There’s nothing worse than diligently committing to your workout routine only to see . . . zero results. Maybe you’re showing up to the gym day-in and day-out, or pushing your body to its max every single time, only to wonder why you’re not feeling stronger or constantly suffering from a tweaked muscle. So what gives? Well, it probably comes down to bad habits.
You already know some of the good habits related to a successful fitness plan: exercising consistently, eating healthy foods, drinking water, and so on. Conversely, bad habits waste your time and energy, and lead to poor training and minimal recovery. Here are the five bad habits that are ruining your workout and may be contributing to a plateau. Plus, what you can do to curb those bad habits.
1. Lack of Sleep
If you’re waking up at 5 a.m. every single morning, then just make sure you’re actually getting eight hours of sleep every night to accommodate for the early wake-up call. Reduced sleep on a regular basis contributes to feelings of tiredness, irritability, stress, and even depression. Lack of sleep can also increase your appetite. If you’re not necessarily working out enough to burn extra calories, you could experience creeping weight gain despite your best efforts to stick to your diet.
“For proper rest and recovery, our bodies need eight hours of sleep each night,” says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “When we receive less than this, our bodies go into fight or flight mode. Our cortisol levels increase, which leads to an imbalance of stress hormones. This can create further problems, such as slowed metabolism, resulting in thyroid malfunction and adrenal fatigue. Ensure that you’re getting eight hours of sleep each night to prevent health issues.
2. Lifting Too Much Weight
We’ve all been there: the moment you explore a new strength workout and decide today’s the day you’re going to go for the ten or 20 pound weight. But, maybe once you get moving, you realize you completely overshot. Best case scenario? You end up with super sore muscles. Worse case? Research shows pushing yourself too hard and not giving your body enough time to recover, can lead to fatigue, loss of muscle, and injury.
Chase suggests starting with lightweight dumbbells or a lightweight barbell when it comes to strength exercises. Then move to moderate weight amounts in a slow and controlled fashion. “I see a lot of people who lift heavier than they can handle,” she notes. “But, you should only increase weight once you’ve reached a plateau with the current weights you’re using. For instance, if you’re using ten pound dumbbells, yet you find it challenging to do a dumbbell curl, then reduce the weight, or only do five reps versus trying to get in ten Do not push yourself to injury.”
The same is true for going too hard, too soon, in general. If you’re brand new to exercising, or haven’t worked out in a couple weeks, it’s probably better to ease into your fitness goals to avoid risk of injury. Build up to where you want to be.
3. Poor Nutrition
“When you’re not eating whole foods, your workouts will not be as beneficial,” says Chase. “If you’re eating simple carbs, processed foods, (i.e., sugar, sugar, sugar), then you’ll be working out harder, yet not seeing much improvement in the way you look and feel.”
Chase suggests eating whole foods, such as vegetables, protein, fruits, and grains, to see improvements in muscle tone, growth, and strength. Eating healthy can help you avoid unnecessary weight gain, feelings of sluggishness, and even mood swings. When you feel your best, you can give your utmost effort to workouts.
Additionally, eating too few calories should be avoided. When your body is low on fuel, it conserves energy by taking your metabolism down a notch. Be mindful of the timing of your food choices, too. Eating a big meal too close to your workout may cause you to experience cramps or nausea. A well-balanced diet with whole foods, minimal refined products, and a good mix of carbs, protein, and fat is key.
4. Improper Form
Most people ignore the merits of good form, due to a general lack of knowledge, a sense of ego, feeling rushed during a workout, or wanting to appear capable. Improper form is one of the top habits that will wreck your exercise plan faster than you can do a burpee.
“I see way too many people doing exercises with improper form,” explains Chase. “You’re only setting yourself up for injury—maybe not today, but over time. If you continue with the wrong form, your body will break down and you will injure yourself. Therefore, if you are unsure of how to do a certain exercise, make sure you ask a professional for assistance or check out a ‘how-to’ online.”
Chances are high you’re already using your phone (and Aaptiv!) to work out, so there’s no reason to avoid educating yourself on form while doing a particular exercise. It’s more than okay to ask someone for help, and completing a full range of motion with each movement allows you to burn more calories and build more muscle.
5. Always Doing the Same Workout
We know what we like, and we like what we know, right? While reaching for your favorite moves or targeting the same body parts with every workout might be enticing, experts say it’s not the route to optimal fitness gains.
“Being consistently active is great because it keeps you healthy,” says Chase. “However, if you are doing the same exercise over and over again, your muscles will at some point hit a plateau and you will no longer see improvements.”
Let’s say you prefer arm exercises, like dumbbell curls. If you always speed through ten reps, then you may not be executing with ideal form each time. And if you’re able to move quickly with weight-bearing exercises as a whole, it may mean you’re not even using enough weight in the first place. Instead, Chase would prefer to see slow, controlled movements to engage the biceps with a move like dumbbell curls.
“You can use your own muscle resistance to provide added weight to exercises,” she adds. “You do not necessarily have to actually use heavier weights. Once you’ve perfected an exercise, then do one of two things: Add or increase weight to re-introduce a challenge to your muscles or add variation to the exercise. If you’re doing a typical dumbbell curl, add variety by doing hammer curls or rotating your forearms out to the sides with each curl. To see change for our bodies, we must confuse our muscles by changing up the exercises we do.”
Other signals you need to change it up? Wandering around the gym aimlessly, checking your phone a million times, resting too long between sets, doing too much cardio, skipping strength-training exercises—all serve as indicators that you’re not fully engaged in the present moment with your workout, which is an opportunity to reevaluate.
You spend so much time, energy, and even money on fitness, so make sure you’re sticking to good habits to make every workout count.