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As the summer months come to a close, you may be feeling like it’s time to get back into a regular routine. If you’ve let some of your weekly sweat habits slide or if you’re looking to up the ante this September, I encourage you to take part in all the fun things I’ve got planned for us this fall. Hint, hint, I’ve got a big announcement coming next week for my free September challenge!
Today’s post is all about identifying some of the most common training mistakes we make, and you’ll find that these are super innocent mis-steps too. We often think more exercise is better, or that we just need to push harder in order to see the results we crave and that is simply not the truth. Let’s jump in and get you equipped so you can avoid the following three common training mistakes that will mess with your goals and halt your results.
You can think of exercise as a targeted stress on your body designed to create a specific response. A workout in which we challenge our muscles to lift more weight, or to complete more volume via increased sets and reps is a good example of exercise.
Movement on the other hand does not supply as much stimulus for our body to respond. Things like going for a walk, taking a restorative yoga class and even leisurely riding our bikes are examples of movement, not exercise.
It is important to make a distinction between these two activities because many of you who get frustrated from not seeing the results you crave are likely falling into one of two traps: you are not getting enough exercise or are doing too much exercise. I know, you’re perplexed, there is such a thing as too much exercise?! Yes, there is. We must complete total body strength training at least three times each week to see changes in body composition, but over-exercising can cause compensatory hunger, lack of recovery and actually prevent muscle growth.
In order to stay healthy we need to move a lot each day. Walking, doing mobility exercises and leading an active lifestyle including taking the stairs and moving regularly helps to reduce stress hormones, maintain good muscle function and essentially combats the negative effects of a sedentary life. BUT this does not change our body composition.
Exercise needs to be intense, challenging, breathless and progressive in order to see physical change. Our body adapts to the demands we place on it, so there has got to be significant enough stimulus to elicit change. But how much intensity do we need, and how often?
This depends greatly on our starting point and goals. I am currently lifting weights three times a week completing total body workouts, but there have been training blocks in my life that I have lifted six days a week, splitting up body parts each session. And when it comes to intensity…
Ahh! This is a tough one to grasp. When it comes to exercise, quality really matters. Remember, we are in this for years, not weeks or months so we’ve got to take the time to build a strong foundation for effective movement patterns.
I often cue my clients to lift ‘to muscular fatigue’ but this is quite different from physically not being able to lift a certain load anymore (this could also include bodyweight!). We want our muscles to experience a significant training stimulus called failure, but if our entire kinetic chain is breaking down at the end of our set of squats we are not getting stronger, we are practicing bad movement patterns.
This is an example of what ideal squat form looks like. We want our shin angle to be similar to our spine angle. This often breaks down as we become fatigued or the load we are lifting gets too heavy.
Our ability to control our body, respond to load and adapt properly all depend on how we stress our muscles. I want you to get picky with your reps and stop before your knees are dumping in, upper back is rounding or shoulders are hunching up towards your ears. If you think you need more breathless activity, throw in a few sprint intervals at the beginning or end of your workout, but do not compromise your resistance training form to get sweaty.
Listening to your body is certainly an art that gets easier with much practice. This is super tough when you’re motivated to get to the gym, but remember we make gains when we rest! Sure training is essential, but resting is required too.
This is where movement comes in. A slow outdoor walk for at least 30 minutes can be a great afternoon activity when you’ve already got your strength workout in for the day. A restorative yoga class is an excellent option on a Sunday before you sweat it out all week. I always take at least one day away from training and moving each week. In the past year, I have upped this to two days and have found much more results during my workouts.
The bottom line is that we need to be dynamic and progressive with our intensity and frequency of exercise. Being dynamic means that we are capable of listening to our body and knowing when we need a day off or more sleep. Progressive means that we are sequentially taking on more challenging tasks to allow our body to adapt and get stronger.
As you can see, finding our stress sweet spot via enough exercise with enough intensity and enough recovery is the only way to see great results. Let’s call it the goldilocks principle. We do not want too much stress or our bodies do not respond well. We also do not want too little stress or our bodies lose muscle, strength and calorie burning capacity.
The biggest challenge we will face when following the goldilocks principle is that it will test our patience. Body composition change and strength gain take time, so let’s jump in for the long haul!