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The Top 20 Fitness Mistakes Beginners Make

Don't let exercise errors stand in your way

Strength-Training Slipups continued...

7. Giving your abs a free ride. Many people do crunches or abdominal machine workouts without ever toning their abdomens. The problem is that they're using the upper torso, neck, and head to do the work.

"Do mindful exercise," says Pillarella. "The contraction should be from the ribcage to the hip bone. Put your mind into the muscles that are working, and keep all the other muscles quiet."

8. Doing lackluster lat pull-downs. On this machine, you're seated with a bar overhead. Some people stick their heads forward and pull the bar down behind their heads. But doing it this way could injure your spine or neck -- and your back won't get that coveted "V" look.

Instead, "pull the bar down in front of your shoulders and chest, and put your mind into muscle contractions in your back," says Pillarella.

9. Using maladjusted machines. Weight machines are made for people of all shapes and sizes. You must adjust them to fit if you want to get results and avoid injury.

For example, using an improperly set leg-extension machine puts stress on your knees, says Mark Kasper, EdD, a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. "Another problem with improperly adjusted machines is that you don't work your muscles through the full range of motion," he says.

Have a qualified trainer show you the proper settings for your physique, and write them down on a card that you carry to the gym.

Flexibility Flubs

10. Stretching cold muscles. Stretching before your workout puts you at risk for pulled or torn muscles. "Always stretch at the end of your workout," says Pillarella.

11. Bouncing. Bouncing during a stretch can increase your risk of straining or pulling muscles, Pillarella says. Instead, "hold a static stretch with no movement at the joints. Your body should feel lengthened but not to the point of pain."

Routine Maintenance

12. Forgetting about fun. "If you're bored with your routine, and your treadmill has faced the washer since 1980, how much fun is that?" says Isphording, "I'd never want to do your workout, either. ? And why do we call it a workout? It should be a playout."

Exercise with your friends or family, just as you go to movies or dinner with people. "Unless we reframe it in our minds, it will never be fun," Isphording says.

13. Doing outdated exercises. Still doing the exercises you learned in high school, like windmills and leg lifts? Some of these oldies are a waste of time; others can cause injury. Take an exercise class or work with a personal trainer to freshen your routine.

14. Getting stuck in a rut. What's wrong with doing the same exercise routine, day in and day out? "You're working the same muscles, going at the same speed, and once you get in shape you no longer breathe heavily," says Isphording. "The muscles become very efficient. They expend less energy, and you burn fewer calories."

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