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Don’t Make These Workout Mistakes


Posted on January 19, 2017

Starting an exercise program in the new year? Don’t get sidelined by these rookie mistakes.

Illustration by Ryan Inzana

This is the year. You’re going to do it. You’re going to become one of “those” people. You know, one of those people who work out—on a regular basis. Running, spin class, swimming or hitting the gym, you’re going to do it. Good for you! Has it been a while? Have you tried before and failed? First time? Nervous? Don’t be. We asked area experts—personal trainers, sports medicine docs and physical therapists—to give us tips geared especially for you. Read on. Then hit it. You’ve got this!

WORKING OUT LIKE YOU’RE 20 WHEN YOU’RE 40-PLUS. “I see a lot of people 40 and above start running and jumping, not realizing that their tissue is not the same as when they were in their 20s. Tissue is not as elastic,” says Kyle Yamashiro, D.P.T., a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and owner and president of Results Physical Therapy and Training Center in Sacramento, Carmichael and Rancho Murieta. The result, he says, is torn tendons and muscle strains. The fix: Ease into a new activity. Take running, for example. “If you’re sedentary, then start by walking, then do speed walking, then jogging, and then increase the intensity of the sprints,” says Yamashiro. Chalmes Brown, a certified pharmacy technician who works by referral as a personal trainer in the Sacramento area, is concerned about the formerly sedentary, over-40 crowd doing what he dubs “insanity workouts.” “It’s hard enough for a younger person to do those moves,” he says of exercise regimens such as Zumba and CrossFit. “They might start out good, but they often find out a couple of weeks down the road that they have an injury. Be cognitive of your ability and what you are capable of doing,” he advises.

YOU’RE DOING TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING. Yamashiro sees a lot of back injuries from excessive sit-ups and planks, and shoulder and rotator cuff injuries from doing too much lifting. “They are doing an excessive amount of something that in moderation is very good,” he says. Brandon Beamer, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Marshall Medical Orthopedics in El Dorado Hills and Placerville, agrees. “If we add weight too quickly, we outpace the body’s ability to adapt to those new loads,” says Beamer, who in addition to rotator cuff tears sees a lot of tendon and bicep tears in the early part of the new year. The solution? You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: higher repetition and lower weight. There’s a benefit to this, according to Beamer, who says it’s important to build a foundation based on good form. “It also build up our muscles to be able to metabolize carbs and carry oxygen; it builds them up to do more work.” In other words, you get more bang for your workout buck.

YOU’RE DOING AN ACTIVITY YOU HATE. Sure, it takes most people a little get-up-and-go to hit the gym or go for a run, especially in the dark, dreary months of January and February. But doing an activity you absolutely hate is almost sure to end with your shoes in the closet and your good intentions tossed by the wayside. “People have to really like the form of exercise they are doing to stick with it,” says yoga teacher Lauren Anderson, M.S., E-RYT 200 Personal Trainer. Jeffrey L. Tanji, M.D., associate medical director of sports medicine at UC Davis Health System, agrees. “Everyone is different,” he says. “A mistake is to try to stick with an exercise routine that does’t work for you because someone else does it.” So, experts advise, find your workout passion, be it tennis, yoga, basketball, running, spin class, etc.

YOU’RE WORKING OUT IN THE WRONG GEAR. “I think everyone just puts on their shoes and gets out there. There are issues with that,” says Marie Eustaquio, M.P.T., a physical therapist at Sutter Roseville and spin instructor at EvoFitness and Natomas Racquet Club in Sacramento, who sees a lot of back and knee injuries in the beginning of the year. “The knee is typically the innocent victim. Common pathologies include back issues, hip issues, malalignment of the foot or improper footwear,” says Eustaquio, who worked for footwear company La Foot while in PT school. The fix: Go to a legit, fitness-oriented shoe store, where staff is trained to properly assess your needs and fit you in footwear specific to your activity.

YOU’RE SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME IN THE GYM. You read that correctly. There is such a thing as spending too much time at the gym. “No one should be at the gym longer than an hour, unless you work there,” says MaryEllen Hall, R.D., H.N.C., a personal trainer and yoga instructor, who also does medical weight management at DeBruin Medical Center in Orangevale. Trainers such as Brown agree that quality beats quantity. “It’s not how much time you spend in the gym; it is what you do in the time that you spend there,” he says. Opinions vary on how often and how long you should work out, but 30 to 60 minutes five days a week should do the trick for most people.

