar note, Theodore “Teddy” Savage, Head of Health and Fitness Excellence at Planet Fitness shares that when it comes to tracking your progress and setting goals, you should base them on what you are capable of doing, without focusing on what a friend or someone on social media can do. “Move at your own tempo, only compete with yourself, and don’t limit your progress by comparing it to someone else’s progress,” he adds.
3. Equipment Safety
One common mistake made in home gyms that is unrelated to the actual workout itself, but nevertheless critical to remember, is safety. “Gyms typically have specific equipment which they maintain regularly, while an individual may have old equipment at home that could potentially break,” says Aaron Karp MS, ATC, CSCS, exercise physiologist at HSS. One example he shares is having an old resistance band that snaps and breaks in your face and, of course, heavy weights can cause even more damage if not maintained, inspected, and used with caution.
4. Skipping Rest Days
Even if your workouts at home are not as intense as they were at the gym, you still need to give your body time to rest and recover. “When you exert stress on your muscles during exercise or physical activity it results in muscle tissue damage. The muscle damage that occurs has been associated with DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness), which is typically characterized by muscle pain, tenderness, and swelling,” says Castrogaleas.
While he adds that muscle damage can be good for your body – “it is an important factor for muscle hypertrophy/muscle growth” – too much of it without recovery time can negatively impact performance and increase your risk of injury. You can still remain active while taking rest days, too. Adding a gentle yoga flow or walks to your routine can keep your circulation going and benefit your mental health, as well.
5. Push-Up Problems
Push-ups play a role in many at-home exercise routines, however, they are often performed incorrectly as a result of improper form. “Many people will drop their head which can place strain on the neck or drop their hips which could cause low-back discomfort; the whole body should move as one system – hips and shoulders should be straight and move in a line,” says McCall.
He recommends pushing the hands on the floor and squeezing the glutes to engage the core muscles. “The nerve endings in the hand will signal the deep muscles that stabilize the spine to contract, enhancing stability, the glutes will keep the hips stable.”
6. HIIT Not Intense Enough
High-intensity interval training aka HIIT, which focuses on short bursts of vigorous exercise, is meant to be just that: short and vigorous. Nevertheless, all too often, this form of exercise is completed at a moderate pace and for too long of a duration. “For high-intensity exercises, 20-30 seconds is optimal, BUT they should be working hard enough so that by the end they are completely out of breath,” says McCall.
“Exercising at the highest intensity for longer than 30 seconds isn’t necessarily sustainable, muscle cells only contain a finite amount of ATP, the chemical used for energy, and when depleted muscles could actually use amino acids for fuel which, in turn, reduces the amount available for repairing muscle after a workout.”
He notes that the key way to get benefits from a HIIT workout and put your best effort in is to focus on your intensity and not duration. If you find you have a hard time keeping track of duration, consider using a timer setting on your phone or base your pace off the chorus of a song in your workout playlist.
7. Assessing Difficulty
When you’re basing your workout off of a video or instruction guide, as opposed to getting a specific recommendation from a trainer, it can be hard to gauge what’s too difficult for your body at this stage in the game. “Sometimes we look for exercises that are used to strengthen a certain area of the body, for example performing squats for lower body strength, but fail to consider what is required to perform these exercises with good technique. Do I have enough mobility to go through a full range of motion during the movement? And do I have enough stability to provide my body with control while we are performing the movement?” notes Castrogaleas.
He recommends going backward before moving forward and looking at the steps involved in a new exercise move. Before attempting it, start developing the proper movement patterns, and, eventually, you can progress to the more advanced option.
8. Skipping Warm Ups and Cool Downs
While your warmup and cool down might not be the things you’re showing off on Instagram, they’re still important and should not be neglected – even if you’re short on time. “We have to prepare our body for the activity we are about to perform so that we are able to maximize our movement capability during the workout,” says Castrogaleas.
Idalis Velazquez, Beachbody Super Trainer NASM, CPT, FNS, Pre/Post Natal Creator of 30 Day Breakaway notes that warming up the hips, in particular, is critical for everything from running to performing squats. “The less restricted your hips are, the more potential your body has for strength, power, mobility, and overall athleticism,” she says.
Once you’ve finished your laps, reps, or spinning sesh, you don’t want to skip the cooldown either. “ Equally important [to a warm up] is an effective cooldown stretch, which is more static in nature. It will allow you to lower your heart rate, alleviate soreness, and loosen tightness in the muscles,” adds Savage.
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