Spring cleaning isn't just about de-cluttering your house. Spring is also the perfect time to evaluate other important areas of your life that might need some scrutiny and fixes, namely your fitness routine. Check out these 21 potentially progress-stalling habits you should toss out to get better and faster fitness results.
Bad Habit #1: Suffering from “Exercise A.D.D.”
Being an exercise enthusiast is one thing, but jumping from trend to trend could mean you never stick with anything long enough to see results. The human body adapts to an exercise stimulus after a period of 10-16 weeks; trying every new fad might be a way to stay engaged and have fun, but if the changes are too frequent your body never has a chance to fully adapt to the training stimulus, explains exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer Pete McCall. If you've found a new activity or class you love, make a commitment to be consistent with it for at least eight weeks to give it time to take effect.
Bad Habit #2: Failing to Plan Out Your Workouts
While there's something to be said about spontaneity, failing to plan out a weekly workout routine could be stalling your progress. Too much of one type of exercise, whether it's weight training, yoga or boxing, can cause overuse injuries and a plateau. When this happens, according to McCall, the body adapts to the stimulus and fails to make any further exercise gains. So instead of guessing which workout you'll do each day, take five minutes to write out your plans for the week. Fitness classes are a great way to reap the benefits of different types of exercise, so if you enjoy the group exercise studio, feel free to use it often to help mix up your workouts and keep things fresh while still sticking to your schedule.
Bad Habit #3: Wearing the Wrong Kind of Footwear
We know you have a pair of killer kicks that you love wearing, but did you know that the wrong type of shoe could be increasing your risk of injury? "The right type of footwear is critical to ensure the safety and effectiveness of your workout," explains Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "For example, if you're attending a dance-based class, opt for flexible shoes that allow you to easily pivot and turn to help reduce the risk of injury, instead of traditional running shoes that may cause your feet to stick to the floor." And, if you are psyched to try out barefoot shoes, don't plan on wearing them for your usual 5-mile run for the very first time. Ease into new footwear gradually; try 15 minutes at a time to help prevent injury or strain.
Bad Habit #4: Zoning Out During Your Workouts
It's one thing to stay inspired with a great workout music mix, but if you are totally distracted during your sweat sessions, you may not be making the most of your workout time. "It absolutely kills me when I see someone at the gym using a piece of equipment while talking or texting on their mobile device," says McCall. Whether you are distracted by your phone or thoughts of your to-do list, not paying attention could limit the effectiveness and actually increase your risk of injury during your workouts. If you trip and injure yourself, attaining your fitness goals will become much more challenging, McCall points out. Do yourself -- and your body-- a favor and dedicate your workout time to just that -- working out.
Bad Habit #5: Always Standing in the Same Spot for Exercise Classes
Are you such a regular in the group fitness room that you actually have your own "spot" on the floor? "Many of us are creatures of habit," Matthews says, "so it's no surprise that we choose to set up in the same spot every class." Simply standing in a new spot, however, may offer some surprising benefits. For starters, exercising in a new area of the room allows you to see and hear the instructor differently (and perhaps allows them to see you better), which means you may catch a new cue that can help you understand how to properly perform certain exercises and improve your form. Branching out from your usual place also provides an opportunity to connect with other fellow classmates, and according to Matthews, social support can help enhance your long-term commitment to fitness.
Bad Habit #6: Not Pushing Hard Enough (Or Pushing Too Hard)
When it comes to the overall intensity of your workout sessions, strive to hit a level that's "just right" for you. Keeping your intensity too low all the time may not be enough of a stimulus to produce results, while too much intensity can lead to overtraining. The key to success is finding the right balance of both. "A good rule of thumb is to work to discomfort at least two or three workouts per week," recommends McCall. "If you use the 1-10 scale of perceived exertion (1 being sitting on the couch and 10 being running for your life) then discomfort should be about an 8 or 9. The other days the workout levels can be in the comfort range between a 5 and 7."
Bad Habit #7: Holding Your Breath
This is a bad habit you may not even realize you're doing. Exercisers who lift heavy weights or are focusing intently on grasping a new movement commonly hold their breath. Breathing properly during your workouts not only helps keep your blood pressure under control, it may also make you stronger, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Alabama. According to Olson, research shows that exhaling when you are tired can help you make it through that final rep. Try exhaling during the most challenging part of your movement -- when you are lifting, not lowering, the weight. Breathing properly during your workouts could mean the difference between not finishing a set and powering through that final rep.
