August 11, 2014
Top Ten Mistakes Women make at the Gym

1. Too Much Cardio
By “too much cardio” I really mean “no weight training.” Cardio is awesome and necessary, but what I am referring to is hopping on the treadmill, stepmill, or elliptical and trotting along for a 45 minute jaunt, before calling it good and heading home, and not doing anything else. Unless you are training for an event and are doing this as some type of recovery work, that type of exercise is largely inefficient. This type of exercise typically includes a low intensity, low heart rate, low effort, and not a lot of sweat (if any.) If you are going to the gym to work out, then work out. Slow cardio done without purpose is worthless. Remember that I have a pretty lenient definition of cardio: anything you do with the deliberate intent of getting and keeping your heart rate elevated. Part of the problem is in what muscle fibers your body recruits to get work done. You have different types of muscle fibers in your body. Some are for heavy lifting and some are for endurance (and there are many in-between variations of these.) If you only do slow and low intensity cardio, you will only recruit your smaller endurance fibers and will not recruit your strength fibers. This selective recruitment of muscle fibers is called “the size principle.” Your body will not recruit your big muscle fibers for menial tasks. If it did, you would rip your shirt in half every time you tried to put it on. By only doing cardio (slow cardio) you are missing out on challenging half of your muscle mass! If you want that lean and toned look, you must lift weights. Remember that there is a place for cardio when done right, but it should not be the only thing you do. The next time you go in for a cardio day, try creating a circuit of strength exercises that will keep your heart rate up. Then do that series for 30 minutes instead of slow cardio. Get work done!


2. Weight Training with Cute Dumbbells
So you have gotten off of the elliptical and you are willing to lift weights. Most likely, your weights are too light. If you can do more than 20 reps of any exercise, they are not helping you and you should increase your load. If you are doing a leg exercise and you are not regretting your choice of weight by the 12th rep, you are lifting too light… go heavier. This goes back to the size principle. Your body brain will only recruit your strength fibers if you force your body to do work. Also, if you want to tone ANY part of your body, you will have to build some muscles. Given that women build muscles much slower than men, it does not hurt to increase your weight. You will get much stronger, more confident (seriously), and you will still look graceful and feminine. Also, the added load is good for your bones. Not only that, but the harder you push yourself the more calories your body will burn recovering from your workouts. Lighter weights with the same number of reps = less post exercise burn. I love the quote in the below picture. As a trainer, I have seen this happen in the gym quite often. Most women are not aware of their true physical strength, because they never push themselves to find out. Not only is strength good for you, it is empowering.

3. Too Low of Intensity (Both Cardio and Weights)
This is a bit of a combo of the above two mistakes. Like I have mentioned many times before, there is a time and place for cardio. When you do it, make it count. Don’t just sit back on a recumbent bike and get in a leisurely ride. Get on the erg (ergometer, or rowing machine) and crush it. Get your heart rate up. Do work. As mentioned above, increasing your intensity will make your workouts more efficient, keep you burning calories after your workout, and get you results faster. If you find it hard to push yourself, you are not alone. One way to combat this is to get a workout buddy or a trainer. Coaching and social facilitation is a great way to ensure you keep your intensity where it needs to be.

4. 80 Minute Abs
Let’s get one thing down before we move forward: abs are created in the kitchen. No amount of crunches or planks will get you a tighter tummy unless you are actively working to burn fat. To effectively do that, you will get way more bang for your buck by eating right consistently. With that in mind, if you are spending more than 5 minutes focusing on your abs, you are wasting precious time. Also, if you are working on keeping your posture solid, your abdominal strength will develop as you lift heavy weights and do body weight exercises, as your core muscles are needed for these exercises. Doing 5 minutes of burpees or tabatas will get you a flat and toned stomach faster than 1000 crunches. The picture below says, “gee look, if you do crunches like this then you can have abs like mine.” LIES! This is a fitness model who lifts weights, eats kale and cardboard, and then poses doing cute exercises. Your ab regimen should be the same… minus the eating cardboard.


5. Looking for that one Magical Exercise or Pill
Are you wondering why you are not getting the results you want? If so, I can ensure you one of your basic health requirements for your goals are not being met. These requirements include adequate sleep, stress control, eating well, exercising efficiently (and with your goals in mind), and drinking water. It is not because there is a magic exercise or pill you have not found yet. If you are not losing weight, check the above list and stop doing all those crunches. If you aren’t getting the leg tone you want, check the above list and get after your squats (heavy ones). If you are not getting the energy you thought you would, check the above list and stop looking to Dr. Oz. Are you eating Acai berries for their antioxidant properties? If so, cool and stuff… but they still will not help one bit if you are not taking care of your health with the basics. There is no magic pill, and you must pay attention to all of your health basics. Poor sleep can ruin everything. Chronic stress can ruin everything. Eating poorly can… well you get the picture. So, before gravitating to the next awesome supplement, or piece of exercise equipment, take a look at your current lifestyle. 

