Do you exercise and do sports? If so, are you doing this just for joy or do you have a specific goal? You may want to lose weight, gain muscle mass, alleviate or eliminate pain caused by musculoskeletal disorders, or increase your fitness level or sports performance. We all have a reason which motivates us to do physical and sports activities. Whatever it is, we will achieve our goal sooner if we exercise effectively and without unnecessary mistakes. Here are some of the most common workout mistakes and tips on how to avoid them.
1. One-sided activity without compensation
One of the most common mistakes is one-sided focus on one physical activity, which we regularly repeat. Whether running, cycling, football, tennis or other activity, they activate the same muscle groups and energy systems over and over again, which can lead to muscle imbalances, poor posture and incorrect movement stereotypes. Certain muscle groups shorten and get stiff, while others weaken and the issue arises.
Variety and diversity are the attributes we are looking for. Find a variety of physical activities that you enjoy and rotate them. For aerobic activities, be sure to include short high-intensity intervals from time to time to increase the training effect while keeping the heart and respiratory systems in better shape.
However, if you still decide to remain focused only on your favorite physical activity and you lack the movement diversity, complete at least twice a week strength training, preferably under professional supervision. In this way, you can avoid functional disorders of the musculoskeletal system, often associated with inflammation and pain as well as forced movement and sports restrictions.
2. Ignoring small muscle groups
Especially in amateur strength training, it often happens that people focus on the largest muscle groups such as pectoral muscles, back muscles or arms. That is the visible surface muscles that shape the surface of the body and contribute to the aesthetics of the physique. However, we have more than 600 skeletal muscles in the body, many of which are small hidden muscles near the joints and spine, where they have a supportive and stabilizing function. They are muscles that no one sees but fundamentally they decide on the functionality and stability of the joint or corresponding body part. Typical examples are the muscles of the rotator cuff of the shoulder or the deep muscles of the spine where muscle imbalances often occur in today’s sedentary lifestyle.
If you already have a developed form of muscle disbalance or wrong posture, compensatory strength training should not be avoided. If you have not yet developed any functional disorders associated with muscle imbalance and potential pain, congratulations – it is still firmly in your hands and it is up to you how long and how well your body will serve you. The key to the health of the musculoskeletal system is to perform various physical activities and to work out in all body planes and throughout the full range of motion.
3. Wrong / no warming up and inappropriate / no stretching
Physical activity itself often brings us joy and various health benefits. However, if we want to reduce the risk of injury to a minimum and keep the body flexible, we should not forget to properly warm up before an activity and stretch our muscles after we finish. It takes time and is not nearly as much fun as doing sports, but proper warm-up and stretching contribute greatly to sports longevity and thus to long-term good health. How much time do you spend warming up and how much time do you devote to final stretching? Do you do it at all?
Of course, the length and content of the warm-up and stretching depend on the nature and intensity of the main physical activity. Ideally, warming up before most sports would take at least 15 minutes and would involve:
loosening and activating the muscles by rolling on a hard foam roller and balls of different sizes;
dynamic stretching (slow controlled movements);
activation of the major muscle groups needed in the exercise using strength stabilization exercises;
neuromuscular activation using explosive and speed-strength exercises;
specific warm-up with sports equipment (movement pattern identical to a particular physical activity).
As for stretching, first of all, positions that disproportionately burden the joint structures and the spine should be avoided. These are, for example, stretching hamstring in hurdler’s stretch or the plow yoga position (legs over the head). Other important rules are:
move into stretching positions slowly with prolonged exhalation;
avoiding severe pain (slight local pain in the stretched muscle area may be desirable);
warm up before stretching.
The most effective stretching methods include the PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) method, dynamic (but slow – controlled) stretching and static stretching.
4. Demanding physical activities without adequate strength and conditioning preparation
In today’s world, many busy people rarely find time for physical activity. These rarely exercising “athletes” often choose sports such as football, tennis or hockey. In other words, sports with high demands on the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. If such a person carries in his head memories of his youthful strength and high performance, and easily gets carried away by the zeal for the game, the risk of injury increases sharply. At best, it can only end with overstrain and a severe post-workout (delayed-onset) muscle soreness. In the worst case, their injury will require medical treatment and several weeks of convalescence.
