So January is here! The perfect time to make some New Year’s resolutions. Improving fitness or wanting to lose a few pounds is one of the most common goals at the start of the year.
It has been found that those aged between 25-34 spend on average over £200 in January alone on gym memberships or fitness equipment to have at home.
However as with any new activity, there is a risk of over doing it. Not only can this increase your risk of injury but it also makes it very difficult to maintain for the rest of the year. Drop outs in gym memberships and reduction in participation is very common following the spike in January and we would like to avoid that.
So, here are our top 10 mistakes and how to avoid them.
If you decide to take up a new sport, be mindful of the fact that the body will take time to adapt. If your goal is to start running, make sure you set goals that reflect your experience. If may not be a good idea to sign up to a marathon in April if you haven’t done a park run or a 10k before!
This mistake can be made with any activity or sport and is a huge risk factor for injury. It is worth sitting down and writing out a few key goals to achieve over the next few months.
This is also a chance to see how your training will fit in with the rest of the year; factor in holidays, weddings, busy periods at work etc to make sure you can plan around it to avoid stopping completely.
You can still make an activity very challenging but without the risk of over doing it. Slow and steady wins the race!
VAGUE GOAL SETTING
This follows on from our first point. If you are going to set goals, they want to be SMART. This is a commonly used principle and is an acronym for making goals:
S = Specific
M = Measureable
A = Achievable
R = Realistic
T = Timed
If you write down and document your SMART goals, it means you can set goals which you can tick off and achieve in a realistic time frame. It can also act as a confidence booster, as you will see yourself slowly achieving your goals over time and have a measureable outcome measure to compare as time goes on.
When you start attending a gym or taking up a new sport, it is common for people to just “do it when they can”. This can sometimes lead to inconsistent training – a risk factor for injury and slow progress. You may find yourself doing too much or too little without realising. Your body needs to adapt gradually and safely over time.
Plan your workouts each week so you have an idea of when you can fit it in and you can then make sure it is consistent.
Guilt training is a common theme in January. We all over indulge and probably do less exercise. This is part of the fun and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
When January comes around, try to avoid throwing yourself back into 5 classes a week to try and ‘get back into it’. For most people, this will not be sustainable and may lead to resenting exercise. More importantly, this will overload your body and increase your risk of muscular, tendon and ligament related injuries.
Just pick up your normal routine or if you are a beginner, schedule in 2-3 things a week to begin with and see how you feel.
DOING SOMETHING YOU DON’T ENJOY
This may seem obvious to some, but we commonly see people who engage in exercise which is not enjoyable or suitable to that individual. If you hate spinning and it hurts your knees – the best advice would be to not do it! Or if you hate using the gym and prefer the outdoors, don’t join a gym! Choose something which suits your body type and interests.
Exercise should be seen as a celebration of what our body is capable of. It should not be seen as a chore or a punishment for what we have eaten or drank.
EXERCISING TO SPOT REDUCE YOUR PROBLEM AREAS
“I want to lose my tummy fat”, “I want to lose weight off my arms”.
The list goes on! Whilst the internet has provided us with valuable resources on how to improve fitness and health, one of the most frustrating things to see as a health professional are workout plans to “reduce bingo wings” or “tone up your tummy”.
It is NOT possible to spot reduce fat in one area of the body. It you are aiming to lose weight, it will come off gradually across the whole body and only if you are consistently in a calorie deficit (see next point). Of course, working on your arm muscles will help to tone them up – but the fat that sits over the top of the muscles will take time to burn off and this will go along with the rest of the body.
If people join gyms with this goal in mind, they are likely to be disappointed. Not only does it take time and effort to reduce body fat, it is also likely that the problem areas are the last to lose the fat! The worry here is that people may start to lose motivation or adherence to exercise if they do not see results quickly.
If you are going into this journey with a goal similar to the above – that’s fine. But it is important to know that it will take time and dedication and it is okay not to see results within 4 weeks. Keep going and the rewards will come later!
As the saying goes, “You can’t out train a bad diet”. Whatever your goal is, you need to take into account nutrition.
If you are wanting to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. If you are consuming too many calories relative to the amount you are burning each day, the weight will not come off. It is best to figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which indicates the calories (energy expenditure) you burn each day at relative rest. You can then determine how much weight you want to lose, over what time frame and stick with that.
A good online calculator for this is: https://tdeecalculator.net/. Remember drastically dropping your calories is NOT safe or sustainable and often leads to excessive calories consumption later down the line. You will also find exercising very difficult if you are not eating enough, so be sensible. It may also be worth seeking advice from a registered dietitian, nutritionist or GP if you are unsure how much weight is safe to lose.
If you are not looking to lose weight, it is worth just maintaining a healthy diet with a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. The free App “My Fitness Pal” is a great way to track your diet daily. This will help you to identify any weak areas or times of the day you are prone to snacking.
TRAINING THROUGH PAIN
Pain when exercising is very subjective and it is important to know the difference between “good discomfort” and “pain”. When you start a new activity, it is common to experience DOMs (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness). This is a response to muscles as they adapt to training and usually gets better within a few days of starting something new. It is the result of microscopic injury to the muscle and is all part of adapting to new activities.
It is typically a dull and generalised ache into the muscles you have used and is not normally over a specific point. It does not usually stop you from doing anything and should not affect your daily activities or your sleep. It usually goes along with some comments like “Urgh, I am so stiff and sore from that spinning class”.
If you begin to notice sharp, stabbing or burning pains into your joints when exercising, it may be a sign to stop. If this pain begins to affect your ability to move or affects your daily activities or sleep, it is important to rest and seek some advice from a professional.
If the pain is coupled with bruising, swelling or tenderness to touch the area, it is also a time to get some help.
An injury when exercising does not always mean that you will need to stop. As Physiotherapists, our role is to assess the injury and advise you on how you can modify your training to ensure you can keep exercising but allow time to heal simultaneously. We will always try to make sure you can keep doing something!
OVER COMPLICATING YOUR TRAINING
It is easy to get caught up in New Year’s resolutions and try to do too much in a short space of time. Avoid setting multiple goals that are unrealistic for your lifestyle. Try to stick with activities that are suitable to the time you have and stick with 1-3 key activities. Whilst it is important to mix up strength, cardio and flexibility work, it still needs to be realistic.
For example, it may not be sensible to say you will swim 3 times per week when the pool is a 30 minute drive from where you live and you work long hours. Keep the goals simple and achievable, using the SMART principle.
NOT KNOWING YOUR “WHY”
Before you embark on a new fitness journey, it is important to establish your “why”. This may sound a little cheesy but many people go into exercise for all the wrong reasons.
Do you want to be stronger so you can do more with your children? Do you want to prove to yourself you can swim a mile? Do you want to lose weight to improve your confidence? Whatever your reason is, it needs to come from you.
Being told to lose weight or exercise is something that may not resonate with you personally. Try to list a few reasons why you want to start exercising and what it is that you hope to achieve. This will make the whole process more enjoyable and improve adherence and progress!