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8 Common Workout Mistakes You Might Be Making

Fitness pros who work with lots of clients say these common workout mistakes can be your first clues that you're about to abandon your goals.

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Getting into shape is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions—and yet, only eight percent of people who set a sweeping goal for the year ahead see it through. But no matter when people decide to start hitting the gym, research suggests most dropouts from exercise programs occur within the first six months.

Fitness pros tell The Healthy @Reader’s Digest that this trend is actually longstanding. So how can you make sure you’re part of that disciplined eight percent? A few common missteps can serve as early clues for you to become aware you might be preparing to abandon your exercise goals.

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You have an all-or-nothing approach

By far, the most common workout mistake experts say they see people make is doing too much, too soon. Exercise motivation is great—but overdoing it can not only fizzle your fitness passion, it may also lead to injuries that seriously set you back.

Trainer Ellen Dyverfeldt, CPT, suggests you should watch out for these signs that it may be time to scale things back:

  • You’re dreading the thought of working out
  • You’ve gotten an injury or “niggle” and recovery is slow
  • You are feeling more stressed
  • Your sleep is poor

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You hold yourself to certain expectations…

“I see people who were college athletes 20 years ago, but two decades at a desk since graduation has completely changed their bodies, but not their minds,” says Anthony Maritato, PT. Trying to force your way back to the intensity you think you should be able to handle often leads people to quit their program early—or develop an overuse condition like tendinitis, bursitis, or stress reactions in the bones.

Maritato says the first two weeks of any training program should be at “such a low intensity that it almost feels like a waste of time.” That can include light cardio, strength work, and range-of-motion conditioning. Building this foundation slowly is incredibly valuable, as it allows you to accelerate your fitness more quickly in the next four, eight, and 12 weeks and beyond.

High Angle View Of Woman Using Smartwatch While Sitting In GymArtem Varnitsin/Getty Images

…or you set strict deadlines

Thirty days to six-pack abs isn’t just unrealistic—ironclad deadlines often lead to discouragement. “Deadlines create a sense of failure when you miss or haven’t achieved them yet, and reinforce the idea that you have to be fast and foolproof in order to succeed,” says Kieran Knight, RD and fitness trainer. “When you approach fitness goals the right way, it’s not about reaching a goal in a certain amount of time, but feeling good and enjoying the process.”

Fit, young African American woman working out with hand weights in a fitness gym.Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

You don’t stick to a plan

“The biggest workout mistake beginners make is switching their program too frequently,” says Emi Gutgold, a New York City-based Pilates instructor.

So, keep things fun and incorporate activities that you enjoy, but “the saying ‘keep your body guessing’ is one of the worst in fitness—if you want to change your body composition and build strength, sticking to a strength program for at least three months is your best bet.”

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You prioritize numbers (or ego) over form

We’re all guilty of comparing ourselves to others—but this mindset can make people ramp up their workout intensity too quickly or lift more weight than they can handle. “This leads to improper form and poor technique to force the weight up, which often leads to injury,” says Matt Haas, CPT.

Whether you’re in a group fitness class, using your favorite app, or strength training in the gym, focus on low intensity and light weights until you master the form, he says. “Then progress up to a challenging weight.”

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Young Woman Stretching Legs In The Park After ExerciseOscar Wong/Getty Images

You skip your warm-up

Jumping straight into your workout with cold muscles and joints can seriously up your injury risk, says Lalitha McSorely, a physiotherapist in Calgary. “I recommend any type of cardiovascular exercise that indirectly engages the muscles you’ll be working out that day,” she advises. “Aim to get 70% max heart rate during a 10- to 15-minute warm-up.”

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You don’t fuel your body

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed that you can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet—so, eating well and staying physically active are both crucial parts of your physical fitness. But if you’re just starting an exercise routine, make sure you’re eating enough the right foods for your new level of activity. Skimping on carbs (which restore your energy) and protein (which repairs and builds your muscles) can leave you feeling fatigued, sluggish, and sore, extending your body’s recovery time. Check out these post-workout snacks that will nourish your body, keeping you fresh to bring your A-game to every workout session.

Muscular Young Man Training At GymOscar Wong/Getty Images

You avoid strength training

People working toward weight-loss goals tend to spend too much (or all) of their time doing cardio, says Stephanie Thomas, CPT. “Endless cardio will not help you lose fat any quicker and can just make fitness feel boring.”

Part of this mindset comes from a fear of getting “bulky” through strength training—a total myth, according to Thomas. “Lifting weights won’t make you bulky,” she emphasizes. “It will help shape your body and it can help you see definition in your muscles.”

And don’t be “gymtimidated,” she says. Everyone starts at square one, which is why asking others for help is part of fitness culture. Or if you’re totally new to weightlifting, book a few sessions with a personal trainer to ensure you’re using the equipment properly, and safely.

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Editor’s Note: The Healthy @Reader’s Digest’s Medical Review Board member Latoya Julce also recommends ensuring your workout includes a cool down. “A cool down is designed to promote recovery and return the body to a pre-exercise or pre-workout level. In a study on the effects of warmups and cool downs, researchers mentioned that aerobic cool downs could reduce delayed onset muscle soreness by increasing circulation and removal of waste in the exercised muscles.

Sources

SOURCES:

People:

Ellen Dyverfeldt, CPT

Anthony Maritato, PT, founder of Total Therapy Solutions

Kieran Knight, RD and fitness trainer

Emi Gutgold, a New York City-based Pilates instructor

Matt Haas, CPT

Lalitha McSorely, a physiotherapist in Calgary

Stephanie Thomas, CPT

Journals:

Journal of Advances in Sports and Physical Education: "Analysis of Causes Which Make Young People Quit Sports and Sport Activities"

British Journal of Sport Medicine: "Physical activity, diet quality and all-cause cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: a prospective study of 346 627 UK Biobank participants"

Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on January 06, 2023

Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.