Unless you have hundreds of dollars to shell out for a personal trainer (um, no), figuring out what to do at the gym can feel insanely overwhelming.
You’re standing there wondering WTF a BOSU ball is—only to reach for the two-kilos for some lackluster bicep curls once again. Even too many days of HIIT in a row can be a real problem. So in the name of finally helping you see serious results, make sure you’re not falling prey to these five common mistakes.
Beast mode is your only mode
If you’re a HIIT junkie, it can be easy to feel like a day off (or even a low-key 30 minutes on the bike) is a day wasted. But rest days are when your muscles actually grow stronger and your stress hormones, which become elevated during exercise, have time to chill out, says exercise scientist Erica Suter. “When it comes to getting stronger and building a great physique, recovery days are like gold,” she says.
The amount of rest you need will depend on three things: the intensity of your workouts, your ability level, and your goals, says trainer Heidi Powell. If you’re doing CrossFit or other HIIT workouts, don’t be afraid to take a day—or even two!—off between sessions to let your muscles rebuild and repair. Workouts that don’t do as much damage to your body, like yoga, require less rest. “You really do need to listen to your body,” Powell says.
You haven’t gotten around to breaking up with light dumbbells
If you have a longstanding relationship with light weights, you’re probably holding yourself back. “A lot of women tend to underestimate how much they can lift,” says Suter. Going heavy will help you burn more kJs at rest and can give you more bang for your buck, she says.
To get going, aim to master two or three lifts that work your entire body, whether that’s a really solid squat (here’s how to get started) or a deadlift with perfect form (try this one first). Bonus: You won’t have to waste your time doing a bunch of crunches at the end of your workout, since these lifts work your whole body, including your core.
Your idea of post-workout fuel is a bottomless mimosa brunch
We’re all for those treat yo’self moments. But adopting the mindset that if you work out, you’ve earned two (or four) boozy drinks afterwards can seriously slow down your results, says Suter. “In reality, post workout is the most important time to fuel our bodies, without a doubt,” says Powell, but it’s all about eating the right stuff.
Having a shake or a small meal high in protein and healthy carbs will support muscle growth and recovery, so you can build the body you want and feel good when it’s time to exercise the next day, she says. “That way you’re not undoing what you just did in the gym, you’re actually solidifying it.”
You’re a creature of habit
Your go-to workout could be the reason you’re stuck in a results rut. If you’re always doing the same routine, your body knows what to expect, which could limit caloric burn, says trainer Cris Dobrosielski. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day, but if you do the same thing in the same order all the time, the body gets used to it,” he says.
Instead, switch it up from time to time. If you normally do core work after your workout, try doing those exercises at the beginning of your workout (when you’re fresh) instead. If you always stick to the treadmill, try hopping on a spin bike, or vary the intensity with some intervals, he recommends.
You’re trying to force yourself to like running (or yoga, or HIIT, or spinning)
Believe it or not, it’s actually OK if you don’t like the “latest, greatest” workout. As with most things in life, if you’re doing it just to fit in or keep up, you’ll just end up miserable. “A lot of women are like ‘I’m going to do HIIT because that’s what everyone else is doing, but I freaking hate HIIT,” says Suter. “Do the workouts that you love and breathe life into you. That’s more sustainable than just working out…just to work out.”