6. The Hip Machines… and Every Other Machine.
You know which machines I am talking about. Sit down, strap in, and move those knees either in or out to work your inner and outer thighs: 

I add these to the list of mistakes, because they are inefficient. You can include other machines in this group as well. Machines can be great if you are inexperienced with weight training. Also, if you are into body building, they are great for focusing a lot of work onto one muscle group. For the rest of us, ditch them. First off, to use a machine you have to sit down. Most of us sit all day anyways, so why would we go to the gym just to sit again? If you are doing the thigh master machines, I am betting that you want to lose fat around the areas that are working and tone those muscles. The thing is, you cannot spot reduce fat. Doing a hip exercise will not result in any fat loss on your hips. If you really want to tone your hips, you need to work your legs… all of them. Do squats, lunges, deadlifts, and glute bridges. Do single leg exercises. Do planks on one leg. The hip abductor and adductor machines may feel like they are working, but that is just a trick. Your muscles are working, yes. But it is not stimulating fat loss. To lose fat you have to burn calories. And you can burn a lot more calories doing squats when compared to sitting on the hip machine. Try working into a pistol squat. That will work your inner and outer thighs. Start with single leg squats to a bench.


As you get stronger, try stepping on the bench to squat off of it.


7. Expecting Results Too Soon
No matter what magical marketing ads you read, you cannot make lasting changes overnight, in 4 days, or even in a week. It takes time. Expecting to lose 30 pounds in 1 month will only lead to disappointment, frustration, and then quitting. You do not gain 30 pounds in a month, and it is unfair to yourself to expect such fast results. Instead, make a lifestyle change. I know you hear this everywhere: “it is all about a lifestyle change.” Well, it is. But making a lasting change can be hard. Especially when you are stressed, busy, and life gets in the way. Sometimes you need to just relax and watch TV. Let me ask you something: What is your favorite TV show? If you answered this question with the name of a TV show, then you have time to work out, cook food, and do something healthy for yourself. Make a lifestyle change and your results will come. Make a temporary change and you will only be temporarily happy. Aside from all that lifestyle change talk, you still need to be as efficient as possible in the gym. Workout hard, burn calories, create a healthy kitchen, and repeat… over and over.

8. Aimless Workouts
To make your workouts efficient, you must have a plan. If you come to the gym and aimlessly meander from one exercise to the next, I can assume that your heart rate is low, you are not being challenged, and your workouts are lame instead of awesome. That leads to boredom, and you won’t continue what you find boring. Make your workouts awesome. Have a plan. The first thing you have to know is what your goal is. Your goal will dictate your exercise selection, intensity, loads, etc. Also, you have to know how much time you are willing to commit to achieving this goal, and how much time you are committing to exercise in your newly (and forever) changed lifestyle. This, too, will impact your exercise selection. Knowing what you want to achieve is the first step. Only then can you create a plan. If you need help figuring out a goal, pull out a notebook and start writing. What are some things you want to achieve with your health? With your physicality? What will happen if you don’t make any changes? Writing this down can help you figure out what is important to you in your health. Plan and act. If you need help figuring out what to do after you have a goal, consult your trainer. They will know what to do.

9. Not Sweating
I have heard this on multiple occasions. The quote goes something like this, “I really want to push myself but I hate to sweat. Is there a way to work out without getting all sweaty and gross?” Nope. There is not. This is like going to an Italian restaurant and wanting your food served cold. If you leave a workout and you are not sweaty, it was a wasted workout. Your body sweats to cool itself. Exercise gets your body hot and you need to cool down. Think of sweat as a measure of effort and intensity. Sweating should be a part of your workout. Dry skin is not allowed. 

10. Standing on the BOSU on Every Exercise
Why are you standing on a BOSU? The correct answer is “to develop balance and stability.” If you answer is “to activate my core” please refer up to number 4. There are some exercises that are a lot of fun and very effective on a BOSU. Squats and pushups can be a blast and can be made much harder on a BOSU. But seriously, get off the BOSU so you can lift heavier weights. When you are on a BOSU you are on unstable ground. In order for your muscles to produce force effectively you need stable footing. Producing force until fatigue is what makes your muscles get stronger. If your goals are to lose weight and tone up, a BOSU would be great on occasion. It will not, however, develop the muscle tone you desire in a time efficient manner. Only heavier weights and powerful movements can do that. Place a stability ball under you while you do deadlifts and your brain will tell your muscles to slow down and not work so hard. So, if you are working for balance, use that BOSU. If not, get rid of it.

A final note:
I know of a Gym back east that is dedicated to weight loss for women. Their motto is “Strong Women are Beautiful Women.” Their clients lose weight, get fit, and get strong. And they don’t get masculine! They are doing deadlifts, squats, sprints, tire flips, sledgehammering, rope slams, medicine ball work…. All things that professional football players do. And another thing… they develop confidence like they never had before.

Strength is empowering. And it is damn good for your results.

Written by Clark Masterson

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