Five Things to Avoid at the Gym
If you’ve completed a workout at the gym this week, you can give yourself a pat on the back, provided you didn’t injure yourself during your workout and can still reach your back. As we’ve written in the past, gym injuries happen all the time and have been increasing at an alarming rate.
There’s no point going for a workout if you incur injury or illness and end up sidelined for months as a result. There’s also no point if you do your exercises incorrectly and so aren’t reaping significant fitness results. Some gyms offer an orientation to teach you how to use equipment, but they may neglect to educate you about some fitness basics that can make all the difference. And, you may have skipped the orientation since the equipment seems so straightforward.
Going to the gym is great, but it will be greater and safer if you avoid doing the following things:
1. Limiting yourself to just one type of exercise. Yes, it’s hard enough to drag yourself to the elliptical machine and keep moving for 20-plus minutes, but even so, that’s not enough to ensure your fitness. You also need to do strength, balance, and flexibility exercises to get fit and remain in top form. Aerobic exercise—running, biking, elliptical and treadmill training, swimming, dancing, and interval training—is important for your cardiovascular and respiratory health. To build muscle tone and bone fitness, you’ll want to add strength exercises using weights or resistance equipment. And flexibility exercises will help your joints and reduce likelihood of injury from other types of exercise. For instance, if you only run and don’t stretch, you may well find yourself suffering from overuse strains or sprains. And balance exercises help a whole lot when you’re older in terms of preventing catastrophic falls.
2. Holding your breath. Some people have a natural tendency to hold their breath when doing difficult exercise, but that can lead to what’s known as the valsalva effect.1 When you hold your breath during exercise, your blood pressure spikes and then drops suddenly, which can cause lightheadedness, fainting, and blackouts. Also, holding your breath undermines the benefit of the exercise even if you don’t faint. It allows CO2 buildup, and that tires you more quickly. Plus, your muscles need to oxygenate when you stress them with exercise, and that requires regular breathing.2 You might not even know you’re holding your breath when you work out, but you can make sure you don’t by paying conscious attention to your breathing patterns, remembering to inhale and exhale as part of your routine. You also might want to practice resistance breathing. The concept is simple: putting a device in your mouth that restricts (in a controlled manner) your inhalations and exhalations, which forces your lungs to work harder. This, in turn, strengthens the muscles that makes your lungs work and increases their capacity.
3. Speeding through your strength routine. It hurts to lift weights or do resistance exercise, and it can be boring, so many of us count off the repetitions fast, three sets of 10. But the reality is that in order to avoid injury and maximize strength building, the best thing is to slow way down. When you lift slowly, you avoid building up momentum, which means your muscles have to work harder as the weights aren’t being carried by the energy already in motion.3 This means you build more muscle tissue, faster. In fact, the more slowly you lift, the more benefits you’ll reap.
4. Neglecting to drink enough water. A friend of mine ended up in the emergency room suffering from dehydration after undertaking a training run on a warm day. He was an experienced athlete, but “forgot” to drink. It’s quite common for athletes to develop a cavalier attitude toward drinking water when exercising, to assume they’ll be fine. In fact, sports trainer Amanda Carlson reported that 98 percent of all college football players were dehydrated when she tested them at a major NFL scouting event.4 You lose lots of fluid through sweat when you exercise, and you need to replace what you’ve lost.
The problem with exercising in a state of dehydration isn’t just that you risk passing out, but also, that you need water to aid in muscle recovery and tissue healing. According to physical therapist Trent Nessler, head of Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville, “[When you are well hydrated], the heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood to the body, and oxygen and nutrients can be transported more efficiently to the muscles you’re working during exercise.”
Experts recommend drinking a few glasses of water an hour or so before your workout, another glass about 15 minutes before, and a glass every 15 minutes or so during your regimen.
5. Pushing too hard in class. You do need to challenge yourself to make progress, but so many people get injured by not respecting their own limits. This is especially true of older people who don’t realize they can no longer do quite what they could in the past, and that they can’t do what younger classmates can. Many gym members assume that class instructors and trainers have expertise and so they take their directions even when it hurts, and that can lead to injury.
It’s so important to make sure your instructors are certified by a national board such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Fitness centers often hire uncertified instructors or they certify their own instructors, and that can mean trouble for you, as the instructor may not necessarily have enough knowledge to help you prevent injuries. But even expert instructors can miss things in an overcrowded class. If your instructor doesn’t make a point of offering students advice on how to prevent injury, particularly in a class with middle-aged and older students, beware.
The bottom line is: learn to exercise properly to avoid injury—which means you’ll be able to exercise again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. And when it comes to exercise, consistency is king.
- 1. “Is it bad to hold my breath when I workout?” Sharecare. 20 June 2018. https://www.sharecare.com/health/avoiding-pain-injury-during-exercise/breathing-while-exercising
- 2. “Negative Effects of Holding Your Breath.” Leaf TV. 20 June 2018. https://www.leaf.tv/articles/negative-effects-of-holding-your-breath/
- 3. “The Inform Workout.” Inform Fitness. 20 June 2018. https://informfitness.com/inform-workout/slow-rest/
- 4. Shaw, Gina. “Water Tips for Efficient Exercise.” WebMD. 20 June 2018. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/water-for-exercise-fitness#1