Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fitness faux pas: Keep the dumbbells, eliminate the dumb things

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Nobody's perfect. That includes gym rats. Yet some faux pas are easier to forgive than others. While the following 10 sins may seem minor to some, if you're a gym regular, you've probably created a similar list. If you see yourself in my Top 10, please make the world a better place and change your ways.

1. Giving a phone a better workout than you give yourself. You've seen these guys -- the ones who pick up their phone between sets to text or check email. Worse still are the exercisers who talk on their phone and speak loud enough for everyone within a three-machine range to hear. Gyms should be technology-free zones. If you must bring your phone to the gym, limit it to playing music only.

2. Grunting. There's a small body of science claiming grunting improves the speed of a tennis ball off a racket, but very little to suggest that grunting helps you lift more weight. Yet there are plenty of gym rats who swear a good lift and a good grunt go hand-in-hand. The real problem with grunting isn't a single noisy lifter. But anyone who's been stuck working out alongside stereo grunters -- or worse, a chorus of grunters -- understands there's nothing trivial about a loud lifter.

3. Believing in the no-pain, no-gain philosophy. The idea that a workout has to hurt to be effective has been resurrected by the CrossFit crowd, who continually one-up each other on the hurt meter. Yet working out in the pain zone is no guarantee you're getting fitter than the guy who backs off before it gets really uncomfortable. Keep in mind we're not talking about discomfort, which is part and parcel of a tough workout. Pain is something else altogether, and is a signal you're pushing your body beyond what it can endure. Do this often enough or long enough, and you'll pay the price.

4. Refuelling after every workout. Despite the hype suggesting the body needs this, unless you've been sweating it out for 90 or more minutes, chances are all you need is a glass of water. A well-balanced and well-timed diet provides all the pre- and post-workout energy most recreational exercisers need, with expensive protein shakes and energy drinks offering little more than extra calories. Muscle is built in the gym, not from a drink.

5. Choosing reps over technique. Sure, posting big numbers is impressive, but great stats are like a house of cards: They topple when the structure becomes unstable. That's what happens when you forgo technique in favour of a few more reps.

6. Relying on momentum. With the acceptable use of "kipping" (adding momentum to pull-ups by swinging the legs) in CrossFit workouts, momentum has worked its way back into the gym. But if strength gains are what you're after, momentum will cause you to fall short of your goals. Sure, some exercises work with momentum, like kettlebell swings, but if strength is your objective, slow down (pausing for two seconds between reps) and let your muscles, not momentum, do the heavy lifting.

7. Sharing on social media. Share your weights, your shampoo and your goodwill, but posting your workout details on Facebook or Twitter is an over-share. No one wants to know how fast or how far you ran on the treadmill, or how many pushups you accomplished before breakfast.

8. Wearing perfume or aftershave. Similar to the horror of being stuck beside a grunter is the horror of being stuck beside someone who doesn't understand the less-is-better approach to using perfume or aftershave. A scent-free deodorant is all you need to apply before heading to the gym.

9. Looking at more than form in the mirror. Mirrors in the gym are designed to monitor correct form and provide feedback on technique, not to apply makeup, fix your hair or admire your six-pack abs. No one expects you to look perfect while working up a sweat. And rest assured, there's no greater turnoff than people who can't stop checking themselves out while on the cardio machines or lifting weights. If you're fit and work hard in the gym, you'll be noticed.

10. Focusing on the muscles you see instead of the ones you don't. If your workout routine is built around looking good in a T-shirt or tank top, you've got this whole fitness thing wrong. The purpose behind all your hard work should be the realization of one of three goals: enhanced athletic performance, improved overall fitness or better health. None of those objectives can be achieved without strengthening the small stabilizing muscles first. Weak stabilizers, like the core muscles and those that support the hips and shoulders, will cause you to fail long before your larger, more esthetic muscles get tired.

Don't end up like those muscle-bound guys on Survivor who get beat in physical challenges by someone who doesn't look as impressive on the outside. Build strength from the inside out.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 D16

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