By Jenevieve Roper, PhD, CSCS
Photo Of Rob Waslowski By Arsenik Studios Inc.
At The Inside Fitness Performance Centre In Oakville, Ontario

We’ve all been on our phones, surfing social media, only to stumble across one of those hilarious fitness fail videos. You know the ones — they always have someone doing something outrageous on a machine, purposefully or not, and the sight of what plays out makes you spit out your protein shake in disbelief and laughter. Or maybe you’ve seen someone fall off the treadmill in real life because they weren’t paying attention. (We’ve all done it!) But how many of us are committing smaller, more-detrimental fitness faux pas on a daily basis — without knowing it?

Some questionable gym behaviour can lead to the aforementioned disasters, while others can leave you questioning why you aren’t reaching your goals. Our bodies are such finely tuned machines; the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.

The following fitness blunders are more common than you think, and remedying them can go a long way to ensure your hard work isn’t done in vain. Make sure to also talk to a certified fitness professional so you can identify what you should keep doing and what you should stop immediately. How many are you committing?

1. The One-Inch R.O.M.

Every gym has that guy who throws up 600-plus pounds on the leg press, makes a big scene with grunts and weights clanging everywhere, finally gets set up only to drop the weight one inch, then press one inch, before reracking the weights. And if this guy is you, then it’s time to stop.

Studies have shown that limiting your range of motion can result in reduced knee extensor and cross-sectional strength – especially that means smaller thighs and less power. And when adding mass is your goal, this is going to get you the exact opposite of what you want. Now, the research is still emerging on this concept, but for the most part your best bet is to reduce the weight enough so you can perform full, deep squats or presses (moving from a zero to 120-degree range of motion; if you have knee problems, don’t go past 90 so you don’t exacerbate any issues you’re currently dealing with). Either way, you should be getting low to get those gains.

2. Holding On For Dear Life

So you decide to do some cardio and jump on the treadmill or, your fave, the Stairmaster. You crank up the speed, grab on to the handrails, put on your playlist, and go. As the speed gets faster, you lean onto the handrails a little more — and a little more, and a little more. This continues to happen until the handrails are supporting most of your upper-body weight while you charge away at your cardio. Newsflash: that’s definitely the wrong thing to do. So why do we do it? Well, as you lean onto the handrails, the machine begins to support some of your body weight, making it easier to go “faster.” And the more you lean, the higher the percentage of your body weight that’s being supported by the machine and not your legs.

Sure, handrail use in the clinical (i.e. injured or elderly) population is beneficial. But, as healthy adults, we don’t need to be practically lying on top of the machine, trying to look cool because we can go faster than the person next to us. In fact, studies have shown that using a handrail to support you while on a treadmill can reduce metabolic cost — and that’s not a good reduction! Recently, it has been shown that holding handrails during inclined walking can result in up to a 100-calorie drop in energy expenditure. The harder it is, the more your body works, and the more energy you expend — that’s what you want!

3. Using The Force

No, not the force of the Jedi, but a force called momentum. When curling a barbell or dumbbells, for example, there’s always that guy who’s using his entire body to pull the weight up. The same goes for the guy doing the uncontrolled kettlebell swing. Each believe they are working really, really hard — but in this instance, they are hardly working. If this is you, just stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Using momentum has been preached throughout the ages as unfavourable, yet we still find a way to use it. Why? It’s harder to get something going than to keep something going. It’s physics. In the gym, once a dumbbell or weight is in motion, it’s easier to keep it in motion than to stop and start from scratch. But adding a one- or two-second pause between your reps can ensure that you are giving maximum effort with each repetition. The more effort you have to give, the harder you work and more calories you burn. Slow it down and pause for the cause.

4. Lucky Shoes

So you have this one pair of shoes that you love so dearly. Maybe it’s a pair of running shoes that has guided you through several races, and when you wear them you just feel invincible. I’m sure we all have our favourite pair of shoes that we keep around simply because we love the colour, or because the style has been discontinued. But when do we ask the question: should they stay or should they go?

Think of your shoes like the oil in your car. Every few months you get an oil change just to make sure the oil is fresh and your engine is lubricated and working properly — happy engine, happy car. Well, just like oil, your shoes need to be changed every so often — in fact, more often than we realize. The recommendation for running shoes is to get a new pair about every 500 miles or six months, whichever comes first. (Weightlifters — take this advice to heart, too!) What we don’t realize is that the internal components of the shoe begin breaking down long before we see outward effects. This leads to ineffective footwear and can result in injury. So every time you get an oil change, think about changing out your shoes at the same time.

5. Pre-Workout Stretching

The pre-workout we’re talking about is not the same sippable one that results in you unleashing your inner Hulk. You probably recognize this scenario: as soon as someone walks into the gym, they find the mats and stretch for a bit before hitting the weights. Sometimes it’s a big guy who uses the bar or the bench to stretch out his pecs before lifting; other times it’s an older woman  getting ready for her low-impact class. It’s a habit we were all taught when we were younger that we just can’t let go of. But it’s time — time to stop stretching before we work out.

Research has consistently shown that static stretching before your workout can lead to reduced force production during your gym session. But recent studies are now including proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching in the category of activities to omit pre-workout. Why? When you stretch, you increase your muscle’s length to longer than what is normal. When this occurs, it makes it harder to produce the required force to move an object, compared to what was needed before the stretch. And sometimes, when we try to impose those maxes on our body in terms of range of motion, we begin to put ourselves at a greater risk of injury, especially if we don’t use proper progression. Stick to dynamic stretching (moving through a full range of motion, like you would with arm swings and knee bends) prior to your workout, and you’ll be on your way to a better body, stacked with more muscle and improved functioning.

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