(Sports Trainer/ Exercise Physiologist at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre)
About the author : Yuyan is a Sports Trainer and Exercise Physiologist in the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre (SSMC). She works with athletes to improve their sports performance and also assists people who are undergoing rehabilitation and weight loss programmes.
Work It Right – 8 Common Gym Mistakes To Avoid
Hitting the gym is getting more popular these days, but work out the wrong way and you could undermine the effectiveness of your workouts, or even injure yourself. Here are eight points to note:
1. DID YOU WARM UP AND COOL DOWN?
Warming up before exercising is an important transitional phase to increase your body temperature. This allows the body to adjust to the changing demands imposed during the exercise session and decreases the potential for muscle soreness following exercises. Heart rate and blood pressure tend to be higher following exercises and metabolic end products are produced from the muscles used during the workout. Not only does cooling down allow a gradual recovery of heart rate and blood pressure to normal, it enables the muscles to contract and assists the heart in clearing out ‘waste products’ in the body system produced from exercise. Both warm up and cool down are typically done at a minimum of 5–10 minutes between low to moderate intensity.
2. IS YOUR FORM AND TECHNIQUE CORRECT?
Exercising with poor form and technique is both ineffective and potentially dangerous. You may not notice the effect, but over time, poor form or technique can result in injuries. Always progress gradually and execute the exercises through the full range of motion for maximum muscular development. If your form is compromised, reduce the weight and practice the correct exercise movement before progressing. Even something as seemingly simple as using a jogging machine can benefit from advice and instruction.
3. ARE YOU USING THE CORRECT WEIGHTS?
Many enthusiastic folks tend to try lifting weights that are too heavy for them, with the misconception that “the heavier, the better”. It all depends on your training goals – are you training for muscle size (‘bulking’) or for strength? If your goal is to increase muscle size, you actually should go lighter on the weights but with more repetitions. If it’s for muscle strength, this is usually around 80% of 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM) or greater, with fewer repetitions. 1RM in weight training is the maximum amount of force that can be generated in one maximal contraction. If you are unsure about how to calculate your RM, consult a gym trainer or sports trainer.
4. ARE YOU RESTING IN BETWEEN SETS?
Research has shown that both acute responses and chronic adaptations to resistance training are affected by the rest interval between sets. However, many often overlook this, using durations that are either too long or too short. For an effective, efficient and safe workout in resistance exercise prescription, it is vital to understand the interaction among training variables such as intensity, number of sets and repetitions, mode of exercise, the speed of performing an exercise and the optimal rest interval between sets. Depending on your training goal, a combination of moderate-intensity sets with shorter rest intervals of 30–60 seconds will be good for muscle hypertrophy (building muscle size), while longer rest intervals of 3–5 minutes with high-intensity sets will be appropriate for strength training.
5. DID YOU NEGLECT TRAINING YOUR CORE AND FLEXIBILITY?
Many day-to-day tasks – from picking up items to walking and running up and down the stairs – involve core muscles. The core comprises muscle groups such as the transversus abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor and diaphragm, running generally from your rear end to your shoulders. Having strong core stability helps protect the spine and surrounding musculature during static and dynamic movements, thus lowering the risk of injury. Movements such as pushups, overhead squats and deadlifts are functional exercises that involve the core. It is important to engage your core and maintain a neutral spine position while performing these exercises.
Following exercise or physical inactivity, muscles may become tight and stiff. Muscle tightness can limit the joint range of motion which affects your exercise performance and increases the risk of injury. So keep your muscles flexible by doing stretching exercises at least 2–3 times a week, for at least 10 minutes each time. Each stretch should last between 20–30 seconds to maintain or improve flexibility.
6. DO YOU GET SUFFICIENT REST AND RECOVERY? ARE YOU OVERTRAINING?
While it is good to stay active, we must balance it out with adequate rest as well. If there is insufficient rest and recovery from exercise, body regeneration cannot take place and over time, performance may deteriorate as a result of ‘overtraining’. The impact of overtraining can be serious, requiring weeks, even months to recover. Some signs and symptoms of overtraining include a decline in physical performance, insomnia, emotional instability, an elevated heart rate and elevated blood pressure. To prevent overtraining, avoid monotonous training and vary your training with mandatory rest phases. Keep a training log to monitor your progress, noting down items such as the distance, intensity, volume and level fatigue. Significant changes in any of these could signal overtraining.
7. ARE YOU REPEATING THE SAME EXERCISES?
Just as our brain needs to be stimulated to prevent boredom, the same applies to muscles as well. If we keep performing an exercise in the same manner for long periods of time, this can lead to ‘staleness’ of exercise, and affect performance. Try to mix things up by playing with the exercise order, type of exercise and/or intensity during your workout to prevent staleness.
8. LADIES – ARE YOU AVOIDING RESISTANCE TRAINING?
There are many benefits gained from doing resistance training. However, most women fear developing bulky muscles so many of them do not use enough weight during resistance training, or worse exclude weight training from their exercise regime altogether! This is a common misconception. A woman would have to do a lot of such exercise and eat a lot for her to become a ‘She-Hulk’! A complete exercise programme for ladies should include some form of resistance training and this maintenance of muscle mass becomes especially important as women get older.