12 ways you're sabotaging your own workout

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Everyone works out for different reasons. Some people are aiming to compete at a sport, for example, while others are simply looking to incorporate some self-care into their day. Depending on your personal goals, you may have tried different approaches to achieve them. If you're spending your time and energy exercising, you want to feel like it's worth it. But it can feel frustrating when, even though you think you're doing everything right, you're not getting the results you want at the gym.

No matter your goals, it's likely you've heard some conflicting advice. And with so many myths flying around about fitness, it can be easy to accidentally opt to follow bad advice. If you're falling into any of these common mistakes, you could be sabotaging your own workout.


You're too focused on numbers

Heart rate, the weight you're able to lift and other numerical markers can be useful tools for understanding your fitness level and progress. However, don't get too caught up in these numbers. There are all kinds of things going on inside your body that could affect your performance on a given day. You may not achieve the exact same heart rate every day, for instance, or the heat outdoors could slow down your average mile time. Additionally, many of the machines used to track numbers (such as step counters, smart watches and workout machines) aren't accurate. Don't give these metrics too much weight.


You expect specific results

Say you're starting a new workout program you found from an influencer on Instagram. You may look at photos of them and expect that were you to do the same workouts, you'd end up with the same body type. However, this expectation is based on a myth. Many people will pursue a workout plan with a specific result in mind and assume that it's their fault when the program doesn't deliver. You may never have that person's flat stomach or toned arms, and that's OK. Don't let this discourage you from doing something that makes you feel strong and positive.


You're not eating afterwards

Some people feel better working out once they've eaten a pre-workout snack, while others opt to wait until afterwards. That makes sense, since some people experience reactions to or may have difficulty digesting certain foods. However, after you work out you definitely need to eat. Exercise uses up the body's stores of glycogen, or accessible energy from food. You want to replenish these stores afterwards. If you don't, your body may resort to breaking down muscle cells to access more fuel. This could counteract the strength you're trying to build. Additionally, your body needs nutrients from food (such as protein) in order to rebuild muscle that's broken down during exercise. This process of rebuilding is what makes you stronger. If you aren't sure what foods are best to eat after exercising, here's what a dietitian advises.


You're not getting enough sleep

If you didn't get enough sleep the night before, you may be better off skipping your workout entirely. In addition to the many other side effects of sleep deprivation, studies show that your body will struggle to repair muscle fibers as efficiently after your workout. If you're consistently falling short of the hours of sleep you need, it could seriously hinder your progress.


You're not switching things up

People often falter in their progress building strength or endurance because they do the same thing over and over again. Not only will this get dreadfully boring, it will also hold you back from future progress. If you run 5 miles three times a week for the rest of your life, you aren't going to build the endurance to run farther. Strength training lives by a similar logic. Don't be afraid to grab a heavier dumbbell or challenge yourself with a more difficult routine. Once you start to feel like something feels dull or that you're simply going through the motions, it's time to switch things up.


You're not having fun

In addition to giving yourself new challenges, you should also switch things up if you're not having fun. Life is too short to spend it slaving away feeling miserable in a dull, smelly gym. The benefits of exercise (such as improved heart health, improved mood and protecting your brain from cognitive decline) occur no matter what type of exercise you do. The important thing is to get your heart rate up in one way or another. Hate working out alone? Try a workout class with friends. Love spending time outside? Take your bike for a long, leisurely ride. Do what makes you happy. Happiness does have its own health benefits, too, after all.


You don't ask for help

If you're just getting started at the gym or trying a new type of exercise entirely, you may struggle with a bit of a learning curve at first. You're going to need to learn how to use new equipment and maintain proper form, which is crucial for preventing injury. Don't be afraid to ask for help as you learn! Everyone was a beginner at some point; there's no reason to be embarrassed. Personal trainers often circulate the gym to help those who have questions.


You don't drink enough water

Make sure you stay hydrated! The importance of drinking water truly cannot be stressed enough. Water is involved in nearly every process in your body. Workouts can be challenging, and you need the water to fuel the reactions happening on a cellular level. If you don't drink enough water, your performance will likely suffer. Water is also released through sweat when you exercise, which means that after a workout you'll need to drink even more. It's not likely you'll surpass the limit of how much water is too much, so drink up.


You stick to a too-rigid plan

When devising a workout routine, you should always make room for flexibility. Life happens. Sometimes you're going to be more tired or sore than you expected. You may need to take an extra day off or two. Other times you're going to get invited to a happy hour after work and end up skipping the gym. That's OK, too. Maintain a balance between your commitment to an exercise routine and the other important aspects of your life. Being too rigid with a plan can lead you to resent it and quit, which is one of the more common mistakes people make when pursuing their goals.


You don't take enough rest between workouts

Rest days are a critical aspect of any workout routine. While you don't have to spend the entire day on your couch, you should take at least a couple of days per week to recover. Neglecting to take these days will deprive your body of the ability to rebuild and repair muscle that's broken down during exercise. The exact number of rest days per week that you need may change over time, and often differs from person to person. Listen to your body; if you don't, you could be setting yourself back.


You think more is always better

Outdated fitness tips have many believing that when it comes to exercise, the more the merrier. This often applies not only to the length of the workout, but also the intensity and impact. But that's not always true. For some, low-impact workouts are more helpful because they can help prevent injury and improve efficacy. Additionally, working out for too long or too intensely can cause overtraining syndrome, a condition wherein a person who is overexercising begins to experience mild to severe negative effects. These can include fatigue, mood swings and hormone disruptions among other things.


You're working out for the wrong reasons

Many people find themselves working out because they're trying to fix something that's "wrong" with their bodies. For instance, they may work out with the sole purpose of losing weight or changing their body shape. However, science shows that this type of motivation not only doesn't work, but can end up doing more harm than good. Research published in the journal Psychology of Sports and Exercise showed that women who exercised for appearance-based reasons actually had less motivation to work out. They also had a worse body image over time. Healthy body image, studies show, results in better health outcomes. And lasting motivation to exercise has a positive health impact, as well. So by focusing on your appearance instead of your physical well-being when working out, you're actually sabotaging your physical and mental health. All in all, the science shows that exercising for health-focused reasons, such as for an improvement in mood, as a way to feel good or for longevity, is far more effective. Try focusing on these positive ways your body changes once you start working out.

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