• Tom Toth

5 Common Exercise Mistakes

Not all exercise is good exercise, and not all good exercise is good for everyone (got all that?)

I've been a full-time, dedicated personal trainer for over 15 years, and I'm still learning a great deal every year about exercise and the human body. It is therefore not surprising that most beginners, and even greatly experienced fitness enthusiasts commit mistakes in their exercise programming and execution. Here's five mistakes I see regularly, and how to correct them:

1. Only Focusing on one Exercise Modality

Whether it is running, weight-lifting, yoga or golf, people often only focus on one activity, usually the one they are the best at. However, just running will lead to running injuries (plantar fasciitis, IT band sydrome etc.), just lifting weights can leave you inflexible, and just doing yoga can make you overtly mobile without the required strength base. Exercise should be looked at as a fitness program, not as a sport. Fitness requires three components: endurance, strength and mobility. Focusing on just one aspect while ignoring the other two will eventually lead to trouble.

2. Not Warming up Enough

Early on in my weight-lifting career, warming up was a couple of arm circles and some body-weight squats. As I accumulated injuries over the years, warm-ups now constitute a crucial part of my workout routines, as well as my clients'. Before you engage in anything strenuous, muscle tissue needs to loosen up, ligaments and tendons need to stretch comfortably, and elevating the heart-rate readies the entire body for action. In addition, a well-planned warm-up can be thought of as the mobility component of your workout: if you spend 15 minutes before your run or weight-training session doing mobility work, you have covered one of the areas most neglected by fitness participants: flexibility. And your chance of injury is greatly decreased.

3. Jumping Into Exercise Too Quickly

About 5 years ago, I decided to switch my running to the newly popular barefoot-style, for a host of reasons. I started out doing 5-10 minutes on the treadmill, twice a week. It took me about a month to acquire an Achilles tendon injury. Why did this happen at such a low workload? Well, at 180 lbs, I'm not built like your typical runner, and running on your toes is very hard on your Achilles tendon. At my weight, even 15-20 minutes a week was too much for my weak tissues to handle. It is very important to approach any new activity slowly and carefully, and to pay attention to any signals the body sends you. Which brings us to the next point:

4. Ignoring Nagging Pain

Just about all fitness enthusiasts eventually acquire a nagging injury or two. These are fairly normal (though avoidable if you follow the first two principles of this article), but dealing them quickly is the key to not causing lasting damage to your body. In some cases (like my Achilles issue), taking time off to heal is enough to help. In other cases, especially if the pain results from an activity you have been doing for a while, it is a good idea to seek help from a qualified professional such as a sports-specialist physiotherapist, running coach or personal trainer. One thing is for sure: if you keep hammering injured tissue with more load, eventually the minor irritation will turn into a big problem that could take months to fix.

5. Not Protecting the Lower Back

The lower back is the center of the human body, the transfer point between the upper and lower halves. It is therefore highly exposed to potential damage. Any exercise that requires loading the lower back with weight (squats, deadlifts, standing presses etc.) requires that you keep the lower back in neutral, that is, in the same position as it is in standing. This is not something that can be ignored if you want to have a long and successful fitness lifestyle. If you're not 100% certain what I mean about neutral back and how to achieve, it is worth a few sessions with a good personal trainer to figure it out. It could save you a lot of hassle down the road.

Hopefully the above tips are useful. If you have any questions or comments, email me at!

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