You exercise faithfully, putting in your time at the gym. But you’re not seeing the results you want.
It’s a common complaint, one that probably makes you want to give up.
But don’t throw in the (gym) towel just yet.
The problem may be that although you’re logging hours at the gym, you’re not necessarily making the proper effort.
You may be committing what I call some “fitness cheats.” And you don’t even realize it.
One of these cheats, I’d say, is committed by almost EVERY person I see working out at the gym. Yes, almost every person.
What is it? I’ll tell you later, but first let me share some of the other common fitness cheats that people commit at the gym.
Fitness cheat #1: You play the waiting game
You get to the gym, all set to work out. But there’s a holdup. No treadmills available. So you try to make good use of your time and catch up on emails on your smart phone.
Not a good use of your time at all, I say. You’re at the gym, not the office!
Instead of exercising your fingers on your phone, use the time to amplify your full-body workout. Do some squats, lunges, push-ups and planks.
By the time a machine frees up, you may have torched a few hundred calories. Now THAT’S good use of your time.
Fitness cheat #2: You watch television or read a book
Listen, I’m a working dad of four children. I know the only time I may have to get through the morning paper is while I’m on the treadmill. But if I’m reading, or flipping through television channels, I’m likely not working hard enough.
When doing cardio, you should be working at least at a moderate pace – that means you’re slightly out of breath and couldn’t belt out “I Will Survive” without some trouble.
So put down that book and concentrate on the task at hand.
If you really can’t get through a workout without reading or watching television, put the book aside every three to four minutes and do a high-intensity interval. That means going all out as hard as you can for 20 to 30 seconds (or up to a minute, if you can). Then you can finish your paper while you’re doing an easy interval.
Fitness cheat #3: You spend all your time on cardio machines
A lot of people, particularly women, tend to get cardio happy, spending hours walking on the treadmill or climbing the stair stepper at a moderate pace.
You should absolutely do your cardio. But not at the expense of weight training.
Why is weight training so important? Muscle uses more calories to maintain itself than fat – about three times more. In other words, for every pound of muscle you pack on, you automatically burn more calories. And that’s when you’re not exercising.
Plus muscle takes up less room on your body than fat does, so you’ll look leaner with more muscle.
So do your cardio, but after 30 minutes, hop off the treadmill and do some weight training.
Fitness cheat #4: You get (too!) expert in what you’re doing
Sure, it’s great to be good at what you’re doing. But the body is highly adaptive. What works only works for a short period of time.
So if you’re walking on the treadmill day after day at the same pace, your muscles will soon learn the most efficient way to walk and basically operate on autopilot.
When the body no longer has to work as hard, you’ll expend less energy and burn fewer calories.
The key to seeing results? Give your body new and different challenges all the time. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic. Just spend 30 minutes on the elliptical on a particular day instead of the treadmill. Try the rowing machine another day. Switch up free weights for weight machines. Or try kettle balls for a change.
Anything to shake things up so your body has to “think” and use different muscles.
Switching it up has another benefit too – it keeps you from getting bored.
Fitness cheat #5: You’re holding the handrails
This is the cheat I see most often. People gripping the handrails of the treadmill, the elliptical or the stair stepper within an inch of their lives.
But hanging on so tightly robs you of the biggest calorie burn. Because your arms are stuck to the handrail, you’re not swinging them properly. Plus you’re slouching, so your spine isn’t getting the right support.
Instead of using the handrails, try lowering the incline or slowing your pace so you can keep yourself steady without the sidebars. If you must use the handrails, just place your fingertips on them ever so slightly.
So, are you committing any of these fitness cheats? Or do you know of any other cheats that I haven’t covered? I’d love to hear them.
Dr. Steven Sisskind, M.D.