YOU’RE FAILING TO GET “DYNAMIC” WHILE STRETCHING. Forget the days of doing a few jumping jacks and waist bends and then diving into your sport. “The traditional way of standing still and stretching may actually lead to muscle inhibition because we are elongating the muscle, which can activate inhibitory reflexes, rather than warming the muscle by actively firing it,” Beamer explains. Experts such as Yamashiro and Beamer advocate starting a workout with dynamic stretching: an all-over bodys stretch that helps enhance mobility, according to Yamashiro, and, according to Beamer, “is more movement based, getting our joints moving.” Then, incorporate your warm-up into your activity. “It’s all about incorporating the movements that are part of your activity into a dynamic warm-up that promotes joint mobilization and muscle activation to prepare your body for the stresses you’re about to demand from it,” says Beamer. So, for example, incorporate stretching into the first couple hundred yards of a run, he says. And don’t forget the cool-down. “People hate the warm-ups and cool-downs,” says Beamer, “but this integrates them into the activity.”

YOU’RE SETTING UNREALISTIC GOALS. Losing 16 pounds in eight weeks is realistic, says Yamashiro. Losing 20 pounds in four weeks is not. It also helps to be realistic about how much time you have to work out. Maybe starting out at five days a week won’t work for you. “Be honest with yourself, says Eustaquio, a single mother of two who works out four days a week. “If you’ve got kids or if you have a demanding job, maybe three times a week is all you can do.” Anderson works mostly with groups, but when she does one-on-one training, she has her clients set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals. “The ones who have follow-through with their New Year’s resolutions have put a lot of effort into their goals being very specific and measurable,” she says. However much you work out, it’s a lifestyle choice, says Yamashiro. “You have to put this into your schedule as part of your life.”

YOU’RE EXERCISING ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. “You will burn muscle mass first, not fat, if you are starving,” says Hall, who suggests eating a piece of fruit prior to a workout. “It burns within 20 to 30 minutes, so by the time you get to the gym, you are already burning fat,” she says. Another issue, say experts, is drastically reducing your caloric intake in an effort to maximize weight loss. “You still need proper nutrients to do the activities of daily life,” says Yamashiro, whose practice is affiliated with the Sacramento Republic, Sacramento River Cats and Sac State Athletics. And while you’re at it, don’t forget your water.

YOU STILL BELIEVE THE ADAGE “NO PAIN, NO GAIN.” “Working through the pain is never a good idea. That’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.” says Beamer. While muscle pain is normal, especially after lifting weights, Beamer says pain in the joints or sounds of clicking and popping are not. Neither is swelling, which, he says, often indicates a problem with ligament, cartilage or meniscus. “That’s a problem. That is not something you can just ice and move on,” he says.

YOU’RE CUTTING OUT CROSS TRAINING. The importance of cross training was driven home to Beamer when he was assistant team physician for the San Francisco 49ers. “It was amazing to see 300-pound linemen doing yoga on their off days,” he says. But cross training—doing an activity that utilizes different muscles, movements and workloads from ones used in your primary activity—is vital to maintaining a successful workout regimen. “By cross training, we hope to avoid overuse injuries while maintaining the mobility and cardiovascular fitness of the athlete,” says Beamer.

YOU’RE NOT ACCOUNTING FOR BUMPS IN THE ROAD. You may have every intention of working out five days a week, but then the kids get sick or your boss drops a deadline on you and you miss a day—or a week. For some people, that’s reason enough to throw in the towel, but experts assure us there’s no need to so. “A lot of people go into the new year with an all-or-nothing attitude, and it can really throw people off,” says Anderson, who also is a certified yoga instructor and teaches PE and kinesiology at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. “People have to allow for some sort of upset. They have to allow for flexibility and for bumps in the road. The people we see achieve their goals are consistent, not perfect,” she says.

YOU’RE WORKING OUT WITH A FRIEND. This one may seem counterintuitive. After all, you often hear about the perks of having a workout buddy, with accountability being at the top of the list. However, all the benefits of a workout partner go out the window if the muscles that get the most exercise during your session are the ones in your jaw. “If you can read a magazine or talk with a friend for 45 minutes, you are not working out hard enough,” says Hall.

YOU’RE RELYING ONLY ON YOUR WORKOUT AS THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS. Sure, working out is key, but experts say that’s not all it takes to be successful. “You have to think of it as a multistep approach,” says Beamer. “One part is going to the gym, but it’s also nutrition and cross training.” Hall is a fan of morning workouts but admits, “I would not sacrifice my sleep to work out. If you have to hit the snooze button again and again to get to the gym, just sleep.”

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