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What are the Biggest Mistakes People Make When They Start Exercising?


Photo credit: Yoga via photopin (license)
This month’s question is asked by reader Mark Cassenden:

“I haven’t exercised in quite some time, but I’m about to start. I was wondering what mistakes should I look to avoid when I begin exercising?”

Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author, Speaker and Health and Business Coach

Avoiding mistakes isn’t hard – here’s my top eight to watch out for.

1. Not warming up. If it’s been a while since you exercised or you’re planning on an increased level of activity, then why not give your body every chance at not being sore the next day? Start by warming-up rather than jumping straight into high intensity activity. There’s no need to go all techo with warm-up routines, just a bit of walking, a few star jumps and some stretches to get the muscles warmed-up and ready to go will reduce your risk of injury and pain the following day.

2. Going like a bat outta hell, like you’re 16 again. Often when the decision is made to embark on a higher intensity exercise regime there’s a lot of vigour involved … gotta get it done …. gotta do it now. Day one – made it! But the subsequent days can be a challenge as the zest for your new program wanes and you find the motivation (and sometimes even the energy) hard to muster. Over-exercising is just as bad as not doing any at all. So start slowly, and gradually build on each day. Maintaining balanced workouts for the long haul is your key to success.

3. Not choosing the right exercise activity. Does running make you thin? Or do thin people run? If you hate running but think this is the only cardio exercise you can do to get results, then think again. Choosing a cardio exercise that continues to motivate you, or holds you accountable (like a team sport or a buddy system) is going to get you much better results in the long run. In fact doing something that you find un-fun will quickly lead to boredom or loathing and you’ll ending up hating every minute of your work out.

4. Focusing on cardio or resistance training. If you want real results, real fast, you need to combine cardio fitness with weight training – the two work synergistically to get you much faster results than either would alone. Cardio can be done in as little as a 20-minute workout three times a week – even if this workout is three times that 7-minute work-out at a full on pace. A well-designed resistance training (RT) program can be effective with just two 30-minute sessions in a week – your muscles need rest in-between RT workouts to recover and grow. That’s five days a week, leaving you the weekend off.

5. Choosing load-bearing rather than non-load-bearing. Performing load bearing exercise when overweight or obese can cause injury and joint issues later in life, especially to your hips and knees, putting you in the queue for a walking stick and replacement surgery. Instead, select non-impact activities like yoga, Pilates, swimming, orbital trainer, stationary or recliner bike or water aerobics to get your cardio in, and, as you reduce your weight, gradually add more load bearing activities if you like.

6. Not properly stretching afterwards. Failing to adequately stretch after working out is the biggest cause of injury and body pain. Spend some time developing a good comprehensive stretching routine (should take about 10-15 minutes) that covers every muscle group and ensure you hold each stretch for a minimum of 40-seconds.

7. Not drinking enough water. Or worse still, drinking sports drinks. In the normal course of existence we lose about 45mls per kilogram of body weight a day – more if we’re exercising. So work out you base level of pure H2O that you need, then add more if you’re exercising or sweating excessively. And those sports drinks? They’re made for elite athletes who push their bodies to the limit every day. I don’t care how hard you think you’re working, you’re not in that category, and you don’t need the added nasties, colours, salt, and sugar which are going to undo all your hard work. Tap or filtered water – no additives – is all you need. And if you hate the taste of water, add fresh lemon.

8. Not mixing things up. Research has shown that after performing the exact same routine for three weeks your body switches off and the effects of doing the same program start to diminish. So if you’re doing the same cardio exercise at the same intensity for the same period of time, and/or performing the same number of reps and sets for the exact same resistance training program then those results you get over the first three weeks won’t continue indefinitely.

9. Looking for shortcuts or fast resultsMany people get frustrated when they do not see immediate results from their workouts. This problem often forces them to take drastic measures, such as starving themselves or pushing their body too far. The only thing that will come from this is injury and possibly illness since you will not have the energy you need to complete your workout. However, if you are looking for a quick but lasting fix to help you build momentum, you can find bariatric information to help you cut weight and improve your lifestyle in preparation for a more successful exercise experience.

Instead change your program every 3-weeks by selecting a different cardio exercise (rowing instead of bike), changing the work out time (15 or 25-minutes instead of 20) or the intensity (use interval programs and change out the interval duration). When it comes to resistance training simply change out your sets and reps – instead of 3 sets x 10 reps, do 2 sets by 15 reps. The possibilities are endless, and so are your results!

Sigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book “Half The Woman I Was – How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market. Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

Sigrid logo

Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer

Being a trainer for over 11 years now, I have seen people make the same mistakes so many times. The reason why people fail to reach their goals is due to two things:

  1. Lack of correct knowledge of how to become healthy and fit; and
  2. No planning.

In the beginning motivation is high and the determination to get results is top of mind. This is why it is so crucial to have a plan before you do anything else, otherwise you will waste this high level of motivation to change.

Before doing anything you absolutely MUST write down your goals, in very specific detail about what you want, when you want to do it by, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, WHY you want to change. By completing this stage you are in essence “bottling” your motivation. This will be extremely beneficial to you as time goes by, because when the time comes that you begin to lose motivation, and trust me it will come, you will need reinforce ‘why’ you are exercising, reading your goals will bring you back on track.

I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with clients who have been going nowhere with their training, and I ask them, “Have you written down your goals?” They reply, “No, what has that got to do with my lack of results?”  The answer to this question is, it’s a little like getting in your car and having no map of where to go. You’ll get lost. You’ll get frustrated. And you’ll probably give-up.

Okay, so now we have established how to define your motivation, now you need a plan. The plan must be built on principles that work. Can you see how poor knowledge can be a big problem here? Because you may have completed the goal setting stage perfectly and actually taken the time to design a plan, but it will all fall apart if it is based on information that does not work! And I can tell you now, that 95% of the information you will see in the magazines, in newspapers, and on TV will not work for you. How do I know this? Because there is no one size fits all exercise and nutrition program. There is only the best program for you!

To find your program, the one that will work for you, you’ll need a health and fitness assessment to define what needs changing the most. This may require professional guidance. Once this is determined then you can design a plan. It will vary significantly from person-to-person due to a number of variables. The most common are, age, previous injuries, stress levels, how you cope with stress, time, and equipment available to use. There are many more variables. In fact, the list is endless. There is no way you can have a one-size fits all program.

Having said that here is a few rules you can use to assist you. I call this my Top 10 Fitness Tips. These are as follows:

  1. Don’t work out too hard in the beginning. Allow yourself time to adjust and adapt the training or changes with your nutrition and lifestyle. Slower is better for long-term success.
  2. Strength training is better for you than cardio training. But make sure you do exercises that are more functional such as squats, lunges, push-ups and chin-ups. Avoid machine training or isolation training as this will not only ruin your body, but will require too much time, which many people do not have.
  3. Avoid sit ups and plank. Again these exercises ruin people’s bodies. I specialize in rehabilitation training and see so many clients who have badly hurt themselves from way too many abdominal exercises.
  4. Constantly review your goals. Write down your goals. Be very specific about what you want and when you want it by.
  5. Make sure technique is perfect. Quality beats quantity every time. More bad training just equals more bad results. Learning perfect form will reap huge rewards long-term.
  6. Eat more vegetables and eliminate sugar. Without a doubt sugar is the killer of all health and fitness plans, and vegetables we just do not eat enough of.
  7. Never skip meals. This is a big one I have found over the past few years with people becoming more sedentary and their metabolic rate slowing to a snail’s pace! Keeping your blood sugar levels up and metabolic rate faster by eating small frequent meals, this is one key component to success if your goal is to lose weight.
  8. Eat more good fats! Yes you read that right. Many people avoid saturated fats in the belief it will make them fat. Low fat foods are loaded with sugar and fructose and it is these ingredients that will make you fat. Healthy fats are necessary to your body for a bunch of reasons; regulating hormonal production, improving immune function, lowering total cholesterol, lubricating joints, and providing the basics for healthy hair, nails and skin.
  9. Drink more water. Water is almost as important to our health as air. Why? We are made of a lot of water, and if we go without it for a few days we will dehydrate and die! You can last for months without food, but only days without water. Yet many people do not drink anywhere near enough. They are basically dehydrated all the time
  10. Reduce your stress. Possibly the biggest saboteur to every health and fitness plan. You could be doing all of the previous nine rules perfectly, but a stressful event will completely ruin every one of these if you don’t have a strategy to manage and overcome it. Again, this is one of the neglected parts of a health and fitness plan, but it is oh so important.


I hope this helps you in working out where to start and what to do with your health journey. The more specific and detailed your plan is, the more successful it will be, and you will reach a place where all you have to do is maintain things. Good luck.

Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.

Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.

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Cameron Corish – Personal Trainer, Holistic Lifestyle Coach, and Owner of Core Health Coaching

The biggest mistake I see when people start is “too much too soon” Normally we get back started with a lot of motivation and excitement but the incidence of injury when starting or re-start is quite high. If the body has not had regular movement for years a more progressive approach is better to reduce the stress and shock on the body.

