Are you working out often, but not seeing results? Fitness expert Brian Roy identifies the usual weight-loss pitfalls and offers tips for a better workout.
The first weeks of a new fitness routine can be exhilarating. You lose weight and your energy increases, but then something strange happens – your progress grinds to a halt. Maybe you're doing too much too soon. Or maybe you're focusing too much on the numbers on your scale. There are plenty of reasons why your progress may be slowing down. Read on for the top 5 fitness mistakes that might be keeping you from seeing results.
1. Setting unrealistic goals
When starting an exercise regimen, unrealistic goals can impact your progress. Quick fixes in fitness do not exist. "People think they're going to lose weight and gain lots of muscle right away," says Brian Roy, an associate professor of physical education and kinesiology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. "It takes a fair amount of time and effort to start seeing those changes. It doesn't happen overnight. You should have a realistic understanding that it takes time." By realizing that becoming fit is a slow, steady process, you'll avoid disappointment. When people falsely believe that they'll shed weight and tone up quickly, they often become disillusioned and stop working out when the results don't materialize. Be realistic, set sensible goals and, in time, you will meet them.
2. Doing too much too soon
It's common for beginners to take on too much too soon. Planning to run a marathon or enrolling in an advanced Pilates class could do more harm than good when you're just starting out. "Easing into [exercise] is the best thing you can do," says Roy.
People who go full throttle into workouts and don't increase the duration and intensity gradually often "end up with muscle pain or joint injuries," says Roy. "You want to [exercise] smartly—don't injure yourself. Doing too much and being really sore turns people off from activity." Start slowly: If you want to run, Roy recommends walking first. Then "add a little running to your walk. Do one minute of running and five minutes of walking. Work up to it." Eventually you'll be jogging more than walking. Taking small steps into your fitness routine will be less stressful on your body. Plus, you'll be more likely to stick with it—and see results.
3. Not eating properly
Not eating properly is a major fitness stumbling block. Some individuals make the mistake of eating too little while others eat too much. "Starving yourself is not a healthy way to lose weight," says Roy. You may drop pounds in the beginning, but "it's been repeatedly proven that the weight's not going to stay off. It will come back. Your metabolic rate slows down; you don't expend as many calories." Restricting your food intake so drastically leaves your body desperate for fuel. Exercising will become more tiring and results will be non-existent.
While not eating enough can hurt your fitness progress, so can overindulging. Adding exercise to your lifestyle without adjusting your meals will stall the weight-loss process. If you eat the same amount and kinds of food that you did before you began exercising, it will take longer to lose weight. By simply watching your portion sizes and replacing foods that are high in sugar and fat with more healthy choices, such as lean meat and fresh vegetables, you'll eventually see changes in the appearance of your body. You'll feel better too. "It really comes down to lifestyle choices and changes that will facilitate a sustained loss of fat and a healthier lifestyle," says Roy.
4. Relying solely on cardio for your workout
If you're determined to lose weight and achieve full fitness, relying solely on cardiovascular activities—such as running, aerobics and cycling—can undermine your progress. Adding weight or resistance training into the mix will target areas that cardio doesn't touch. "You'll work other muscles besides the classic cardio muscles, which are generally all leg-based. Resistance training can hit the other less-used muscles," says Roy. "A combination of both aerobic and strength activity is good for you. Both are going to benefit you in different ways and improve your overall health." Weight lifting and resistance training help build not only muscle, but bone strength too—an advantage that cardio workouts alone cannot achieve. Plus, weights and resistance work can sculpt and tone your body. With the right program, you can create lean, tight muscles without adding bulk—a common concern for many, especially women.
5. Being obsessed with the numbers on your scale
Most people have a love-hate relationship with their weight scale and for good reason. "Body weight is a terrible measure. We get obsessed with the scale because it's an easy measurement for us," says Roy. "The more fat you lose, the more your body weight will go down. But over time people start to gain more lean muscle as well, so they won't necessarily see changes in their body weight." At this point, the scale will often show an increase in pounds because muscle weighs more than fat. This healthy shift can be frustrating if the scale is your only progress marker. Roy says that it's more important to gain muscle tissue and lose fat than to be obsessed with the number displayed on the scale. "Weight isn't the important factor. It's how you feel, how you look." Measure your progress visually in the mirror, by how your clothes fit, and especially by how healthy you feel.
It's easy to correct these top five fitness mistakes. With a little effort and dedication, you'll be back on track to meet your fitness goals.