The five fitness mistakes to avoid

The five fitness mistakes to avoid making this January Alex Hunter speaks to Jessica Carpani of The Telegraph, 3rd Jan 2019

The life-cycle of a new gym member undoubtedly begins in January with newcomers spurred on by the opportunity of a new year, the pressure of festive indulgences and the resolutions they made to themselves going forward. Where it ends is entirely up to the individual but it is widely expected that most people will have cancelled their memberships and deleted their apps before the turn of the third month.

With 7000 gyms in the U.K to choose from plus a whole world of accessible fitness training from budget gyms such as PureGym to wearable tech, fitness apps and home workouts it’s easy to make a drastic overnight change to your fitness regime. However, there are a few mistakes that could be costly.

Injuries in January are rife, says Alex Hunter, Consultant Physiotherapist at Six Physio Fleet St. ‘ You tend to get more tendon injuries especially if you’re on the other side of 30,’ he says. ‘Impact exercises like running or classes that involve jumping up and down have a higher risk of injury rather than sitting on the bike.

‘The other thing is people start training for the London marathon in January and if they’ve not run much before, they get to six weeks in and their body just can’t handle it.’

Max Lowry personal trainer and creator of the 2 Meal Day plan, says it’s your lower back and knees that you want to be careful with. ‘People jump into doing intense exercise but if they’ve been sitting down at a desk for the last 10 years and their muscles aren’t working the way that they used to, then their knees and back will take all of the strain rather than their leg muscles.’

So, if you want to make it to next year’s January intake without quitting, injuring yourself or simply not seeing any results it’s worth keeping these five mistakes in mind.

1. Not having a realistic goal

Perhaps your 2018 goal is to make to the top of Kilimanjaro, to the end of the marathon or trading in your ‘dad bod’ for something more akin to Gerard Butler in 300. Whatever the goal, be realistic about when you’re going to achieve it (probably not by the third week of January).

‘People will say I want to exercise four times a week at this intensity but have probably not done that for a significant amount of time and then their bodies break down because the exercise they’re doing is too intense, whether that is the speed that they’re running, the weights they’re lifting or the lengths they’re swimming,’ says Hunter.  

Hunter suggests staggering your intensity, to ease yourself into it. ‘Write down what your ideal exercise frequency would be, for example, it could be two gym sessions and two running sessions a week. If you’ve not exercised for a while, then take four weeks or month to get to that point. So actually your first week in February would be when you hit your first goal and January will be preparing for that.’

Practically, this might mean if you’re looking to lift 50 kilos at the gym, then starting with 30 then going to 40 and finally, 50. ‘Equally, if you’re doing sprinting sessions up a hill then do one run at 50% intensity, then at 60% intensity and so on till you’re giving it 100%. You always want to be warming into your activity,’ says Hunter, adding that it’s important not to do any exercise cold as that is when ‘something will go ping.’

As a personal trainer, Lowery finds the number one mistake people make is biting off more than they can chew. ‘Going from zero exercise to joining a gym where they encourage you to do seven HIIT classes in seven days is just going to shock your body in lots of different ways and it’s going to make you associate exercise with feeling awful. When done properly it should make you feel good.

‘You’ve got to find something that is sustainable long-term and doing that isn’t sustainable,’ says Lowry who stresses that your mental health has to be in tune with your physical routine, or exercise can quickly feel like a chore. ‘The key to long-lasting results is making small changes over a long period of time but those aren’t very exciting, people think they need to do extreme things which they don’t necessarily.’

Hunter agrees, adding that it’s okay to take longer to get to a goal. ‘If you haven’t done exercise in a while it might take you three months to get to where you want to.’

2. Ignoring rest days

Ploughing on might feel productive but if you’re not giving your body a break it won’t have the time it needs to rebuild its muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue.

‘Your rest is when you actually get fitter, faster and stronger,’ says Lowry, ‘but if you don’t allow yourself that rest then you’re going to potentially overtrain which can cause problems with sleep, as it stresses your body out making you more likely to put on weight.’   

Not getting enough sleep has correlated with people, on the whole, having a higher BMI (body mass index) and can result in insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.