Bad Habit #8: Skipping Out on Cooling Down or Stretching
If you are guilty of wrapping up your gym session and skipping out on a cool down or stretch, you could be missing out. "The cool-down is an especially important part of the workout," explains Matthews, "as this phase helps to ensure that the venous return to the heart is maintained in the face of significant amounts of blood going to the previously working muscles.", Matthews cautions that stopping your workout abruptly can sometimes cause dizziness or fainting. In addition to gradually lowering your heart rate, the cool down phase of your workout is the best time to perform static stretches since the muscles are properly warmed and therefore more pliable. "Stretching performed after exercise helps to improve flexibility, posture and can also help to reduce stress," says Matthews.
Bad Habit #9: Spending Your Rest Day on the Couch
You know it's important to give your body a rest day each week to recover from all of your workouts, but did you know that spending it on the couch could be doing more harm than good? Olson says active recovery is the trick to getting optimal "rest." Instead of plopping down in front of the TV all day, Olson suggests stretching, taking a walk or going for a bike ride through the neighborhood. Not only will you burn off a few extra calories, she says you'll also help pump fresh oxygen and nutrients into your sore muscles and speed up the recovery process.
Bad Habit #10: Focusing Only on Your "Trouble" Spots
Spot reduction is a myth, and trying to reduce one area of your body by overtraining it could actually backfire. For instance, if you are too focused on training your inner thighs you could be creating muscular imbalances that can affect your entire body. Sure, it would be nice to do crunches and end up with zero fat on your belly, says Olson, but exercise cannot reconstruct your body architecture. "Balance comes from not just how your body parts look," she explains, "it comes from how well they function." For results that will improve your entire body, set larger goals such as having an upper half that is strong as your lower, or a heart that is as fit as your biceps, instead.
Bad Habit #11: Throwing Your Weight Around
Focusing on form while lifting weights is important, as is using the right technique to set your weights down or pick them up. "The form and technique you use going from exercise to exercise is as important as the form and technique you use doing your workout moves," says Olson. "Keep your abs engaged and your spine long, just like you do with a proper squat or during push-ups to pick up your weights." The lowering phase is just as important as the lifting stage in working your muscles. Letting go, or slamming the weight stack down, could cause muscle and joint injuries, Olson explains. Be sure to protect your body both during your performance and on the set up and finish of every exercise with the right lifting technique.
Bad Habit #12: Not Having a Plan B
Sticking with your workout plan is important, but it's also essential to have a back-up plan. Keep a list of options ready for those days when things don't go exactly the way they're supposed to. Left your sneakers at home? Head to a yoga class – no shoes necessary. Weight room too busy for your usual strength circuit? Grab a TRX band and head to a less crowded corner instead. "There are plenty of options for fitting in a great workout," says Matthews, "so don't let the fact that the 'fitness stars didn't align' derail you from your regular routine of physical activity; who knows, perhaps adding more variety will help you come closer to reaching your health and fitness goals."
Bad Habit #13: Stretching to Warm Up
Static stretching, holding a stretch in one position without movement, before exercise can be dangerous, According to Matthews, stretching muscles when they are not completely warmed up could not only lead to muscle strains and pulls, it could also limit your performance during your workout. Your best bet is an active, dynamic warm up, which is a safer, more effective way to prepare the body for activity. Matthews recommends doing a short series of active range of motion movements such as arm circles or leg swings. "This type of [dynamic] stretching before a workout helps to increase body temperature, enhance joint flexibility and increase muscle elasticity through a range of motion," she says, "which functionally prepares the body for the activity to come."
Bad Habit #14: Underestimating the Importance of Nutrient Timing
According to Matthews, your overall fitness is greatly affected by both what you eat and when you eat. You already know that downing a cheeseburger before hitting the gym isn't smart, but did you know that consuming a healthy snack could actually help you to perform better? "Studies have shown that consuming carbohydrates before doing resistance training can actually help prolong a workout," says Matthews. And refueling post-workout helps improve muscular strength, endurance and aids in recovery too. "Research has shown that consuming carbohydrates within the first hour [after a workout] helps increase protein synthesis and replenish glycogen stores," Matthews explains "And protein -- when combined with carbohydrates -- post-workout can enhance muscle glycogen storage."
