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Avoid common pitfalls along path to fitness

Posted - Aug. 20, 2004 at 6:40 a.m.



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Every workout needs a tuneup sooner or later. We may be stuck in a rut, or finding we're not getting the results we want. Worse, we may be setting ourselves up for a serious injury.

The American Council on Exercise recently released a list of common mistakes people commit at the gym and how to correct them. Here, some highlights:

Avoid the all-or-nothing approach. We might think that if it's not at least an hour, or it doesn't knock us flat on our back when it's over, it must not be worth it. Remember that each day is unique. Some days, we feel so tired that the idea of lying down and vegging out in front of the TV is much more appealing than getting on the Pilates reformer. On those days, give yourself permission to take something like a 30-minute walk outside instead of the usual hour-long killer kickboxing class.

Aim for a well-rounded strength training program. Let's admit it - some of us like to focus on certain muscle groups such as the abs or arms because those parts get the best results for our efforts and are noticed more easily by others. They also become our favorites because we might do exercises for those areas exceptionally well.

Some examples of unbalanced physiques: strong upper body, weak legs; powerful legs, weak upper body; strong abs, weak back; strong quadriceps, weak hamstrings.

By making sure each muscle group is strong, we enable our bodies to move more efficiently, because some muscle groups do not have to overcompensate for the weakness of others.

Check form. Poor form includes using momentum to lift very heavy weights, not exercising through a full range of motion, overextending the knee during squats or lunges, hyperextending the back, pulling the neck up with the hands while doing crunches, rushing through the movement and leaning on the handlebars while using an elliptical machine.

Some tips: Lift weights in a controlled fashion and through the full range of motion or arc. When in doubt, consider hiring a personal fitness trainer who can show you correct form, or use a reference on weight training such as "The Home Workout Bible" (Rodale).

Avoid biting off too much. Results don't happen overnight. Sometimes, we push ourselves too hard too soon because we want to keep up with others instead of going at our own pace. At other times, we overtrain and fail to take much-needed breaks. We expect too much of ourselves and demand that our bodies perform at 100 percent every time. That's not realistic. Our bodies need rest to recharge and repair.

Add variety. I once asked Jay Blahnik, a national group-fitness master trainer based in Laguna Beach, his secret for staying injury-free despite teaching many classes every week. His answer: "I cross-train." He changes his workouts to avoid repetitive-use injuries, to constantly challenge his body and to keep from getting bored.

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(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.)

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(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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