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Why Your Workout Sucks—and How to Fix It

Don’t make these routine errors in your training plan.

You don’t have to be a rookie to make these mistakes. In fact, folks who think they got it figured out are often more likely to err when it comes to their workouts: They find a plan that seems to work, at least initially, and that’s their plan. For good. Which, it turns out, is bad if you want to keep seeing results. To learn why—and how—read on.

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1. Routine Error: You’re slavish to a lifting schedule

“Monday may be known as ‘International Chest Day,’ but that doesn't mean you can or should only work one muscle group per day,” says Clint Fuqua, fitness trainer and health coach in Dallas. “Overloading a single body part on occasion can lead to increased size if your diet, supplement, and recovery protocols are on point—otherwise, you will see a loss in size due to the massive injury coming your way.” For a more rounded routine—and more balanced muscle development—mix in full-body days, combo days (for example, back and chest; or back, hamstring, and calf) to keep your muscles growing and growing.

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2. Routine Error: You only do cardio

Ever notice how lifelong runners end up really skinny? Cardio activities such as running, biking, and swimming are great for keeping your heart healthy and your body trim, but do very little to maintain muscle mass. “Pumping a little iron one to two times a week will boost your performance, reduce repetitive wear injuries, and improve the look of your body for extra mileage out of the gym,” Fuqua says.

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3. Routine Error: You've had the same workout for years

You like your workout: It’s efficient and you could basically do it in your sleep. But if your thinking is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” think again. “Doing the same exercise routine to ‘maintain’ what you have is an impossibility since your body is continually aging and trying to degrade,” says Fuqua. “The only thing that should be consistent is your daily commitment to exercise and continual improvement through exercise.” So find yourself some new exercises—at the top left of your screen is a good place to start—and wake up your body.

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4. Routine Error: You never cross-train

As you’ve probably caught on, getting out of your comfort zone is clutch to keeping your body healthy. A good athlete is both adept at his sport and adept at movement in general. The same goes for nonathletes, too. “Your training should make you more well rounded physically for any athletic endeavors, carrying furniture for friends, and general daily life,” Fuqua says. That means trying a new cardio activity, taking a HITT class, or meeting with a trainer for a tailored strength workout.

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5. Routine Error: Your only goal is to lift more

To you, gym math only means addition: adding more and more plates to the ends of that barbell. Sure, you’ve gotten adept as adding in multiples of 45—until you reach that point where those incremental increases are fewer and further between. The reality is, the body will adapt to stress to a point, and then it stagnates—ugh, plateaus. To get over the hump, you need to back off, reset, and then go after it again, a process called periodization. “There are many ways to format your workouts to maximize your end result, whether it is increased strength, size, or stamina and none of them are in a straight line,” says Fuqua. “Sets, reps, tempo, weight, and time under tension all play a role in your fitness and physical success.”

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6. Routine Error: You change routines daily

Ah, the flipside of the same-workout coin: Exercise ADD. “Walking into the gym without a plan or with a plan to ‘confuse’ your muscles every day will lead to mass confusion and total failure,” Fuqua says. Some structure is key, even if your goal is simply to improve general fitness, to actually see improvement—they don’t call it “training” for nothing. “Playing exercise roulette can be fun on occasion between periodized training phases or after hitting a goal but, just like in Vegas, if you play roulette every day you’ll have nothing to show for it but some great stories and maybe a Youtube video with ‘fail’ in the title.”

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7. Routine Error: You never warm up

Whether you're time-pressed or simply impatient, going full-throttle into your workout is all too tempting. But asking cold muscles to come in hot is like hitting on that big dude’s girl: a high potential for a whole lot of hurt. “Take five minutes to get you body moving doing basic movements, dynamic stretches, and isometric exercises that mimic what you will be doing during the workout and you’ll be stronger, recover more quickly, and be less sore even after an epic session,” Fuqua says. “Invest a little time on the front end of your workout to yield more results and less wasted time on the couch resting a broken body and bruised ego for days, weeks, or months.”

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8. Routine Error: You never cool down

Just as the body needs to come up to speed, it also needs a few minutes to calm down. “Leaving the gym looking and feeling like a hot mess sounds as bad as it looks, and feels even worse the next day and the next workout,” says Fuqua. Ease your muscles, lungs, and heart back toward homeostasis with five minutes of stretching, slowed breathing, or even just walking it off. “A cool-down helps bring your body back into balance for better recovery and reduced stress hormones, leading to many more gains.” Fuqua says.

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