Most beginners exercise too much, too often and too hard.
When my client Sabrina showed up at her first weight loss workout with me, she was injured. Only three weeks earlier she had made up her mind to lose weight and started running for 45 minutes per day. But doing too much, too soon was a bad idea for her body, given that she was 20 pounds overweight and hadn’t gone running in years.
Within a few workouts it was no surprise that Sabrina had developed a muscle strain in her upper thigh that required weeks of rehabilitation to heal. This made our fat burning workouts more difficult because she couldn’t do interval training or many of the bodyweight exercises I use with all of my clients.
Over time Sabrina was able to heal her injury while losing fat with my short burst workouts. However, no one should have to get hurt like Sabrina, so you need to avoid doing too much cardio.
In fact, it’s really disappointing that so many personal trainers still recommend long, slow cardio workouts for fat loss when research shows them to be relatively ineffective and experience shows that cardio often just lands folks in the doctor’s office.
If I could have met Sabrina before she started running, here’s what I would have told her to help her lose fat fast without getting hurt.
Rule #1: Don’t Overdo It
It is very important for all of us to train conservatively and not overdo it. If you are doing resistance training (and everyone should), don’t do any exercise that you aren’t sure how to do. Always get personal instruction from a certified trainer.
Rule #2: Gain Without Pain
Don’t do anything that hurts or “doesn’t feel right.” There are plenty of alternative methods for any exercise in every workout program. Just ask a qualified trainer for help.
Rule #3: Go Light
Whenever you start a new resistance training program, use lighter weights than normal and perform only one set per exercise. This will minimize the muscle soreness that accompanies any new program.
Rule #4: Take Your Time
If you need extra recovery time during the workout or between workouts, don’t hesitate to take it. Most beginners only think about how they can do more and more exercise to help them lose weight faster, but the truth is everyone (from beginners to pro athletes) needs to take recovery days for light exercise to allow their muscles to repair. But don’t worry, if you do the right type of exercise, you’ll still lose fat even when you are out of the gym.
Rule #5: Take It Easy
Check your ego at the gym door and start with the easier alternative exercises if appropriate, even if you have exercised in the past. The new exercises and new style of movements will cause muscle soreness even from workouts you think look easy. Surprisingly, this also goes for yoga. Many beginners over-stretch and end up with injuries often associated with weight training. So no matter what you do, be conservative.
Rule #6: Avoid Too Much Cardio
Do not do interval training or hard cardio more than four times per week. Even pro athletes don’t play hard every day, so why should you? Doing too much cardio is the biggest reason beginners end up hurt, frustrated and in the doctor’s office. Research shows that only 3 interval training workouts per week are all you need to lose belly fat.
When you do a cardio workout, you have to realize you’re doing the same movement thousands and thousands of times in the same workout. If you have even the smallest injury, it will be magnified by this repetition.
Rule #7: Proper Warm-Up
Never skip a warm-up. Also, instead of using a treadmill to warm-up (which is pointless, in my opinion), do a general bodyweight circuit of easy squats, pushups and ab planks to better prepare your body for resistance training.
Rule #8: Running Right
If you decide to use running as your form of interval training, make sure you have good running shoes, always do an extra thorough warm-up and choose a safe running surface (grass or trails rather than pavement or concrete). If you use a treadmill, please operate it safely.
Rule #9: Heal First
If you have any type of injury at all, get medical attention and have a professional therapist rehabilitate your injury before starting an exercise program. You are better off committing 3 weeks to rehab now before the injury becomes serious, rather than having to stop exercising for 3 months or more if you neglect your body.
Rule #10: Safety First
Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise or diet program. All together now: “Safety first!” There is no need to get hurt when starting a workout program, even if you want to lose weight fast.
Don’t make the classic beginner mistakes of doing too much exercise too soon. The great news for beginners is that your diet will have a much greater impact on your weight loss results at this point, so you don’t have to over-exercise to lose weight. Your program should include resistance training and interval training to help you burn fat, but you only need to exercise 3 times per week with total body workouts. Train safe!