If you’re anything like me, you know that working out can be the worst. You run and lift weights and do crunches until it hurts to sit up straight the next day, and sometimes you don’t even get the results you were expecting after all of that hard work. That disappointment always causes me to stop working out for a while, and then three weeks later, there I am with Goldfish crumbs all over my shirt and the only exercise I’m getting is moving my arms to play the next episode of Game of Thrones.
Because here’s the thing: doing a million lunges and busting your butt on the elliptical isn’t going to get ANYWHERE unless you do it the right way. There are common mistakes that just about everyone makes in their effort to shed some inches and pounds, and once you correct those, you’ll be out of the gym and rocking that pencil dress in no time.
1. Your form isn’t exactly on-point.
FYI, horizontal running is not a thing because that would just be another name for active napping. And crunches, for example, only work if you do them right; if not, you can actually end up seriously hurting yourself. Some common mistakes in this endeavor include pulling on your neck (which just causes a lot of upper back pain and doesn’t really do anything for your abs), using momentum rather than strength (you’re not a pendulum, swinging back and forth is yet another freebie for your abs), and sinking your hips in while you plank (if you don’t engage your core, you won’t see results). These are all super-quick fixes, and once you’ve done them, you’ll notice more definition where you want it and less pain where you don’t.
2. You lift the same weights every time.
As the lovely Danish trainer at my local gym likes to yell at me whenever she sees me, “YOU MUST DO INTER-VAHL!” Now, I’m not going to yell at you because I don’t know you and I can’t do that through the computer screen. But the point remains: interval training is key. If you lift the same 10- or 15-pound weights every day, your body builds up a resistance over time, so they’ll stop having any effect. Increase the weight by about 5 pounds or so every 2 to 3 weeks, and as long as you’re not shaking, you’ll have those toned arms you’re after in no time.
3. You stretch before doing cardio.
I know this doesn’t really sound like a problem, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with bending down and touching your toes or something like that before you run, but it doesn’t really do anything for your body. You need to start getting your heart rate up before you go into full-on beast mode (again, the importance of interval training!), so doing a much lower intensity version of your workout is the best bet. So, if you’re planning on running on the treadmill, start off with a brisk walk and work your way up. They don’t call it a warm-up for nothing.
4. You do the same routine every day.
Not only are you going to get insanely bored, your body is going to stop responding if you do the same exercise routine every day. You need to focus on different muscle groups every day if you want to engage them properly, otherwise your body will get tired out and you’ll end up skipping gym days. The best fix for this is to spend one day on cardio, the next on upper body workouts, the next on lower body, and repeat! Obviously, use your discretion: if you want to do cardio every day, just switch up the method. Jumping rope is always a fun choice and as a bonus, it brings out your inner kindergartner. Your workout should feel fun, not like a chore.
5. You’re eating the wrong foods.
A lot of people think that a pre-workout protein bar is the best way to energize the body, but that’s just not the case. Don’t get me wrong, they have their uses and I’m generally pro-energy bar, but so many of them have high fiber contents that take FOREVER to digest, and the energy the body needs to digest food is taken away from your workout. In short: you’ll feel full, but sluggish, and you won’t be able to do the exercises as well or as long as you want to. Opt for a banana instead: it’s got a high fiber content, keeps you full and energized and digests quickly so you can get the most out of your workout.
6. You focus on quantity over quality.
Doing three sets of 100 crunches is not going to do anything if you’re rushing through them and not paying attention to how you’re doing them. Two sets of 50 crunches that are done with the proper form are always going to be more effective.
7. You don’t weigh yourself.
I’m probably not the best person to dole out this advice since the only time I ever definitively know how much I weigh is when I go see the doctor for my annual physical, but you won’t know if what you’re doing is working if you don’t weight yourself. Just take a deep breath, get naked and remember to never weigh yourself on a Monday morning. You’ve most likely spent the weekend indulging–which is fine! Eat that brownie! Have that glass of wine!– and the number you see is just not going to be an accurate representation of reality. Friday morning is probably your better bet at getting an accurate indication of what you weigh.