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10 of the Biggest Mistakes People Make when Getting (back) into Working Out

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

June 13, 2020


Did you find yourself getting a little (or a lot) out of shape during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders?  Don’t worry, you’re not alone: Have you heard of the Quarantine 15?  Or, maybe you’re an athlete who has been benched because of the virus?  No matter what your reason for not being as active as you’d like, the great summer weather, easing of stay-at-home restrictions and a renewed focus on health has many of us ready to get active again.



If we’re talking about you, Congrats! The first step to conditioning your body is making the commitment.


Now, you might be concerned about injuring yourself. I mean, you want to improve your health and not hinder it by starting to exercise (again). To help support you, we have identified the 10 biggest mistakes people make when getting (back) into shape and how you can overcome them so your mind, body, and your sport, can flourish.


Mistake #1: Neglecting to address your mindset

What you say to yourself (your thoughts) has a direct impact on what you do. And your mindset has a significant impact on the success (or lack thereof) of an exercise program.


An all-or-nothing mindset can cause problems. For example, a belief such as “I have to run in order to lose weight; walking won’t cut it,” or “my lacrosse shots should be as fast and hard as they used to be” could cause injury if your body is not ready for that impact. 


Setting unrealistic goals in your mind can lead to injury. If your goal is to lose five pounds in a week for example (not a healthy target), you may push yourself too hard.


Be patient and perseverant. Remind yourself of the short-term benefits getting active again can include: less stress, more energy, better sleep at night and doing something positive for your body. Longer-term benefits can include a healthier body, greater confidence and improved athletic ability.



Mistake #2: Only focusing on the main event

In addition to working out, make sure to include a helpful warm up and cool down. Over 30% of injuries seen in sports medicine clinics are musculoskeletal injuries, which can often be prevented with a smart warmup and cool down.


The warmup helps prepare your muscles, heart and lungs so your body is better able to work out safely. Steadily increase your activity (such as walking or riding a bike) and use dynamic stretching to increase blood flow, warm up your muscles and get your body ready for physical activity.


In the cool down, focus on bringing your heart rate down in a controlled manner and elongating your muscles. In addition to decreasing the intensity of your movements, now is a great time to stretch.


Static stretches, when you hold a stretch for 30 seconds, are best during your cool down when your muscles are nice and warm. Think of your muscles as being like a piece of pasta. If you take a piece of spaghetti out of the box and bend it, the pasta will likely break. However, if you try to maneuver it after it has been cooked, there is much more flexibility. Static stretching can help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).



Mistake #3: Ignoring balance training

Overall, our balance decreases as we age. And previous injuries can lead to reduced balance. Think of people who are chronically spraining their ankles. It is not “weak ankles” but rather an impaired proprioception. 


Proprioception refers to knowing where your body is in space without looking. It is vital in our everyday functioning, such as when you walk on an unexpectedly unstable ground. Luckily it can be trained.


Mistake #4: You start by going for a run

If you have not worked out for a while, starting with a high impact exercise such as running can lead to injury. Instead, start with lower impact exercises, such as walking, biking or resistance training.


People often focus on workouts that address cardiovascular fitness and neglect other types of exercises. Resistance training (such as lifting weights or using your body for resistance) is vital to a healthy body. We begin to lose muscle tone around the age of 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended adults ages 10 to 64 need two or more days of resistance training each week. What more, because muscle mass increases metabolism, resistance training is a great way to lose fat, if that is your goal. If the goal is to lose weight, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) with resistance training is your best option.



Mistake #5: You use poor form

Using proper form is a key component of smart training. If you are starting an exercise program, invest in proper instruction when you start. This could mean a personal trainer, tennis pro or certified exercise instructor, depending on your chosen activity. They will help you use the proper technique to not only reduce the likelihood of injury but also enhance the effectiveness of your efforts.


