In a perfect fitness world, you'd warm-up, you'd cool-down, you'd cross-train, you'd do intervals, and, oh, yeah, a laundry fairy would come wash your gear so you never had to wear a sweaty sports bra two workouts in a row. But alas, if you're like most women, you live in a fitness world where managing to cram in a few minutes at the gym is about as good as it gets. And when you do manage to make it to the gym—and log your usual 20 minutes on the treadmill—you wonder if you're sacrificing results or risking injury by always doing the same old thing. We took a look at seven common fitness habits to see which ones are forgivable—and which ones you should definitely change.
Habit: You never warm-up. Verdict: Forgivable
Unless you’re about to compete in an intense activity, skipping a warm-up—a preliminary, easy workout—won’t likely hurt you. And in some cases, a too long warm-up can actually decrease workout performance, finds research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. According to the study, cyclists who warmed up extensively ended up sacrificing their performance. The athletes faired better with a shorter, more leisurely warm-up.
“It depends on what you’re doing,” says Robert G. Marx, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “You want to warm-up if you’re playing a sport that involves sprinting, such as soccer.” In that case, start with a few minutes of low-intensity dynamic (movement-based) exercise, such as 10 yards of skipping, backwards running, or lunges, says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and author of The 12-Week Triathlete. For walking or weight training, it's OK to skip the warm-up but start out easy. (Ready to start? Go with Chris Freytag’s Perfect Warmup!)
Habit: You skip workouts if your muscles ache. Verdict: Regrettable
Muscle aches occurring a day or two after a strength workout is a sign of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can also happen if you’ve tried a new exercise move or worked out more intensely. And it's totally normal, as in no need to ride the couch for days of recovery. “DOMS is believed to be caused by microscopic tears within the affected muscle fibers,” says C. David Geier, Jr., MD, an orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.
And there’s no need to skip your workout entirely, says Dr. Geier. “Simply choose lighter cardio workouts that increase blood flow or practice gentle stretching of the sore muscles.” Just avoid aggravating the sore muscles with the same exercises, Dr. Geier says, as it could cause muscles to remain sore for a longer period of time. The caveat: if you're in pain, not just sore, don't power through. Click through to the next slide to see the difference.
More from Prevention: Your 6 Top Exercise Aches, Solved!
Habit: You don't cool down. The verdict: Forgivable
When you barely have time to work out, cooling down for another 10 minutes seems like time better spent elsewhere. And in most cases it is. Failure to cool down won’t negatively impact you, says Dr. Geier. “However, cooling down for a few minutes allows the heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to normal and may also keep lactic acid from building up in the fatigued muscles.” A cool-down helps flush out the metabolic byproducts that cause that uncomfortable burning sensation in your muscles after a hard workout. And while cooling down isn’t crucial, if flexibility is a goal, you may want to take five minutes at the end of your workout to lightly stretch after a gradual cool down period. “Muscles stretch easier when they’re warm,” says Geier. (Try these four great post-exercise stretches.)
Habit: You machine hop without a plan. The verdict: Forgivable
Hopping from machine to machine without a real plan has its pros and cons, says Holland. “On the upside you have built-in ‘muscle confusion,’ which means your muscles won’t adapt easily to your routine,” says Holland. “On the downside, unless you’re an advanced exerciser, you need to develop a sound strength base before you can build on it. Jumping around doesn’t allow for that.” Holland says you need a certain amount of consistency before you make changes if you want to develop lean muscle tone. He recommends sticking with one routine for four to six weeks to develop that benchmark of strength and to learn proper lifting techniques. (Want to ensure you’re spending your time wisely? Eliminate these 10 useless weight machines from your workout.)
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