If you have a sedentary job and do not exercise regularly, your musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems are unlikely to be prepared for the higher physical load exerted by dynamic sports. In this case, it will be wiser to prepare the muscles and joints to be able to withstand the pulls, pressures and impacts present in the sport, and thus avoiding unwanted injuries. The best option would be professional strength training focused on joint mobility and stability strength. The next step would be the transition to dynamic and explosive exercises and movements with direction changes. Add to this a certain degree of development of the aerobic and anaerobic systems and you can enjoy various physical activities with pleasure and with a much lower risk of injury.
5. Lack of regeneration in relation to high training volume
Although most people suffer from the lack of exercise, there is also a group of those undergoing high training doses without adequate regeneration. We need to realize that in terms of improving sports performance, regeneration is just as important as the training itself. Training is a catabolic process in which energy reserves are depleted and muscle fibers are partially damaged. During the time of rest, muscle fibers are rebuilt and under ideal conditions, their adaptation to a higher level (improvement in strength) comes. After food intake, also energy reserves are restored. Therefore, if we do not let our bodies rest and regenerate adequately after high training doses and start the following workouts tired, overload (total fatigue lasting 1 to several days) or overtraining (long-term severely reduced performance, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite – lasts weeks, sometimes months) can occur.
While at low and medium training load basic passive forms of regeneration (sleep, food intake, drinking regime) may be sufficient, at high training load it is necessary to include active forms of regeneration (SMR – hard foam roller, hard massage balls; massage; work with a physiotherapist) and other physiatrics methods (hydrotherapy, lymphatic drainage, electrotherapy, etc.). The time required for full recovery is individual and, in principle, the greater the training volume and intensity, the more time and regeneration is required for a full recovery.
6. Excessive use of machines
Machines usually occupy the largest space in gyms. They often come with illustrated and verbal instructions on how to exercise and what muscle groups they engage. Many of them instruct the trainee into the correct position and precisely define the trajectory of movement. This can significantly reduce possible mistakes in inexperienced exercisers. It all sounds very good. So what’s the problem?
Exercise on classic fitness machines usually puts minimal or no demand on the postural muscle system and often strengthens muscles in isolation. This is especially true for machines on which you lie or sit.
If we want to exercise reasonably and transfer the strength gained in the gym to everyday life or sports, we should choose exercises where a solid postural system including spine stabilizers supports dynamic movement in a safe range of motion. This description match body-weight and free-weight exercises (e.g. dumbbells, medicine balls, etc.) with a mindful control of the position and stability of the spine and joints, as well as the performed movement. Using machines (especially next-generation machines) and isolated movements certainly have their place in training and rehabilitation, but it is necessary to correctly determine to what extent (concerning the stabilization and functional dynamic exercises) we use them.
7. Doing exercises that excessively wear out your joints
“Work out and do sports to enjoy good health and sports longevity.” This statement is true only if certain principles are met. One of them is to choose surfaces for your physical activities that absorb some of the energy generated by impacts or rebounds. It is also important to realize that the body can safely handle only those activities and sports for which its muscles and joints are prepared. Just as an untrained person does not go running a marathon, he/she should neither engage in sports with high-intensity intervals with sharp changes of direction (such as squash). The risk of injuries of the musculoskeletal system (including the weight-bearing joints) is much higher in untrained people performing this kind of activities.
For running, prefer a park or forest over hard roads and pavements. Play basketball in a gym with a flexible floor rather than on a concrete court outdoors. For all activities and sports that involve impacts and rebounds, invest in quality footwear that absorbs your impacts and extends the life of your joints. But first of all, make sure your musculoskeletal system (including your joints) is ready for more demanding movement tasks. If you are an “occasional athlete” with a sedentary job, your best option would be going through a strength training preparation under professional supervision before you go playing football or any other demanding sport or activity after a longer period of physical inactivity.