Rest days, despite the misleading nature of the name, are encouraged to be active. Whilst you’re not doing intense training you are still moving and stretching, doing a class like yoga helps to facilitate rest whilst keeping you active.

Alternatively, you can try switching up your activities leaving 48 hours between each rotation. ‘If I went on a run on Monday then I wouldn’t run until Wednesday,’ says Hunter. ‘Instead, I could go to the gym and lift some weights on a Tuesday, as it’s not the same thing over and over again.’

3. Not changing your diet

We’ve all been there, determined that this will be the year we’ll fit back into those summer shorts, lose the extra roll from around our stomachs and wave goodbye to our ‘bingo wings’ in favour of a toned Michelle Obama bicep. But when results aren’t instantaneous or correlating to the amount of work you’re putting in, it’s easy to feel disheartened and give up with a sigh, ‘till next January’.

The most common mistake for people who simply aren’t seeing results, says Hunter, is that that they throw themselves into exercise without changing their diet.

‘You have to remember that you can lose weight without exercising and eating well but you can’t lose weight by exercising and not changing your diet,’ he says. Weight loss, he adds is 70% diet and 30% exercise.

Lowry is a huge advocate for a healthy diet, creating The 2 Meal Day Intermittent Fasting Plan for weight loss and muscle gain. The plan, which by skipping a meal, means you end up fasting for 16 hours, retrains your body to burn stored body fat for energy rather than being dependent on sugars from food.

‘If you want to lose weight then you should focus on your diet. Once you have the mindset that exercise is not a very good weight loss tool then you can start to properly enjoy the process of exercise while focusing on extending your overnight fast which can have profound benefits. It doesn’t even have to be 16 hours but just not eating past 8 pm makes a big difference. Experimenting with not eating as soon as you wake up is also great as it gives you a 12-hour gap in between meals.’

4. Training like you did twenty years ago

‘Older and younger people can achieve the same things but older people have got to work harder to do it,’ says Hunter. Admitting to yourself that you’re not the same cross-country runner you were back in school might be hard but it doesn’t have to hold you back. ‘When you’re 21 you could run out the door and do 10K but when you’re 40, you’ve probably got to spend 20 minutes doing mobility work and then you can do the same run but you’ve got to spend more time earning the right to do it.’

Lowry agrees. ‘If you want a tip in regards to exercise if you haven’t done it for a long time then it’s definitely to work on your flexibility and mobility first.’

‘Older and younger people can achieve the same things but older people have got to work harder to do it CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

‘A mistake that people make is thinking that HIIT training is the only form of training out there when in actual fact most people who haven’t done any exercise in a long time and who have been sitting down at their desks for a long time would be far better off doing yoga or flexibility and mobility work first, building up their strength. Once they’ve got that they can start thinking about doing HIIT Training.

‘Doing stuff before you exercise so mobility work and stretching of the upper back and stretching the hips is hugely beneficial,’ says Hunter adding that you’re more likely to injure yourself the older you get with thirty tending to be the age where our bodies start to slow down.

5. Not having any variety

A common error made by people both with experience or coming to exercise as a beginner is not having enough variety in their exercise regime. ‘People do just do one type of exercise and eventually they run into problems,’ says Hunter.   

Utilised correctly, variety can work hand in hand with rest days. ‘If you’re really keen you could train seven days a week and rotate it between three different varieties and be fine but if you try to run seven days a week you’d fall apart.

‘You want to do cardiovascular training so running, cycling or swimming. Then, strength training which could be lifting weights or doing a bodypump class and finally, you’ll want to do mobility work such as yoga, pilates or stretching.

Whilst this all works towards a healthy and happy 2018, Lowry is conscious that everyone should take it at their own pace. ‘Don’t try to do too many different things at once. So many people decide that they’re going to exercise seven times a week, cut out carbohydrates, quit alcohol and do all these things at the same time. Your body is going to be like what on earth is going on? And you’re going to feel terrible.’

Whether you’re new to the class or a seasoned athlete, now is a good time to take pause and think about your fitness. Whilst the New Year offers the opportunity of a clean slate, achieving your fitness goals this year is about so much more than punishing your body for what you did in December.

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