To get a clear understanding of best approach when starting or returning to exercise, we need to consider:
• Any injuries and medical history;
• Previous fitness background;
• How long since you have done exercise;
• Reason for the absence. For example, injury, illness or another medical condition; and
• What other lifestyle factors can impact on your exercise and recovery like high emotional stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, poor digestive health and detoxification pathways.

I am slightly bias, but considering the above, I would also suggest that you see a personal trainer or exercise physiologist and have them review your independent requirements and personal circumstances. This will reduced your chances of injury and give you the best results.

An example of a general return to exercise program is as follows:
• Start with some light mobility exercises and stretches.
• Progress to include some core and stability exercises as well as some corrective exercises, if needed.
• Look at lifestyle factors such as nutrition, digestion, sleep, stress.
• Next step is to start strength exercises/program which could be just body weight exercise to start.
• Later incorporate light cardio exercise.
• Then progress the strength and cardio exercise to improve endurance, speed then power.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that this is a general plan to return to exercise, but ultimately it will be dependent on your requirements and goals.
Remember that the old adage, “No pain, No gain” does not apply if you are injured and cannot return to exercise for two to three months.

smIMG_5615Cameron Corish is an experienced and passionate Personal Trainer and Holistic Lifestyle Coach who is committed to making a significant difference in people’s fitness, wellness and happiness. Using a holistic approach to achieve great, long-lasting results, his award-winning team has transformed their clients’ lives.


Sara Colquhoun – Pilates Instructor

Whether you have had a long break from exercise or are literally starting to exercise for the first time, there are some common mistakes that we all tend to make. The key is not to let these mistakes deter you from continuing to exercise, but to use them as signals to get to know your body and listen to what it is telling you.

1. Set a clear goal. First of all be really clear on your intention and what you want to gain from your exercise program. You need to do this so you are held accountable. Once you have done this then make sure this goal is realistic with the type of exercise you have chosen to participate in. For example, if you want to increase your cardio and you choose to do yoga you may find it challenging to achieve your goal, as most forms of yoga are not a high cardio workout. Find the best form of exercise to match your intention and goals. If you are unsure seek out professional advice.

2. Be realistic. When people start to exercise one of the most common mistakes is biting off more than you can chew. What I mean by this is pushing the body so far that you may cause injury. I’m all for testing the boundaries in your exercise regime, but when you are starting our or getting back into it after a long break the best thing you can do is ease back into an exercise program
over a period of time. This gives the body time to adapt, recover and strengthen, and will mean you can enjoy your exercise without the frustration of setbacks due to injury.

3. Be committed. Entering an exercise program half-heartedly is another big mistake – make sure you give it 110%! If you are going to start any form of exercise you need to commit for at least three months to enjoy the benefits. To keep up your motivation it’s important to consider these three factors: do you enjoy it? Is your body responding well to the program? Are you on
your way to achieving your goals?

4. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. Remember when you start most forms of exercise you might feel a little uncoordinated, inflexible or not as strong as you would like. However, as you progress these feelings will all improve and even completely diminish the longer you stick at your exercise program. In no time at all you’ll feel great! You are only going to see and feel real improvement if you give it your absolute best for a prolonged period.

5. Enjoy it! The best thing you can do is choose a type of exercise that you enjoy and leaves you feeling inspired to move and challenged. If you get this right the mistakes when starting out can be
significantly minimized.

Sara_3_FullOne of the most accomplished Pilates instructors for her age, Sara Colquhoun has been training in Pilates since the age of 14, and teaching since the age of 17. Her clients include elite AFL players and Australian Ballet dancers.

Sara’s background as a performing artist in dance – attending The Victorian College of the Arts after moving from Sydney at the age of 18 – led her to the natural progression of becoming an instructor.

After completing her diploma in dance and performing arts, Sara pursued a career in Pilates under guidance of Pilates International.  She is now owns and manages her own studio Ki Movement Pilates located on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne.

Throughout her teaching career Sara has trained AFL players from the Western Bulldogs, Australian Ballet dancers, VCA students, Musical theatre performers (Jersey Boys, West – “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” ~ Robert McKee 2  Side Story), Cirque de Soleil artists, all the way to radio presenters.

Sara’s highlight in her career to date is the recent accolade of winning the international competition to become the next Pilates Anytime instructor. She is one of the youngest instructors to join such an elite group of trainers on the site with direct lineage from founder of the movement, Joseph Pilates. Pilates Anytime is a global platform that has viewers from all around the world who will be watching and performing Sara’s classes.

She has big plans for bringing knowledge of body awareness, general health, well-being and an education of Pilates, along with communicating the benefits it has across all aspects of functional movement to everyday life.

Disclaimer: The information published in this column is based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge and opinion. This information and opinion is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.


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