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Fitness Friday: The most common gym mistakes

November 09, 2012

The problem with learning to play golf is that there are so many nuances, and the rules are so in depth, it's impossible to show up at a golf course for the first time and not feel like you're about to do EVERYTHING wrong and embarrass yourself. It's paralyzing and it often makes newbies tread very lightly when they tee off. For some reason, the gym doesn't evoke that same kind of intimidation. Newcomers seem to have no concern about improperly using equipment or performing movements that can lead to injury.

With that in mind, if you're about to start working out, or if you have been in the gym for a while but never really had any instruction about what to do, here are some common mistakes the top people in fitness see every day:

1. STAYING IN YOUR COMFORT ZONE: Whether it's two people walking and talking on a treadmill, or a woman spending the majority of her workout in yoga poses, or a 250-pound man finishing his sixth set of decline bench presses, the mistake is the same: They are staying with exercises they are comfortable doing, says Randy Myers, PGA Tour fitness trainer. It's like going to the range and hitting wedge shots all day because you're good at it. But when it comes time to hit a 5-iron, you're lost. If you're inherently flexible, work on strength training. And if you're inherently strong, work on mobility. If you're not sure how to perform an exercise that you know you need, ask a certified trainer. But don't shy away from exercises or gym equipment simply because you're not used to doing it.


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2. WARMING UP IMPROPERLY OR NOT AT ALL: Ever hear something alarming, suddenly turn your head and hurt your neck? Chances are it's because you called upon a muscle to do something it wasn't primed to do. World-class trainer Mark Verstegen says you have to prepare your muscles for the strenuous activity associated with working out. He calls it "movement prep," and that doesn't mean long-hold stretching. It's basically a series of movements and exercises where resistance is limited to body weight or, at the most, some elastic bands or tubing. An example would be doing an inverted hamstring stretch before deadlifting.

3. CAMPING OUT ON CARDIO EQUIPMENT: Extended cardio sessions fall into the law-of-diminishing-returns category. The more you do it, the more your body adapts and the less it benefits. If you like to use cardio machines, then use them to warm up your body for a strength-training circuit, or use them as part of an interval-training routine. Simply put, interval training are sets of exercises that combine alternating periods of intense activity and rest.

4. DOING A MACHINE CIRCUIT: Ben Shear, one of the most respected trainers in golf, is a proponent of improving the body's ability to stabilize itself in order to improve range of motion. If the body isn't stable, then it can't be mobile. When you focus your workout on cable/pulley or plate-loaded machines you see all over a commercial gym, you're not training your body to stabilize itself. The machine does that for you. An example would be one of the most popular machines in the gym -- the Smith machine. This allows users to perform barbell squats on a track. The body doesn't have to work nearly as hard to stabilize itself when compared to squatting with free weights. This lack of stability training can come back to haunt you when it's time to squat down and pick up something heavy. There are some exceptions when it comes to gym machines. A cable machine that simulates assisted pull-ups and chin-ups (a "lat" machine) is OK, but it's still no substitute for actual pull-ups and chin-ups.

5. POOR TECHNIQUE: There are dozens of examples of ways gym-goers get hurt by simply doing an exercise incorrectly, or worse, trying to copy an exercise they've seen on TV or in another gym. One of the all-time worst is any abdomen exercise that requires the top of your spinal cord (cervical spine) to compress beyond its limits. Crunches are a great example of this type of dangerous exercise. Another example is any exercise that involves ballistic or bouncy movements, says PGA Tour trainer Dave Herman. Try not to rock your body to gain momentum in order to lift a heavy weight.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor for Golf Digest