Our guest blogger, Amy Cohen, writes about some of the common mistakes women make when they hit the gym
As a personal trainer working in a busy commercial gym, I have the perfect vantage point to observe the universal mistakes women tend to make with their training. There is a tendency – especially during the summer months when we start worrying about our ‘bikini bodies’ – for women to start pushing themselves to train longer and harder. However, it is very common for us to perform exercise with bad form and a total lack of body awareness. Repeating faulty muscle recruitment patterns in this way can lead to imbalances, and ultimately injury if we continue.
This is not a judgement, merely an observation – and besides, it’s really not our fault. Take a look at the modern gym. Full of shiny, complicated looking pieces of equipment to help us run, climb stairs, cycle, and strengthen our muscles. Television screens and music to take our minds off what we should be doing, which is to truly connect with our bodies. We check our emails, update our status, text a friend – whilst a machine guides our limbs in the right direction. We seem to have lost the connection between our mind and body, as we increasingly view exercising as a way to ‘switch off’.
Our bodies are designed to perform a range of movement patterns such as squatting, bending, lunging, twisting, pushing and pulling. We used to perform all of these movements on a daily basis when we were out hunting, gathering and working on the land. But now we tend to sit and stare at a screen for hours on end, causing poor posture and lack of flexibility. Our bodies have forgotten how to move. We come to the gym and allow machines to guide out movements, rather than re-learning how to do them. Whilst machines can do a great job in strengthening our major muscle groups, they rarely recruit the smaller, stabilising muscles which we use for balance and control in movements. So we may be able to do a heavy leg press, but we can’t perform a functional squat. We can use the back extension machine, but we don’t understand how to lift something heavy off the ground safely.
Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with lifting heavy weights, performing high intensity training and pushing ourselves to the limit. I love to train in this way – it can be exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. But make sure to build a solid foundation of fitness, functional movement and good flexibility before pushing yourself too hard. Re-establish the connection between mind and body by taking the time to learn, and master, the basic movement patterns. Ditch the machines, lock away your headphones and mobile phone, and practice in front of a mirror. If a movement doesn’t look graceful and smooth there’s a high chance your form is off. Start slowly and be patient. Train with an experienced friend, go to a class, or hire an instructor or trainer to help you. It is even worth having a consultation with a physiotherapist if you feel your body isn’t capable of performing certain movements well.
Exercising at a high intensity is highly stressful to our bodies and nervous systems. Balance it out by stretching, foam rolling, getting a massage, meditating, eating well and getting plenty of rest. One of the best ways to connect with your body is to take up Pilates or yoga. We learn not to compare ourselves with others and instead focus on understanding the capabilities and limitations of our own bodies. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to reach a goal, such as toning up or losing weight, we gradually improve our flexibility, posture and body awareness.
Follow Amy on Twitter @betterbeme or read her new ebook on the 7 biggest health and fitness mistakes women make, and how to fix them