Bad Habit #15: Cutting Out Carbs Completely
Many exercisers and dieters think that restricting carbohydrates is the best and fastest way to lose weight. The truth is, Matthews says, carbohydrates are needed for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, as the body uses muscle glycogen as a primary fuel source when you work out. While it may be a good idea to eliminate unhealthy sources of carbohydrates, such as refined sugars and heavily processed foods, swearing off all carbs could have a noticeable, negative effect on your workouts. According to Matthews, a depletion of muscle glycogen results in reduced force production and causes muscles weakness – both of which are not exactly the ideal conditions for having an effective workout and achieving the results that you want.
Bad Habit #16: Forgetting to Focus on Form
When it comes to exercise, quality is much more important than quantity! Sure, knocking out 50 push-ups in a row may sound more impressive than simply 15, but if those 50 are done with improper form, not only are you not reaping the full benefits of what the exercise is designed to do, you're also potentially setting yourself up for an injury, Matthews explains. The same is true for different modalities of exercise too. Take kettlebell training, for example. According to Matthews, working out with kettlebells requires a high level of skill to execute the movements with proper mechanics in order to reap all of their great benefits. "The best way to make the most of your workouts (especially with new activities)," Matthews says, "is to schedule a session or take a class with a qualified fitness professional and take the time to learn the proper form and technique."
Bad Habit #17: Doing Too Many Isolation Exercises
"For most part, exercise has been led by bodybuilders who focus on using one part of the body at a time with muscle isolation exercises," says McCall, "but the fact is, the body is designed to move and use multiple muscles at the same time." The body performs five basic movement patterns: the squat, lunge, pushing, pulling and rotation. Focusing your workout program around these movement patterns, versus single muscle group exercises like biceps curls, McCall explains, can help improve overall muscular development and burn calories more efficiently, leading to quicker results.
Bad Habit #18: Avoiding Heavy Weights (for Fear of Bulking Up)
If you've been steering clear of lifting heavy weights for fear of bulking up, you could be falling short of your goals. This is one of the primary reasons women fail to achieve their fitness goals and their best bodies, according to Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and "Beat the Gym" author. "Women simply do not have high enough testosterone levels to achieve a significant amount of muscle building," he explains. Building lean muscle by lifting weight that is heavy enough to make those last few reps hard to do without losing form is essential for weight maintenance -- especially as we age and lose muscle year after year. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate, says Holland, which means you'll burn more calories even at rest.
Bad Habit #19: Lifting Weights That Are Too Heavy
At the other end of the spectrum, according to Holland, many men lift weights that are simply too heavy for them to handle safely. Training with a weight that is too heavy means you'll have to use more momentum to lift it and actually decreases your muscles' "time-under-tension," Holland explains. That will not only dramatically decrease your results, it will also greatly increase the chance of injury. If you find yourself struggling to control your weight during an exercise, you'll get more out of it by slightly reducing your load and slowing down your movement. Using weights that are a little lighter and slowing down your reps will increase this tension and dramatically increase your results. Focus on form and controlling your speed of movement, Holland recommends, as opposed to trying to move the largest amount of weight.
Bad Habit #20: Exercising Dehydrated
Several studies have shown that even mild dehydration, a water loss of about 2 percent, can negatively affect exercise performance, which is why it's so crucial to make sure you are properly hydrated before and during your sweat sessions. According to Olson, to make the most of your workout you should drink at least half a bottle of water (or 8 ounces) about 20-minutes before your workout, and drink a bottle or two (16-32 ounces) in the hours leading up to your workout.
Bad Habit #21: Wearing Worn-Out Duds
If you are regularly logging in time at the gym but can't remember the last time you bought a new sports bra, you could be doing your body a disservice. "Sports bras help to minimize breast discomfort while exercising and also reduce the risk of sagging," says Matthews. Plan on replacing sports bras about every six to nine months, she recommends, as their elasticity will diminish over time. When it comes to sneakers, you'll want to buy a new pair every 350-500 miles (approximately every 3-6 months). Why? According to Matthews, the midsole of the shoe (the part that supports and protects you from impact) can break down over time. Spring is the perfect season to donate well-worn sports bras and sneakers, and get yourself pumped for warm weather workouts by investing in some inspiring new gear.
What Do YOU Think?
Do any of these bad fitness habits sound familiar? Which ones are you guilty of? What other habits didn't make the list? How did you kick your bad habit(s)? Leave a comment below and let us know!