Avoid these time-wasting fitness busters for a better exercise experience
Published: December 23, 2021
By: Sandra Gordon
Exercise is better for you than ever. The latest physical activity guidelines underscore that regular physical activity helps lower the risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and some cancers to help you live better longer. It can also help you concentrate, sleep better and ward off weight gain, depression and dementia.
Quantity is important. Adults should get 150 to 300 minutes each week of moderately intense aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, and strength training sessions two or more days each week. Studies show that for every hour of walking you do, your life expectancy may increase by two hours.
But quality is key, too. To get the most out of your workout, avoid these fitness time-wasters.
Wrong move: Reading. Watching TV or listening to a high-energy playlist while you’re using cardio equipment can be motivating and help pass the time, but don’t think you can read on your phone while you’re using the treadmill or a stationary bike and maintain a challenging pace. “There’s no way you can exert energy and try to keep your head focused on the content,” says Jaime Brenkus, creator of 8 Minute Abs. It’s too distracting; same with talking on your phone while trying to get in a workout.
Wrong move: Talking, not walking. Having the social support of an exercise partner, whether it’s your spouse, a friend or a family member, can make you more accountable, but having an exercise buddy can backfire if you’re using your exercise time to catch up more than anything else.
If the buddy routine is backfiring, go it alone and wear earbuds to show you mean business.
Wrong move: Strength training with improper form. Using improper form
when strength training is not only a waste of time, it’s a good way to hurt yourself. “The more reps you cumulatively do with improper form, the more you’re setting yourself up for a potential back injury,” says Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, an exercise physiologist.
One of the most common mistakes: Rounding your back and not tightening your core muscles when lifting. A quick fix? Keep the lower back engaged by maintaining a more erect lifting posture. Proper form can vary slightly, depending on height and weight.
To learn what proper form looks and feels like, Schoenfeld recommends lifting weights while watching high quality strength training videos by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, taking a weight training class or finding a qualified personal trainer to work with.
Wrong move: Winging it with weight equipment. While you’re at it, optimize your exercise time by lifting weights that are heavy enough to overload your muscles. “If you can easily do 20 to 25 reps, the weight is too light,” Brenkus says. You’ll build muscular endurance, but not the strength you’re looking for. You’re on the right track if you can only do 8 to 12 reps, and feel fatigued by the last rep.
Wrong move: S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g Before Your Workout. “Flexibility training is by far the most overlooked aspect of fitness,” says Jessica Matthews, author of Stretching to Stay Young and senior adviser for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise.
After age 30, you typically lose five pounds of muscle mass per decade, especially if you don’t regularly strength train at least two times per week. The loss of muscle goes hand in hand with the loss of flexibility. “As muscle fibers recede, collagen can start to encroach to make your muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and cartilage stiffer,” Matthews says.
The good news? Stretching can derail the process and help you maintain your range of motion. That way you can continue to reach for things on a high shelf or easily get up out of a chair. When you’re more flexible, your arteries might be, too, and this will help reduce your risk of heart disease. A PLOS ONE study involving 1,150 adults ages 18 to 89 found that those with poor trunk flexibility — demonstrated when they couldn’t reach their toes very far while sitting — had stiffer arteries than those who were more limber.
But don’t stretch before your workout. To warm up cold muscles, do a lesser version of the activity you’ll be doing. If you’re strength training, for example, lift lighter weights at first and do some push-ups. Before any aerobic activity, such as running, do a light jog first. To stay limber and reduce muscle soreness, spend five minutes stretching after you’re done exercising.
Wrong move: Trying to spot reduce. Spending time exercising one specific muscle group, such as curling through hundreds of crunches to get rid of a pouchy midsection, is a major time-waster. “You can’t spot reduce,” Brenkus says. You can strengthen muscles in specific areas, but you can’t target fat burning. To whittle your middle or any trouble spot, such as the back of your arms, pick a staple of strength-training and cardio exercises to get rid of trouble spots. Concentrate on burning fat all over by eating less.
Wrong move: Not keeping tabs on calories. Speaking of eating less, one of the best ways to save time at the gym is to avoid overindulging because you won’t have to exercise for as long to burn off the extra calories you shouldn’t have consumed in the first place. “On average, it takes an hour and a half on the treadmill to burn off an extra 500 calories per day,” Brenkus says, which is about half the calories in a classic, medium-size hot fudge sundae.
Who has that kind of extra time? Most of us don’t, Brenkus says. He contends that if you consume the extra calories, you’re not going to take the extra time to burn them off, and you’ll never see results — your jeans won’t feel any looser — so you’ll get discouraged. To avoid this downward spiral, eat sensibly and in moderation. “You want to get in 30 minutes of physical activity daily. But you don’t want to make it so you have to exercise for two hours,” Brenkus says.