- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

The biggest mistake fitness manager Peter Cannon sees at the gym is what he calls the “Groundhog Day” workout — the same exercises, every day, ad infinitum.

“It takes six weeks to adapt to the program you have,” says Mr. Cannon, senior fitness manager for the East Coast region of Gold’s Gym International Inc. His office is near Falls Church.

Within six weeks, or for some, four to eight weeks, gym members can hit a plateau and not see any progress once their bodies adjust to a routine.

“We want efficiency in movement, and we want inefficiency when it comes to burning calories,” says Katie Rubio, fitness director of Bethesda Sport & Health.

Making exercise challenging causes the body to work harder to burn more calories, while repeating a routine allows the body to adapt and burn fewer calories, Mrs. Rubio says.

“That’s why variety is good, because we can confuse the body and get it to burn more calories again,” she says.

Gym members might give up before they see any progress in their weight-loss, toning or muscle-building goals, Mr. Cannon says.

“I would say, stick with it until you see your results. It doesn’t happen overnight,” he says.

Metro-area personal trainers such as Mr. Cannon and Mrs. Rubio point out the most common mistakes people make at the gym and provide advice for establishing and following a cardiovascular and strength-training routine.

One common mistake is signing up for a gym membership, then not using it.

The attrition rate for new members is about 50 percent within six months of starting an exercise program, says Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a fitness certifying organization in San Diego that promotes the benefits of physical activity.

“People come in not ready to change their behavior,” Mr. Comana says.

Even if they are ready, they might not set specific goals that are measurable and attainable or allow for occasional missed workouts without giving up entirely or thinking of alternative exercises.

“You have to have some degree of flexibility in your plan,” he says.

Once inside the gym, there are more mistakes to be made.

For instance, some members might not know how to use the exercise equipment appropriately or might not pay attention to form and maintaining good posture while doing a particular exercise, says Pete McCall, master trainer for Washington Sports Clubs in Dupont Circle.

“If you have poor posture, it leads to poor movement, and you can hurt yourself,” Mr. McCall says.

When working each muscle group, doing one set of eight to 12 repetitions is optimal because 80 percent to 85 percent of the value of a weight-bearing exercise occurs during the first set, as long as the last couple of reps are exhausting, says Mike Mercurio, owner of Personal Training Associates, an in-home service based in Herndon. Bodybuilders maximize their workout with three sets to add the remaining 15 to 20 percent value, he says.

“What it means is you can get through a workout in 30 minutes [for] strength training,” Mr. Mercurio says, adding that each exercise ideally should be followed by one to three minutes of rest. A good workout, he says, involves 12 to 15 different exercises, focused sequentially on each part of the body.

The exercises should not be done with weights that are too heavy or too light, particularly in the case of women, who often lift too little weight, afraid that they might get too bulky or muscular, Mr. Mercurio says.

“That almost always is wrong. Most women don’t have enough testosterone,” he says.

Building muscle is an important component of weight because muscle increases the body’s metabolic rate, Mr. Mercurio says.

As such, combining weight training with cardiovascular exercise is the best method for weight loss, says Leah Evert, certified personal trainer for Personal Training Associates.

“As you lose weight on your frame, your metabolic rate will slow down,” Ms. Evert says.

Cardiovascular exercises burn calories, while strength training increases muscle mass, which is seven times more metabolically active than fat tissue, she says.

“The only thing that will get rid of that fat is doing cardiovascular exercise,” she says, adding that focusing on a particular body part, such as the abdominal muscles, will not reduce fat in that area. “Your body, unfortunately, will lose the weight the way it wants to,” she says.

The scale is not a good gauge of weight loss because muscle weighs four times more than fat, says Robert Cicherillo, spokesman for Bodybuilding.com, a supplement database in Venice Beach, Calif. He was Mr. USA in 2000 and is the current bodybuilding world champion.

“People get defeated by the scale,” he says. “The mirror doesn’t lie, and that’s what people should use as a gauge.”

Another common mistake gym members make is not warming up before a workout or not stretching afterward, Mr. Cannon says.

“They walk in cold, and immediately, they want to get the blood flowing without warming up first,” he says.

Mr. Cannon recommends spending five to 10 minutes walking on a treadmill or riding on a stationary bike to prevent muscles from tightening, pulling or tearing.

Stretching afterward helps prevent muscles from shortening and losing flexibility, Mr. Mercurio says. The stretches should be done for about 20 seconds two to three times without causing pain and without any bouncing, he says. A full day of recovery should be allowed for muscles exercised to allow for healing of minor tears caused by the strength training, he says.

The final mistake members make is not asking for help from a personal trainer when starting a routine or trying a new exercise or piece of equipment.

“Personal trainers are the people who know exercise,” Mr. McCall says. “They can help you develop an exercise program to get the benefits you want.”

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