8. Poor nutrition and drinking regimen in connection with the exercise
What is the goal that you want to achieve by exercising/doing sports? Is it stress reduction? Weight loss? Muscle hypertrophy? Or just the joy and fun of moving? In any case, the way toward your goal can be significantly affected by your diet and drinking regimen.
Probably the most common mistake is eating just before physical activity. Indeed, digestion is a process for which the body needs relatively much time and energy. After eating, a substantial part of the blood is transferred to the digestive system, where digestion of food and subsequent absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream take place. However, if we do not give the body enough time to do these tasks and start to move intensively too soon, the blood is forced to move from the working digestive system to the working muscles. This extends the time food spends in the stomach and makes an athlete feel heavy and full. As a result, he or she does not deliver their optimum performance, nor can they fully enjoy the physical activity.
If we want to reduce fatty tissue or gain muscle, there are several factors we need to take into account. Exercise alone is about half the work. The timing, type and amount of food are also decisive.
Eat the last main meal at least 2, preferably 3 hours before working out. If you lack energy, you can have some easily digestible carbohydrate food (e.g. banana) about 15-30 minutes before sports.
If you want to lose weight, you will benefit from a low-carbohydrate diet. Glycogen stores in the liver and muscles will be lower, and energy requirements will be covered to a greater extent by fats. If you regularly undergo high-intensity interval training, the results will be even better. Especially after training of this type, the metabolism remains elevated for several hours. And to meet the demands of increased metabolism at rest, mainly your fats will contribute.
In order to gain muscle mass, in addition to appropriate training methods, care should also be taken of the correct timing and composition of the diet. Higher protein intake is necessary, also in the form of nutritional supplements. Always go fueled with energy for your workout (pre-workout meal rich in carbohydrates) and ensure immediate intake of easily digestible proteins (e.g. whey protein hydrolyzate) after the workout.
9. Prioritizing quantity over quality
This mistake can occur on two levels. One is tied to the training itself (e.g. weight training) and the other involves the entire training system including diet and regeneration.
Many men aim to gain muscle mass quickly. Many women (and men) aim to lose weight quickly. Both groups will benefit from strength training. However, if they do not have the theoretical knowledge or do not exercise under professional supervision, it is quite possible that although their great motivation and determination will lead them to overcome themselves (quantity), the quality of training (exercise selection, technique, length and character of rest between series, etc.) is likely to be low.
The way to your goals goes not only through the quality of an individual training but also the quality of the entire training process. If we do not provide the body with sufficient nutrients and the rest and regeneration in connection with the training load, we cannot expect great results.
When you do something, do it properly and the best you can. The same exercise can help if executed correctly, but can also do you harm if the technique is wrong. If you do not have the theoretical knowledge and practical experience in this area, seek professional help. Your goals such as weight loss, muscle hypertrophy or pain relief/elimination will become a reality much sooner and with a much lower risk of injury.
Let us not forget that overload and especially overtraining are unpleasant conditions that lead to chronic fatigue and injuries rather than increasing physical fitness and achieving goals. So let’s always prefer quality over quantity.
Make sure your physical activities are diverse and varied. Performing the same movements too often without adequate compensation can lead to overload, inflammation and injury.
In the gym, remember to exercise small muscle groups. Practice with conscious control in all planes, directions and the full range of motion.
Before any physical activity, warm up properly and activate your muscles. After you finish, take at least a few minutes of safe stretching.
If you are planning a more demanding physical activity after a long period of physical inactivity, take some time to prepare your musculoskeletal system to handle it safely.
At higher training doses, spend enough time resting and regenerating. The greater the training volume and intensity, the more time and regeneration is required for a full recovery.
In the gym, focus on body-weight training, free weights and elastic bands. Exercise on some machines may be a good addition.
For your sports activities, choose surfaces with some flexibility and invest in quality sneakers. Avoid intense sports with a lot of direction changes on concrete and other hard surfaces.
Ensure proper nutrition and drinking before, during and after sports. The character, quality and timing of food and nutritional supplements can have a decisive effect on the achievement of your training goals.
Training is only as good as technically correct is the execution of each repetition and set. Always prioritize quality over quantity.