Get out of your own way.
By Kristen Dold
May 11, 2017
If you’re working hard in the gym but you feel like your fitness goals are at a standstill, the culprit may actually be your workout itself. Innocent bloopers can stall or even sabotage your results. Apologies for the alliteration, but we’ve got the fixes to get you fitter, faster.
Mistake #1: You feel burned out because you skip recovery days.
Muscles can’t repair themselves and grow without proper rest. Overdoing it doesn’t just lead to shaky form (yo, injuries!), it can leave you lethargic and irritable and even get in the way of sleep (one theory: muscle soreness). Once a week—or more often if you’re feeling achy after a few hard workouts—do some easy incline walking (keep the treadmill incline below 3 percent), gentle yoga, or foam rolling to rev circulation and enhance the repair process.
Try this yoga sequence for everyday athletes:
Mistake #2: You’re not getting stronger because you work one muscle at a time.
Swap out single-muscle exercises (like biceps curls or leg curls) for compound movements (like pushups, pullups, deadlifts, or squats) that recruit multiple muscles and joints at once, doubling the effectiveness of your workout. You’ll burn more cals, build more strength, and get out of the gym faster—a triple win. And don’t be scared to try those badass moves at the squat rack—they won’t bulk you up. Women don’t make enough testosterone to look like the Hulk. First-timers: Start at the rack with just the bar alone, then add weighted plates as you progress.
Mistake #3: Your form is going to pot because you exercise on autopilot.
If you’re thinking about what’s for dinner during a plank hold (sushi again?), killing time on the elliptical by texting a friend to coordinate weekend plans, or doing more chitchatting than cycling in class, plateaus—and injuries—can happen. When you’re distracted from how you’re moving your body as you work out, you can’t focus on keeping up your pace or maintaining the correct form. Instead, take mental inventory of the various muscles you feel burning as you move through your sweat session, and set an intention or mantra that you can focus on (like “stronger than you think you are” or “challenge equals change”) whenever your mind starts to wander. (The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you’ve been waiting for!)
Mistake #4: You’re not getting sculpted because you always grab five-pounders.
Doing any type of strength training will help you burn fat, but to truly define your physique, you have to gradually put more stress on muscles by using heavier weights—what pros call “progressive muscle training.” Pick a full-body strength-training routine (like this one from Women’s Health) and do it three times a week for about six weeks. Ramp up the intensity every seven days with heavier weights (add a few pounds at a time until those last reps are strenuous), or more reps (if eight feels easy, jump to 12). At the end of the six weeks (or when you can crush that workout no probs), switch to a new program with different or more challenging exercises. Repeat.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!