Has the onset of spring made you hot-foot it into your local health club in a desperate attempt to acquire a physique to rival Jennifer Aniston's? If so, slow down a moment. Anyone who steps into the gym for the first time, even if returning after a leave of absence, needs to take precautions and train with focus, care and attention. Here is a list of the top six fitness mistakes beginners tend to make. So, to be safe do not:
1. Dismiss your Induction
Do not snub your complimentary gym induction. Your assigned instructor will want to demonstrate the equipment he or she thinks you should be using (and you ought to take on board at least some of the advice) but to avoid being left with a series of exercises you are just not into, speak up and tell them your preferences and ask questions. That way after an hour you will be left with a specialised, comprehensive programme tailored to your chosen apparatus.
2. Lift too much or too little
Loading a machine with too much weight will increase your risk of injury. Torn muscles, long term back problems and even broken bones can result. If you cannot complete a set of five repetitions with your chosen kilos you are lifting too much. On the other hand if you can perform 12 repetitions with minimal effort, the weights are too light. Muscle development only occurs if the exercise is challenging to the body.
3. Avoid mirrors
Catching sight of yourself in Lycra may be a frightening prospect, but avoiding your reflection as you perform exercises has a far more alarming consequence. For gym virgins a mirror is a prerequisite. You need to see that you have mastered the correct technique for every exercise you wish to execute.
Bad technique means muscle imbalances (where a muscle or group of muscles have to overcompensate for opposing weaker ones) which triggers aches, pains and postural problems.
4. Rush strength training sets
Rushing your weights routine means you are using momentum not strength to lift and will not give a good result. Repetitions need to be carried out in a slow and controlled manner to ensure that your muscles are doing the work. Count two seconds while lifting and two seconds whilst lowering.
5. Think in minutes not miles
Stop running on the treadmill for an amount of time which feels about right. By repeating a half-hour cardio session on the treadmill, you will never know whether you are improving and you are unlikely to push yourself.
Concentrate on distance and you can monitor your progress. Always punch in miles, not minutes. Once completed, make a note of how long it took, then try and better it next time. Not only does it bring out your competitive streak but you will be abiding by the fundamental principle of fitness - progressive overload. By slowly increasing the overall intensity of your workout, your body will adapt.
6. Skip stretching
Did you know that touching your toes is just as important as being able to run a marathon? Why? Well stretching (or lengthening the muscles), keeps your body flexible and flexibility (how far we can bend, turn and reach) reduces the risk of injuries, keeps muscles balanced, improves performance and prevents tight and sore muscles. Flexibility also plays an important role in later life when the body begins to lose it suppleness. You can get away without stretching before the main component of your workout (as long as you warm-up properly with mobility exercises such as shoulder rolls, spine twists and walking) but you must stretch afterwards. Always stretch all the major muscle groups and only stretch to the point of tension.