​Stop Sabotaging Your Workouts!

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working out for a week or a decade—odds are you’re making a handful of common mistakes that are holding you back. We’re also willing to bet that most of them aren’t your fault—gyms, exercise communities, and even some popular fitness programs are rife with well-intended advice that’s rooted more in bro-science than real-world research. That ends today. Purge the following mistakes from your training program to accelerate your gains and squeeze out of every rep.
Mistake #1: You stick to a routine

The rapid gains you enjoy at the beginning of a training program will eventually taper if you keep doing the same workouts month after month (or year after year). “The body adapts to new stresses quickly,” says Yunus Barisik, C.S.C.S., author of the blog Next Level Athletics. Your job—and the goal of any good exercise plan—is to make sure that adaptation (also known as muscle growth) never stops. “And the way to do that is by regularly varying what you do,” says Barisik.

The fix: If you’re a beginner, mix things up every two to three months. If you’re a veteran, you’ll need to do so even sooner. “Those changes don’t have to be major,” says Barisik. Occasionally swapping new exercises into your workouts (or trying a completely new workout program) is a smart idea. “But even minor tweaks—changing your grip, lifting pace, foot position, or rest periods—can lead to big gains by not only working muscles you normally miss, but also working the muscles you normally target in new ways,” says Barisk.

Mistake #2: You forget about your back 

In their pursuit of head turning muscle, many people focus only on those they can see in the mirror—pecs, shoulders, arms, and abs. “And that’s a problem,” says Barisik. “Overemphasizing the front side of your body can lead to muscular imbalances, a hunched posture, and an increased risk of injury.” Since most people are already “anterior dominant”—meaning they more frequently use the muscles on the front of their bodies—such one-sided training often worsens existing postural and performance issues.

The fix: Stop using a mirror to gauge your progress—it’s the muscles you can’t see that you should focus on. To balance your upper body, perform two pulling exercises (chinup, row) for every pushing exercise, such as the overhead press or bench press, says Barisik. To balance your lower body, perform two sets of hamstring-dominant exercises, like the deadlift or kettlebell swing, for every set of a quad-dominant exercise, like the squat or lunge. After a few months (read: once your posture and musculature balance out), you can switch to one-to-one ratios, says Barisik.

Mistake #3: You train too hard (or not hard enough) 

More isn’t always better when it comes to building strength and losing fat. “Most people don’t know how to safely push their limits,” says Michael Wood, C.S.C.S., Chief Fitness Officer of Koko FitClub. “You might think you’re working out efficiently, but few people actually optimize their training stimulus.” While you need to challenge your muscles to make them grow, you never want to push them to the point where you inhibit their ability to repair themselves. Why? Because when it comes to muscle, repair equals growth. On the other hand, if you don’t push your muscles hard enough, you won’t trigger growth at all. Your goal: To hit the intensity sweet spot where you maximize results without compromising recovery.

The Fix: If you’re lifting weights, always stop two reps short of in your last set of an exercise. Those reps provide no additional growth stimulus, and might actually slow muscle growth by extending the time needed for recovery. That said, you shouldn’t have more than two reps left in you, as that’s a sign you aren’t pushing hard enough. If you’re doing intervals or circuits, use a heart rate monitor to fine-tune effort and rest. 

Determine your max HR by multiplying your age by .7 and subtracting that number from 208. During work periods, build up your intensity to 75 to 85 percent of your max, says Wood. During rest periods, let it fall to 65 percent of your max HR before beginning your next round.

Mistake #4: You don’t dial in your diet 

You’ve likely heard the adage “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” It’s true, so heed it. If your eating habits aren’t aligned with your fitness goals, you’ll never hit them. “Many active people eat too many carbs—especially simple carbs like sugar—and don’t pay nearly enough attention to fat and protein,” says Bob Seebohar, M.S., R.D., CSSD, C.S.C.S., a sport dietitian and owner and founder of eNRG Performance.

The fix: Step one in upgrading your diet is to reduce your consumption of added sugar (according to the government’s new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, such foods should comprise no more than 10 percent of your diet). Eat at least two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables a day. “And make sure every meal contains a balance of protein, fat, and fiber,” says Seebohar. “Neglecting these suggestions will yield poor blood sugar control, higher insulin levels, increased fat storage, and decreased fat burning.” 

Increasing your protein intake is particularly important. In a study by the U.S. Military Nutrition Division, people who ate twice the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein—1.6 grams instead of .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight—preserved more muscle as they lost weight than those who stuck to the RDA. If you weigh 150 pounds, your daily protein quota is 109 grams.

