Make your workout count: Avoid these errors in the gym

Don't skip the cool down! It can help reduce post-exercise soreness by helping to rid your body of lactic acid and other toxins that build up during exercise.
Here are some common exercise mistakes:

Forgetting to warm up, stretch and cool down
A warm up can be walking, jogging or any low-intensity activity that gets blood flow to the muscles. This increase in blood flow helps to make the muscles more pliable and easily stretched.

If weight training, then it's a good idea to also perform a warm-up set of eight to 10 reps with a moderate weight load before doing your other more challenging sets for a particular muscle group.

After the workout, take time to cool down. The purpose of the cool down is to bring the heart rate back within normal range and to help with post-exercise soreness, helping to rid your body of lactic acid and other toxins that build up as you exercise. The longer the workout, the longer the warm up and cool down should be.

Generally speaking, five to 10 minutes is usually enough time to properly warm up. Stretching after the cool down is also recommended.

Pulling on the head when doing sit-ups (crunches)
The head weighs about eight pounds, on average, and should be supported whenever possible when doing crunches or other exercises that might strain the neck. To support this area while it's under tension, try placing the fingertips at the base of the skull behind your ears. Allow your head to rest against them, and then focus on slowly lifting your head, neck and shoulders as one unit, keeping your spine in alignment.

Instead of jerking or pulling on your neck to come up higher, think about elevating your upper back slightly from the floor as you contract the abdominals. Try to keep your low back pressed against the floor, move slowly and do as many repetitions as you can while maintaining good form.

Lifting weights that are too light or too heavy
Men typically attempt to lift more weight than is appropriate or necessary when they are strength training in order to gain muscle mass. Women typically tend to lift weights that are much too light, fearing that they may otherwise build too much muscle.

Even experienced exercisers often forget that the amount of weight lifted has an impact on muscle strength, but it's only one of many factors associated with muscle size. Diet (which must include enough calories to increase weight), quality rest/recovery time between workouts and appropriate exercise selection are a few of the factors involved in increasing muscle size.

A woman will rarely, if ever, put on more muscle than she desires when weight lifting, even if she lifts predominantly heavy weights. What she will gain from a proper weight-training program is added strength and bone density, lower body fat, firmness, better posture and increased metabolism.

Using improper form
Look around the gym and you will probably see some experienced exercisers, as well as beginners, lifting weights much too quickly, or bouncing, swinging or jerking the weights as they lift.

Maintaining proper form is important to avoid injury, as well as for getting the most out of each repetition. Moving too quickly through a rep allows only a fraction of a second of true tension to be placed on the muscles being worked. Although some momentum must occur for the weight to be lifted, too much of it only diminishes and detracts from getting the best results possible from each repetition. Increased tempo can have its place if combined with sessions that also include slower movements.

Explosive-type lifting (not bouncing, swinging or jerking) also can be useful for those who are engaging in sport-specific training or for experienced exercisers whose focus is strength specific, but it's never a good idea for the beginner. Remember that any sloppy handling of weights most likely eventually results in injury.

Generally speaking, an appropriate pace for someone just starting to lift weights would be approximately two to three seconds on the concentric (harder) part of the repetition and three to four seconds on the eccentric (easier) part.

The SuperSlow method, founded by Ken Hutchins, is a method in which each repetition can be as long as 20 seconds. Intensity is high throughout each repetition, causing the muscles to be worked to their full capacity.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Association Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services. Write to her in care of the Dayton Daily News, contact her at 937-878-9018 or by e-mail at, or visit her Web site at

2006 Marjie Gilliam

Discuss This Article