Common form-funks include:

  • Using momentum: Swinging weights (unless it is a kettle bell workout) can strengthen momentum over muscles, which decreases the effectiveness of your workout. Instead, use slow, controlled movements when doing resistance training.
  • Faulty squats: Make sure your knees do not go over your toes.
  • Backwards lat pull down: Pulling the bar behind your head can lead to neck strain. Instead, bring to bar in front of you, to touch your chest.
  • Leaning: When using a cardio machine, excessively leaning on your hands and body weight decreases the value of your exercise and may lead to injury by putting unwanted stress on your wrists and elbows. If you find that you need extra support, consider slowing down or decreasing the resistance a bit.



Mistake #6: You subscribe to the old adage “No pain, no gain”

Pushing yourself too hard is a great way to get hurt. A mentality of “I need to make up for lost time” can lead to exhaustion and injury. If you have led a rather sedentary lifestyle, try alternating one day on and one day off until your body is more accustomed to exercising.


Listen to your body. Realize that there is a difference between pain and muscles working. Yes, you may feel soreness, but acute pain is a signal that something is not right. If you experience pain, stop what you are doing. And If you are injured, get the treatment you need and give that part of your body time to heal


While “No pain, no gain,” is not a helpful model, “No train, No gain” is a reminder that you need to exercise to get the benefits.


And keep in mind the importance of rest. It is actually during the rest phase that muscles build. So avoid strength training for the same muscles two days in a row. What’s more, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. Quality sleep for 6-8 hours helps facilitate recovery and muscle growth. When we don’t get enough sleep, hormones in our body can be disrupted leading to weight gain, which may counter the effort you are putting in during your exercise routine



Mistake #7: Not having the right gear

While you do not need to spend a lot of money for fancy exercise clothing, make sure that you have the necessary gear for you to work out safely. For example, shoes are extremely important for exercise safety. The right shoe for you depends on what you are doing as well as the anatomy of your foot. If you tend to pronate (have “flat feet”), for example, you want to make sure your shoe offers quality arch support.


Mistake #8: Choosing the wrong workout for you

There are countless ways to exercise, so make sure what you choose works for you. Make sure you consider aspects such as:

  • What makes sense for your body: If you have a history of knee issues, then high impact exercises (such as running) may not be your best option.


  • Mix it up: Doing the same workout day in and day out can not only lead to injury from overuse but can also decrease the benefits you are getting from your exercise program. “Adaptation” refers to the increased efficiency your body achieves when doing the same thing over and over. This can be extremely helpful when it comes to sports performance (think of a basketball player practicing free throws) but does not facilitate continual change in your body. So cross-train.



Mistake #9: Having your nutrition work against rather than for you

Sometimes when people start working out, they think they need to increase their calorie intake (or justify eating more). For most people, there is no need to eat more because of your new exercise regime.  If you are a younger person returning to a team sport, you may need to increase your calories.  Talk to your team trainer to get an idea of how much more you should be eating.


Having said that, others may believe that skipping meals will help drop the pounds, but it can actually decrease your workout progress, as well as decrease metabolism which increases the changes of weight gain on the long-run.


And make water your friend. When you are dehydrated, you increase your susceptibility to injury. Be dedicated to drinking water before, during and after your workout.



Mistake #10: Not making exercise a habit

Of course you know that one workout will not change your body. And being a “Weekend warrior” increases the likelihood of injury.  Just like any new habit, exercise may seem challenging to execute at first. Schedule it like you do an important meeting or get together with a loved one. It is, after all. YOU are the loved one J




  • Keep it fun: The more fun you can make your workouts, the more likely you will stick with them. Trying taking a new class, take up a new sport (with proper instruction on form) or exercise with friends or family. I first met my husband at the gym. We both used to go work out almost every day after work. While I was dedicated to my health, getting to see my love interest boosted the likelihood that I would not blow off my workout.


  • Set yourself up for success: Look for ways to make doing your exercise easier to do. For example, you don’t need to join an expensive gym or one that is far away. And if you plan to work out in the morning, lay out your workout clothes the night before.


Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.