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Recovery Done Right: 8 Ways to Prevent Muscle Soreness

sore-muscle-relief

Aching after a brutal workout? Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can make you feel the burn while your muscles recover and rebuild. But, if you take the right steps after your workout, you can go hard without paying the price. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent post-workout pain.

1. Stretch. Stretching is your first line of defense after a good workout. “When you train, you contract the muscles, and the muscle fibers get shorter,” says Steve Edwards, Vice President of Fitness and Nutrition at Beachbody®. “Lengthening them after a workout promotes mobility, and can lead to a more thorough recovery.” While fitness experts can’t seem to agree on this strategy1—one Australian study2 claimed that stretching had no impact on muscle soreness—it certainly won’t hurt, especially if your flexibility is limited.

2. Eat for rapid recovery. Even if you’re eating at a calorie deficit, you want to make sure to get enough healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, all which play important roles in repairing and maintaining muscles. Beyond that, consider strategically-timed protein supplementation. A couple hours after working out and when you sleep are two times when protein synthesis (muscle repair) increases, so a post-exercise scoop of Beachbody Performance Recover and a pre-bedtime scoop of Beachbody Performance Recharge assures your body access to amino acids. “Amino acids are your body’s building blocks,” explains Beachbody’s Director of Nutrition Content, Denis Faye, “consuming them at the right times assures they’ll be there when you need them.”

3. Ice it. Immediately after a tough workout, icing your muscles can stave off inflammation. “Inflammation is one of nature’s defense mechanisms, but it works like a cast—it immobilizes you,” Edwards says. “When you keep inflammation down, that area is free to keep moving, and movement promotes healing.” Like stretching, its effectiveness is up for debate—some researchers have claimed that ice is only effective for injuries and not for run-of-the-mill soreness4, but it’s a simple and safe option that many top-level athletes swear by5. “Unless you ice so long that you give yourself frostbite, there’s really no danger,” Edwards says. “It seems to really speed up healing without any adverse effects.”

4. Change your diet. “When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem,” Faye says. To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts6—to your diet. The natural anti-inflammatory properties7 of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout8.

5. Massage your sore spots. A recent study found that massage can reduce inflammatory compounds called cytokines9. One type of massage that’s gaining popularity is myofascial release, which targets the connective tissue covering the muscles. You can hit these areas yourself using a foam roller—put the roller on the floor, use your body weight to apply pressure, and roll back and forth over the sore areas for about 60 seconds. But . . . before you do, make sure you’re rehydrated and your heart rate is back to normal. “When your muscles are hot and loaded with lactic acid, you might make it worse,” Edwards says. For a more detailed tutorial on foam rolling, check out the Beachbody Tai Cheng® program.

6. Get heated. While ice can work wonders immediately after a workout, heat can help once your muscles have returned to their resting temperature10. “Heat increases circulation, especially focused heat in a jacuzzi, where you can hit areas like joints that don’t normally get a lot of circulation,” Edwards says. Just don’t jump in the hot tub immediately after a workout, because the heat can exacerbate inflammation, and the jets can pound your already-damaged muscles. Edwards cautions, “When your body heat is already high and you have a lot of muscle breakdown, sitting in a hot tub with the jets would be counterintuitive.”

7. Move it. You may be tempted to plant yourself on the couch until the pain subsides, but don’t skip your next workout. Circulation promotes healing, so it helps to get your heart pumping—just don’t overdo it. “Active recovery” is low-intensity exercise that gets your blood flowing without taxing your muscles. What qualifies as low-intensity? It depends on your typical workout. If you know your training zones, you can use a heart rate monitor. But, Edwards says, the easiest way to engage in active recovery is to exert around 50% of your max effort, and keep your heart rate below 140 bpm or so. Most Beachbody workout programs include a recovery workout, but if yours doesn’t, a gentle yoga class or going on an easy hike are good options.

8. Pop a painkiller—if you must. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can relieve pain, but many experts aren’t sure if they’re worth the risk. “A lot of athletes call it ‘Vitamin I,’” Edwards says. But he cautions that NSAIDs can cause nasty side effects and accelerate muscle breakdown. “The only time they might help is if you’re in so much pain that you can’t do low-level exercise—you can’t get off the couch,” Edwards says. In that case, meds might help, but be careful not to overdo it—because if you’re not feeling pain, you may push too hard and cause an injury.