Written by Katie Garrott.

Tired of putting in the effort to exercise and not sure it’s really doing anything for you? Working out should lead to results: stronger, more toned, better cardiorespiratory fitness, improved overall energy. If you desire to see more progress, fix these 4 common exercise mistakes and you’ll start noticing changes soon! 

Mistake 1: Your Exercise Intensity Is Too Low

What if I told you there’s a way to get the benefits of 60 minutes of exercise in just 15 minutes? And you don’t have to purchase some fancy gadget from an infomercial to do it? The solution is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

The science is clear on this one: short, high-intensity bursts are equal to, and typically better than, long steady-state sessions. Most of us barely have the time to workout for 15min, let alone 60min. Yet research shows that to increase fitness or lose weight, we should be working out for an hour 5 times per week. This is the case for steady-state exercise, meaning the entire session is at the same intensity or pace.

So to get the best results and make life easier, ramp up the intensity of your workouts (if you’re generally healthy, always seek medical advice before implementing changes). HIIT generally involves an all-out effort for 30 seconds or up to 1 minute, followed by 1 or more minutes of low intensity movement that allows you to recover. Studies show that doing just 10 to 20 minutes of these intervals leads to superior improvements over steady-state exercise in fitness, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, blood sugar, and body composition.

Mistake 2: Your Body Has Adapted To Your Exercise Routine

Part of our survival mechanism, and what makes us all wise, is that we learn to adapt to our surroundings. Your body does this in response to exercise as well. This is generally a good thing, as it allows us to become stronger and faster. However, it can mean that if you do the same exercise all year, your body becomes efficient at it. Therefore, you will see less improvement in your fitness and body composition.

In one study of seasoned athletes, biological changes in response to new exercise stopped occurring as early as 5 weeks and as late as 15 weeks (in a 52-week study).

Indeed, studies have shown that even if you burn more calories by working out harder, your metabolism can adapt to reduce calorie expenditure during the rest of the day to keep you more net neutral. This is called constrained energy expenditure (ie calorie burn). It’s not as simple as the more you exercise, the more calories you burn. After a certain level of activity, your metabolism slows to protect you from excess weight loss. This is especially true for already lean individuals and those with less muscle.

Therefore, it’s helpful to avoid overtraining, and switch up what you’re doing for exercise every 3 months or so. Been cycling? Try jogging or swimming. Using dumbbells? Try bodyweight or bands, or find a new routine with different exercises. 

Mistake 3: Your Nutrition Is Imbalanced

There are 2 main ways improper nutrition can hold you back: body fat and inflammation. You might be building muscle, but your body fat is too high to reveal that you’re actually getting toned. An unhealthy diet is the top reason for excess body fat. It’s not just healthy food that makes a diet healthy, but rather customizing the types and amounts of food to match your particular body’s needs. The other thing to consider is anti-inflammatory foods. 

Exercise itself creates some inflammation, and you won’t be able to heal and recover well if your body is already constantly inflamed. Instead of rebuilding muscle to be stronger, you’ll feel sore and tired, which means you’ll also not be able to workout as hard at the next session.

Some of the best and easiest to consume anti-inflammatory foods are deeply colored produce (especially berries, citrus, and leafy greens), nuts, olive oil, cocoa, green tea, fatty fish (Alaskan salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines), and herbs and spices such as turmeric and ginger (read more about getting these in your diet here).

Mistake 4: Your Body Isn’t Recovering From Your Exercise

So you’re able to fit in your workout 5 days per week and you are focusing on your nutrition like it’s a part-time job, but you are not seeing the improvements in your fitness levels that you would like.  The one thing we often forget about is what comes AFTER the workout, not just during. A recovery plan is one of the vital components of physical training. I know, recovery seems unnecessary because you are not burning calories from it, but is water unnecessary because it doesn’t have any taste or calories? Of course not! If you are finding yourself too sore, weak, or tired to increase your intensity, consider taking these steps:

  1.  Stretch it out – If you think flexibility is only for the yogis and gymnasts, think again. Stretching immediately after a workout (not before) helps remove the chemical waste by-products of exercise. It also allows you to increase your range of motion, which then allows you to work more muscles more effectively. Finally, it gives most people a relaxed and refreshed feeling that contributes to the mental rewards from fitting in a sweat session.
  2.  Foam roller – Whoever created this Styrofoam cylinder is a genius. Most professional athletes have a regular schedule of sports massages to speed up muscle repair, loosen up kinks created from imperfect form (admit it, you did something that felt weird in your workout last week), and prevent future injuries by increasing mobility. We can get similar benefits by using a foam roller daily. When you find a knot, pause there and take 3 deep breaths to let it release (it hurts so good!). You can look up routines on Youtube to create your own muscle tension relief program at home.
  3.  Rest – This means not doing strength training on the same muscle on consecutive days. It also means taking several days off sometimes to allow your body and mind to recuperate. Decide what you need based on how you feel. If you were planning on strength training but you’re still sore, give those muscles a day or two before you work them again. If you feel run-down or a little under-the-weather, then walk or do light yoga instead.

As with everything in life, we need BALANCE. Incorporating these strategies to fix the common exercise mistakes just might be what you need to reach your potential. Which 1 of the 4 do you need to focus on most? Leave a comment below!

To learn more about Katie’s work as a “health detective” getting to the root causes of fatigue, weight loss resistance, and chronic illness, please visit http://katiegarrott.com/

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