WHETHER you've been hitting the gym every day for years or you've just signed up, there are plenty of ways to wreck your workout - or worse, hurt yourself.
Here are some tips from New York trainers on how to sidestep those faux pas and get on the right track.
FLUB: You'd rather watch "Fear Factor."
FIX: TV can actually help you work out - an engrossing show can make a half-hour on the treadmill fly - some folks are so glued to the tube they're not working those glutes hard enough.
"Although any movement is better than none, there's a risk of losing that intensity," says New York Sports Club trainer Chris McGrath. "If you're not seeing results, you may be focusing on TV too much."
FLUB: You haven't replaced your sneakers since 1995.
FIX: Underestimate the power of proper support at your own peril. Check your soles: If their edges are worn down, it's time to toss 'em.
But you can't always tell by looking that a sneaker's shock absorption has worn away, which can cause discomfort or injury.
Experts say that if you've logged 500 miles in your sneakers, or if you start to notice pain, worn-out shoes may be to blame.
FLUB: You're lifting weights that are too heavy.
FIX: "People walk into the gym with no idea of how much weight they're capable of lifting," says personal trainer Dudley Alcidas. "They choose weights that are too heavy for them, and then are surprised when they get hurt."
Getting carried away can put excessive stress on the joints, tendons and ligaments. Start with a lighter weight instead, then build up your strength.
FLUB: You work up a sweat, then stick around.
FIX: Hanging around in wet gym clothes can put women at risk for yeast infections, which thrive in moist environments.
If you're prone to yeast problems, hit the shower as soon as possible after your workout, or at least wash the area, dry it thoroughly, and change into dry underwear.
FLUB: You hold your breath while you lift.
FIX: Forgetting to breathe can boost your blood pressure, causing lightheadedness and headaches, says personal trainer Jean Jourdain.
Instead, exhale for about two seconds on the hard part (that is, when you're lifting the dumbbell) and inhale for about four seconds on the easy part (when you bring the weight back down).
FLUB: You blast your personal stereo.
FIX: Listening to music at concert-level volume can crank up your energy, but all those decibels can damage your hearing. Rule of thumb: If you can't hear somebody speaking to you in a normal voice, lower the volume.
"People make that mistake without exercising," laughs Jourdain.
FLUB: You're leaving yourself open to germs.
FIX: Who knows how often your gym gets cleaned? "Not everyone is as considerate as you'd like them to be," says Jourdain.
Protect yourself by washing your hands thoroughly after working out, and avoid touching your face until then.
If you sweat a lot when working out, use a clean towel to mop off the sweat, and carry another towel to wipe down the equipment before and after you use it. Also, wear flip-flops in the shower.
FLUB: You skip warm-ups and cool-downs.
FIX: Think they're a waste of time? Think again. Warming up causes your heart to pump blood more efficiently and your muscles to absorb oxygen at higher rate, so you can get a better workout.
"Your body is like a car," says Alcidas. "Would you start it in the winter without warming it up?"
Warming up also makes the connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) a bit more elastic, thereby reducing your risk of injury, and prevents lactic acid buildup - that burning sensation in your side.
To warm up, do a less intense version of your workout for five to 10 minutes, such as a brisk walk before doing your regular jog.
Cooling down post-workout helps prevent a sudden drop in blood pressure, lowers your chances of muscles cramps, and may help reduce next-day soreness. Go slow for five to 10 minutes, until your heart rate is back to normal.
FLUB: You slouch on the exercise machines.
FIX: Draping your body over the elliptical trainer while exercising can put a lot of stress on your joints and muscles, and may mean you're not getting the most out of your workout. "It's also not good for your spine," Jourdain points out.
Leaning on the machine may also be a sign that you're training at too-high an intensity. The solution? Take things down a notch.
Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.