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Start Smart: 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Exercise Regimen

May 18, 2016 11:56AM ● By Becca Newell
By Becca Newell

We know we’re not the only ones who’ve procrastinated slightly—okay, a lot!—on their annual New Year’s resolution to get in shape. With swimsuit season around the corner, the time for exercise is nigh—that means now! But before you hit the treadmill or start lifting those weights, here are some things to keep in mind.

Don’t Lose Focus—Learn Proper Form!

Almost any exercise performed incorrectly can lead to injury, so it’s recommended for anyone new to fitness equipment to meet with a trainer who can ensure you’re doing the move correctly and efficiently. Even when you’re kicking the cardio on a treadmill or elliptical machine, it’s important to focus on your form. Avoid gripping the equipment, which leads to slouching and bad posture. It also inhibits your calorie burn because you are not using a full range of motion and exercising the arms, which burns more calories and increases your heart rate.

Typically, proper form requires engaging as many muscles as possible. Whether it’s running, which works all of your lower-body muscles (including the lower core) or pushups, which work your chest, arms, shoulders, triceps, abdominals, back, and neck, muscle engagement can take a lot of focus, particularly at the beginning. But it’s worth it. While poor form can actually harm you, better form makes for a more effective, successful workout.

Stretch After Exercising—Not Just Before.

Stretching helps to improve flexibility and enhance performance. Many people stretch extensively before a workout and then just hop off their machine and into the shower. A better idea is to do a series of warm-up moves and follow it up with some static stretches after your exercise session. Follow these moves for a complete workout. Before: Warming up is important because it helps to prevent injury. Additionally, a 15-to-20-minute warm-up can improve performance. Ideally, a warm-up includes about 10 minutes of dynamic stretching—controlled movements, like arm circles (extend your arms to the side and move them in small, circular motions), toe walks (walking on your tiptoes), or leg kicks (extend your arm in front of your body and kick up your leg so your foot touches your palm)—and about 10 minutes of light cardio, like jogging or jumping rope. Any warm-up should begin at low intensity and increase gradually. After: Hold static stretches, with little to no movement, for 15 to 30 seconds. You might experience a slight feeling of discomfort or tightness, but it shouldn’t hurt. If it does, loosen the pose or adjust your positioning.

Forget About The “Quick Fix.”

Exercise newbies often fall into two categories: those who expect too much change without much exercise or those who begin exercising with workouts that are too long and/or too often. Let’s start with the former. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (or a mix of the two) each week—and that’s just to maintain your current weight. If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s going to take regular physical activity (more than the aforementioned CDC recommendation) combined with a healthy eating plan. The amount of exercise and caloric intake varies for each individual, so it might be beneficial to undergo a personal fitness assessment at a gym to determine a training program and meal plan that works for you. At the very least, make a note of your weight and measurements prior to establishing an exercise regimen and begin recording your workouts and diet to help track progress. For those folks in the “too many workouts” category, you put yourself at risk of injury when you exercise too much, too soon. Recovery time is extremely important. Be sure to listen to your body. If, after exercising, you find yourself exhausted (instead of energized), feeling sore after a few days, or suffering from restless sleep, you might need additional rest in between workouts. Also, a consistent rest day (or days!) gives your muscles time to repair, which encourages better performance at future workouts.

Hydrate and Repeat.

It’s crucial to drink water before, during, and after exercise. Exercising without adequate hydration will interfere with your workout by limiting its effectiveness. “Just losing two percent of your bodyweight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 25 percent,” says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, Vice President of Nutrition and Research at EXOS, via WebMD. (EXOS trains professional and elite athletes across the country.)

Although the amount varies per individual, a general guideline is as follows: Before: 17 to 20 ounces at least two hours prior to each exercise session. For some people, consuming another 8 ounces about 15 minutes prior to exercise is recommended. During: 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise. More may be necessary if you’re exercising in the heat or sweating heavily. After: 8 ounces within 30 minutes of completing your workout—or 16 to 24 ounces for each pound lost from sweating.

Not drinking enough water before any strenuous activity may induce dizziness, nausea, lethargy, focusing problems, and premature cramping. In addition to staying hydrated, it’s also important to refrain from exercising on an empty stomach. If you haven’t eaten within a few hours of exercising, spare five minutes to snack on an apple or banana. Without any fuel, you’ll lack energy, which minimizes your workout and results in fewer calories burned.


Exercise:Moderate vs. Vigorous

(According to the CDC)


Walking, briskly

(15-minute mile)
Biking, casual pace
(less than 10mph)
Light yard work
(i.e. raking leaves or mowing the lawn)



Swimming laps
Jumping rope
Competitive sports
(i.e. basketball or soccer)

Eating Before Exercising

Large meals
should be consumed at least three to four hours prior
Small meals should be eaten two to three hours prior
Snacks, like fresh fruit, low-fat granola bars, or a peanut butter sandwich (on whole-grain bread!), should be eaten an hour prior