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General Do's and Don'ts
For beginners and intermidiates, a few facts that will help you to hit your goals.
If You're Just Starting Out
Work out every day. That's right, seven straight. "It's important for beginners to form anexercise habit. Doing something daily, even if it's small, helps with consistency," says Liz Neporent, a New York City-based trainer and coauthor of The Fat-Free Truth. For the best results, don't overwhelm yourself. Neporent recommends aiming for 30 minutes of cardioevery day and strength training twice a week for two to three months, or until you feel that exercise has become an ingrained part of your daily routine.
Stay loose. Whether it comes from a lack of confidence or a determination to lose weightf-a-s-t, beginners are particularly prone to tensing up when working out. "If you're white-knuckle-gripping the bars on the bike and clenching your teeth, you're wasting a lot of energy," says Tina Vindum, founder of Outdoor Action Fitness in Marin County, California. "Relax the muscles you're not working, and focus on the ones you are. You'll have more energy and get better results."
Get stuck on the treadmill. New exercisers often do the same routine for the same duration and at the same intensity every time they work out. "So you'll stay on the treadmill until you either die of boredom or get hurt," says Charleene O'Connor, an exercise physiologist at Clay fitness club in New York City. This bad habit gets reinforced because, as your workouts get easier, you're fooled into thinking you've become uberfit. In reality, your muscles have just grown accustomed to the challenge. Be sure to mix up your routine by varying your time and intensity and by cross-training on the bike or elliptical machine, or by going for a jog outside.
Be a slouch. Whether you're leafing through the latest gossip rag on the elliptical or curling dumbbells on a bench, straighten up. "Posture affects your mood as well as your performance," says Vindum. Slumping causes you to check out of your workout both mentally and physically. The less you focus during your sweat session, the less you'll receive in the way of benefits. Slouching also keeps you from breathing deeply, which is necessary for delivering the oxygen your muscles need to work at full capacity
Tips for Regular Exercisers
Set new goals. It's easy for gym regulars to hit a slump and stop seeing the benefits or having the fun that kept them motivated in the past. Before you start dodging gym dates, find a new challenge: Sign up for a 5K, or plan an active vacation like hiking the Tetons or kayaking and surfing in Baja, suggests Steve Glass, PhD, of the Human Performance Lab at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
Breathe better. To improve your performance, focus on your breathing, says Vindum. "Inhale deeply during the rest phases of an exercise, and exhale forcefully in the work phases." Try inhaling to a count of three and exhaling to a count of three. A powerful exhale can help you generate more force, which means you'll be able to do more work.
Skimp on shoes. Choose footwear for its functionality, not because it's stylish, says O'Connor. Inadequate shoes can lead to injuries, so go to a sporting goods or athletic-shoe store, where knowledgeable staff can fit you with shoes designed to support your feet during specific activities. If you wear your shoes regularly, make sure to replace them every three months. Though the treads might still be intact, the cushioning and support in the midsoles will likely have worn out by then.
Be unbalanced. Most regular exercisers are diligent about including cardio, strength, and flexibility in their routines, but they forget about balance, says Vindum. This critical skill allows you to move fluidly and avoid injuries. At the end of your workout, stand on one legand lift the other out in front of you. Try to hold this for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. When this move gets too easy, you can shake things up by closing your eyes, making circles with the raised leg, and/or standing on the edge of a step, balance disk, or Bosu.
Don't Wait for Your Thirst to Tell You When to Drink
Once you start thinking about a nice, cold glass of water, you're probably already 1 to 2 percent dehydrated, says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
use the "lemonade test." When you peek in the toilet immediately after you urinate, you want to see liquid the color of pale lemonade; if it's a vibrant yellow or looks like apple juice, you need more fluids. ACE's general recommendation is to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water (a typical single-size bottle of water, like you'd buy in a convenience store, is 20 ounces) two to three hours before exercise on a typical day--this takes into account the fact that you'll probably hit the loo before heading outside. Then, during your workout, try to drink an additional 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes (this is especially important on sweltering days).
One more thing: Remember that you still sweat even when you're swimming, doing water aerobics or surfing, so leave a bottle of water on the shore or at the side of the pool.
Don't Overdo It As You Start Your Program
If you haven't been active lately, start from square one — even if you were a high school athlete. Jumping into vigorous exercise without gradually building up to it puts you at risk for serious injury — and even death.
Increase Exercise Level Gradually
If it's been a while since you busted a move, talk to your doctor first. At the very least, complete the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), an easy way to determine your physical readiness for exercise.
To get started, go easy. Start with what you can do and steadily increase time, frequency, and intensity, in that order, increasing total weekly time by no more than 10% per week. As your fitness level improves, aim for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Be patient —regular exercise pays off, but too much too soon can backfire quickly.
Don't Go From 0 to 60 in 5 Seconds
Going straight to the cardio portion of your workout without a warm-up is a bad idea. To successfully meet the demands of cardiovascular training, your body needs a heads-up.
Perform a Warm-Up Before Your Workout
For most people, 5-10 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity cardio activity is enough. The warm-up helps you transition from rest to movement, gradually increasing body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure to support the physiologic challenge of the vigorous workout ahead. A proper warm-up also helps reduce post-exercise muscle stiffness and improves exercise performance.
Don't Get Hung Up on Heart Rate
It’s just a number. Target heart rate training is a great way to boost your level of fitness, but it’s not the perfect method for everyone. If you can’t seem to get your heart rate into the right intensity “zone,” don’t fret.
Pace Yourself Based on How You Feel
If you can talk comfortably — or slightly uncomfortably — you're exercising at the right intensity. If you can't talk comfortably at all, slow down — regardless of heart rate.
Target training zone charts offer a ballpark range at best. Target zone is influenced by fitness level, health status, certain medications, and genetic limitations. For best results, ask a certified fitness professional to help you calculate your target training zone.
Don't Stop Immediately After a Vigorous Workout
Personal trainers see it all the time — someone going at full speed on a stair climber, and stopping suddenly to stand still. A sudden stop causes blood to pool in the feet and legs, reducing blood flow to the heart and other organs. As a result, you could get dizzy and fall — or experience a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia.
Cool Down Gradually
Keep your feet moving! Performing 5-10 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity activity after moderate-to-vigorous exercise keeps blood from pooling, flushes metabolic waste from the muscles, and gradually returns circulation to pre-exercise levels.
Don't Be A Weekend Warrior
Waiting until Saturday to break a sweat won't help you reach your fitness goals — and could turn out to be the last thing you do. Sudden cardiac death with exercise is relatively rare at 1 case per 36.5 million hours of exercise. But studies suggest that infrequent exercise may increase momentary risk of exercise-related sudden cardiac death.
Exercise Regularly Throughout the Week
Make physical activity part of your everyday life — whether it's walking on your lunch break or bicycling after dinner with your family. Regular exercise makes a difference, according to a study of nearly 70,000 women over 18 years. Compared to inactive subjects, those who exercised two hours a week had reduced risk, and those who exercised four or more hours a week had a 59% decreased risk of sudden cardiac death.