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Not Getting the Results You Want?

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Ask a fitness professional. Check out some fitness Web sites. Each has a different list of the most common mistakes made by people who exercise-but some of the same mistakes seem to pop up on almost every lis.

Ask a fitness professional. Check out some fitness websites. Each has a different list of the most common mistakes made by people who exercise but some of the same mistakes seem to pop up on almost every list. You might find that one, two, or even all of the following five apply to you and could explain why your fitness routine isn't taking you in the direction you'd hoped.

Mistake #1: No Goal

Shauna Deneault, a group fitness instructor and certified personal trainer who runs Phoenix Personal Training in Vancouver, teaches her clients to set "S.M.A.R.T." (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals. "A goal could be as simple as going to the gym twice a week for a month, or it could be completing a marathon," she says. It all depends on you, your current fitness level, and what you want to achieve.

Once you reach a fitness goal, set a new one. As Deneault points out, "Your body needs change. It stops responding if you keep doing the same thing over and over, so you have to keep challenging it." Aim for more repetitions, lift heavier weights, increase the distance, time or resistance on that bike or treadmill, or add a new group fitness class to your routine once or twice a week. Then you should start to see and feel a difference.

Mistake #2: No Sweat

In terms of cardiovascular exercise, a lot of people don't know how to work in their zone, says Deneault. She recommends learning how to gauge your "rate of perceived exertion" (RPE). Use a scale of one to 10, one being minimal exertion, 10 being extreme exertion. If you're just starting a cardiac fitness program, aim for an RPE of five to six so that you break and maintain at least a light sweat. If you've been exercising for a while, aim for an RPE of seven to eight, which means that you could be panting quite heavily but should still be able to talk. There's no benefit in hitting an RPE of nine or 10. If you start to feel dizzy, weak or nauseous, stop. If you have no medical conditions that could be causing this, you're likely working too hard. Take a break, and next time ease up on the intensity.

Keep in mind, too, that the level you punch in on an exercise machine is just a guide. Depending on how fit you are, a level five on a treadmill could leave you gasping for air, so go to a lower level. If level five feels like a leisurely stroll, up the level accordingly.

When working with weights, your muscles should fatigue or burn but never hurt after 10 to 15 repetitions. If they don't, increase the weight.

Mistake #3: No Weights

Edmonton-based certified personal trainer and naturopathic doctor Rebecca Tocher says that many women avoid weight training because they're afraid of "bulking up." That's unlikely to happen if you weight train the recommended two or three times a week. What will happen is that you'll firm up and boost your metabolism.

"The more muscle in your body," says Tocher, "the higher your metabolism, which means you burn calories more efficiently." Weight training, therefore, will help you to lose weight, provided, as Tocher points out, that you modify your diet as well.

Mistake #4: No Technique

"I see many people doing weights wrong," says Deneault, who goes on to list incorrect body position, contracting the wrong muscles, incorrect posture, incorrect breathing (i.e., holding your breath), and not having a spotter when working with heavy weights. Even on cardio equipment (i.e., cross-trainers, treadmills, step machines), which can seem pretty straightforward, people can get into bad habits regarding form and posture.

Ask the staff at your gym to show you how to properly use the free weights and the weight-training equipment. If you need or want a bit more guidance, consider hiring a personal trainer. A few sessions might be all you need to perfect your technique.

Mistake #5: No Stretching

If you head into a workout feeling stiff and sore because you didn't stretch after your last one you're not going to get as much out of it as you could. Your range of motion will be limited, and your risk of sustaining an injury will be greater. Even if you never get stiff, keep in mind that the more flexible you are, the easier and safer it is for you to make changes to or add something new to your routine.

Both Tocher and Deneault agree that exercisers tend to underrate flexibility. "There are people who are strong and their hearts are in good shape, but they have absolutely no flexibility," says Deneault. They might have difficulty tying their own shoes.

Stretch when your muscles are warm, for example at the end of your workout. Alternatively, stretch each muscle group just after you work it. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, don't bounce, and remember to breathe. Exhale as you stretch, breathe in, then exhale and increase the stretch. Enjoy! This is the reward after a good workout.

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