SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Of course you feel virtuous when you work out. But sometimes your exercise habits can take a devilish turn and ultimately undermine all your hard work. Here's how to stop sinning and get the results you deserve.PRIDE: You refuse to listen to your personal trainer or instructor.
Experienced exercisers may think they know it all, from proper form to personal limits, but in the long run, this prevents them from maximizing their workouts and increases the risk of injury, says Chris Freytag, a Minneapolis-based trainer and author of Move to Lose.REDEMPTION: Get your money's worth.
When you're taking a class, one of the most important things you're getting is expertise. As long as the person has the right certifications and clearly understands your goals, she can and should provide you with tons of information. A good instructor will also help you stay on top of new trends and techniques to help keep your routine fresh and fun.
The seemingly perfect bodies of celebs, friends, and instructors can be motivating in the short term, but if the admiration turns into jealousy, it can take your focus away from what will give you the most success -- concentrating on your own body and the workout you are doing. "When you have any kind of negative emotion, you literally divert your energies away from making a positive change," Freytag says.REDEMPTION: Be realistic.
If you are short and curvy, you will never be as long and lean as your instructor, no matter how many hours of Pilates you perform. Think about your own shape and what's realistic to fine-tune. For a five-foot-tall woman with an average frame, 100 pounds is considered by some calculations to be an ideal weight, give or take as many as 10 pounds, depending on bone density and muscle mass. Add five pounds to this baseline for every inch above that. A little self-affirmation doesn't hurt either. "Set a goal to think of at least three wonderful things about yourself during your workout. After a while, you won't have to force yourself to accentuate the positive; you'll do it automatically," says Freytag.
"Many people use exercise as an excuse to overindulge," says Althea Zanecosky, RD, a professor of sports nutrition at Drexel University in Philadelphia. But as healthy as exercise is, it's not a panacea, and it certainly won't undo bad-for-you behavior like drinking to excess, smoking, or a poor diet. Plus, "exercisers often overestimate how many calories they are burning, so they're putting back on everything they've burned off and then some," Zanecosky adds.REDEMPTION: Follow the 80-20 rule.
Of your overall diet, 80 percent should consist of healthy foods. You can "cheat" a bit with the remaining 20 percent, but keep an eye on portion control. If you drink, do so in moderation. And smoking? Clearly not good, no matter what you're doing in the gym.
Surprise! This infatuation can be motivating. In fact, knowing that going to your Spin class will mean seeing that hot instructor in bike shorts can make showing up at the gym at 6 a.m. less of a chore.REDEMPTION: Keep it clean.
There's no harm in the occasional fantasy (or even if it becomes a reality between consenting adults). But don't let your feelings keep you from the gym when you're not looking your best or let them affect the way you do an exercise. And no matter how good-looking an instructor is, if he's not helping you meet your goals, you have repeated injuries, or it's all flirting and no lunging, it's time to break up.
A little healthy competition can inspire many people to try harder than they ordinarily would and achieve new goals. But if you find yourself getting irritated when your pals are better than you, or if you find yourself pushing yourself to the point of total exhaustion or injury just to win or even keep up, this competition is no longer healthy.REDEMPTION: Make your workouts all about you and your own results.
"Focus on your own progress rather than how you compare to others," says Kara Gallagher, PhD, an assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Set realistic short- and long-term goals for yourself, such as completing a 10k race or performing three unassisted pull-ups, and keep a journal of your progress. "Measure yourself against these goals, and as you achieve them, reward yourself with things like a new workout top or pair of shoes," she says.
"Some people have to do it 100 percent perfectly or not at all," says Gallagher. If they don't have time to do their usual 90-minute power yoga class, they'll feel like working out isn't going to be worthwhile so they blow off exercising entirely.REDEMPTION: Be flexible.
Design several backup workouts of varying lengths and activities that you can do whenever time is tight. "You can achieve many more benefits by being flexible," says Gallagher. Try walking to and from work or doing step-ups when you pass a bench outside or a few minutes of a workout DVD.
...but you're either in deep conversation with a friend or reading so intently that you barely break a sweat. Yes, some exercise is clearly better than none, but if you can chat freely or be thoroughly engrossed in the newspaper, it means you're not working out hard enough to get the maximum benefits or your time and money's worth, says Freytag.REDEMPTION: Set your priorities.
If talking with your friend or catching up on your reading makes exercising more enjoyable, by all means continue -- but limit these activities to your cooldown when you aren't supposed to be pushing yourself, or grab a cup of coffee after your workout and really move it the rest of the time. "The bottom line is, if you're not getting results, you're going to give up," says Freytag. And that could be the biggest sin of all.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, August 2006.