8 Myths That Could Hurt Your Workout (And You)

From stretching incorrectly to lifting the wrong weights, don't let these newbie assumptions ruin your gains.

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We all want to be in shape and live a healthy lifestyle, but we also know how difficult that can be. Going to the gym, eating right, all while balancing your normal life, it’s tough. To help you out here are some things that you might have thought was going to help you get into shape, but in reality, might be hurting yourself.

What you’re doing wrong: Pushing yourself too hard

What you should be doing instead: Knowing your limits and letting your body rest There are plenty of people in the exercise world with the mindset of “no pain, no gain.” Many of them think that feeling sore after a workout is a sign they did a good job. Others believe that soreness is a buildup of lactic acid, which can happen when you lift weights or do other anaerobic exercises, where muscles contract without oxygen (unlike walking or jogging where blood flows through your muscles as you work them). What really happens after a solid workout is that you create slight tears in your muscles, which then become inflamed and therefore cause soreness. Any lactic acid build-up is dissolved within a couple hours before any real soreness sets in. So a little pain does result in gains—after all, when your muscles rebuild they are newer and stronger. But it’s essential that you be careful to not overdo it. A slight tear can heal quickly but if you push yourself too far into the pain then you might risk serious injury.

What you’re doing wrong: Getting less than six hours of sleep

What you should be doing: Pushing the workout to the evening and letting yourself sleep Setting your alarm for that 6 a.m. workout might sound like a great idea but if you’re not careful it can actually backfire. Unless you’re getting a full six hours of sleep (minimum), you’re going to be doing more harm than good to your body. Getting fewer than six hours of sleep nightly has been linked to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and especially obesity. Reason being, your body is tired and tricks itself into thinking you need energy, energy comes from carbs, and too many carbs make you, well, fat. Ever get a bad night sleep and the next day you crave potato chips and snack food? That’s that fatigue at work. There is a great benefit to getting your six hours and then working out but don’t just work out to work out if you’re body isn’t well rested. A post-workout treat might sound good at the time if you’re feeling sluggish, but you don’t want to have your cake and eat it too—and by “too” we mean two pieces.

What you’re doing wrong: Using working out as an excuse to drink or eat unhealthy

What you should be doing: Limiting yourself and trying to refuel properly Have you ever stayed in on a Friday night, woken up early that Saturday, hit the gym, felt amazing, and then thought to yourself, “Hey, I did well! I should get a treat”? Fast forward to three mimosas and a Bloody Mary later, your workout turned into a self-sabotaging binge and now you’re drunk at noon, one beer away from inhaling a California burrito. Don’t get us wrong—we’ve all rewarded ourselves a little too much for working out and, hey, it’s a lot of fun. But it’s important to remember that there is a trigger in our brain that wants to reward us for our exercise and to maintain that workout high. Another way to get that high? Indulging on some of our favorite treats. On weekends especially, be careful of the workout-to-reward program when there’s only booze at the finish line. However, if you’re going to brunch it up, drink beer since you’ll at least get some protein, sugar, and carbs, which is a step closer to what your body needs to replenish what you burned.

What you’re doing wrong: Stretching too hard

What you should be doing: A warm-up exercise instead Stretching is key—you probably know that. Most of us grew up doing the one leg crossed behind your back and pulling up to our butt stretch, as well as putting your arms over your head and across your chest, but did you know that stretching has not proven to be beneficial for protecting against injury? The best time to stretch is actually after your workout when your muscles are already loose. If you do so before you could actually risk pulling something by over-stretching when your body has not had the chance to warm up because you’re essentially pulling a tightened cold muscle. The best thing to do before working out is a warm-up routine, like an easy jog or some cardio to get your blood flowing to all your muscles and joints. Then you can do your workout and finish it off with some stretching. If you must stretch at some point in your day, try in the morning when doing a few simple stretches or yoga poses will help awaken your body. Follow it up with some lemon water and you’ll be ready to tackle the day.

What you’re doing wrong: Going to extremes in exercise and dieting

What you should be doing: Finding a balance to lose weight and strengthen your body without risking injury Excessive cardio and dieting are really not the answer here. There is a reason in life we are told over and over again about balanced nutrition, as well as a balanced lifestyle. We don’t want to fall into any one side of the spectrum, because neither are healthy. When you do excessive cardio and dieting, there is a fine line between being balanced and burning the candle at both ends. A lot of people think that if they diet really well and then jump on the treadmill or go for a 10-mile run a few times a week they’ll lose weight and look good—and for a moment they most likely will. But you have to be incredibly careful not to overdo it. The fact is, your body needs calories for energy and also to rebuild muscle. Therefore, when you run 10 miles and only eat salad and the occasional avocado, you run the risk of damaging your muscles by not giving them what they need to regenerate and push you forward. You could end up weakening certain muscles, over-straining them, or even pulling them since they aren’t getting what they need to heal.

What you’re doing wrong: Rushing into an intense workout class right after work

What you should be doing: Warming up so you can loosen up after sitting all day Most people work a desk job for nearly 10 hours a day with extremely limited movement. We sit on a chair, legs in front, shoulders hunched, eyes strained, and our only exercise is getting up for lunch or to the bathroom. By the time we get out of work, sit in traffic, then rush into the gym, we’re five minutes late to our kickboxing class so we just jump right in. The problem is, at this point your body is going to be one incredibly tightly wound ball when you haven’t used your feet, knees, or hips all day. Now suddenly you’re kicking a bean bag 100 times in five minutes. Those movements create extreme stress on your bones and joints and could lead to serious injury in the moment; it also allows long-term issues to potentially sneak up on you. Do yourself a favor and try to hit a later class to allow yourself some time to warm up those joints and begin to build the muscles within your arms and legs a little each day.

What you’re doing wrong: Running on concrete without proper shoes

What you should be doing: Running on a track or grass with enough cushion Running around your neighborhood: It’s the easiest way to get in a little exercise and one that creates an easy loop. However, running repeatedly on a hard surface could lead to injury. The impact from the ground goes directly into your foot and ankle, with shock absorption going into your knees and hips and reverberating throughout your body. Needless to say, this can quickly become a risk for an injury. Studies show that concrete is about 10 times harder than asphalt so if you’re choosing your neighborhood over a bike path, that’s the smart move. Just be careful not to push too hard because these hard surfaces are surely pushing back. If possible, hit the local school’s track or run around in a park. Those surfaces are far more likely to provide the cushion that your joints need, and in 30 years, your joints will thank you. The best advice runners give is to buy shoes with some extra padding to help decrease the impact and it could also help build strength since you’ll be running with just a little more weight in your shoes.

What you’re doing wrong: Only using weights to work out

What you should be doing: Using your body and the power of resistance training You may think that strength training is only done by using weights. Well, that is just simply not true. However, it is a great way to outdo yourself and take on more than you can physically lift. Of course, by overexerting yourself, you can seriously injure yourself—or someone else if you’re using free weights. Don’t send that dumbbell flying! That is why bench-pressing is usually done with a partner (hey spotter!), but if you’re on your own and trying to really bulk up, start with some resistance training. You’ll be able to gauge your own strength while truly building your core muscles, which turn into lean muscle and that is what you need as your foundation. Put down the dumbbell and use a resistance band or medicine ball.

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