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Is your workout doing you more harm than good?

Is your workout doing you more harm than good?

You may think you're ticking all of the necessary boxes when it comes to fitness and exercise, but could your workout be harbouring dangers to your health? Read on to make sure that your workout isn't doing you more harm than good.

Exercise is good for you, right? We're forever being told that we need to get more of it. It can apparently stave off most life-limiting and life-threatening conditions you can imagine, from cancer to dementia. It improves our quality of life, boosting our moods, mental functioning and even our sex lives. Surely we should all be spending every available moment working out in one way or another?

Not so fast. It turns out that there are dangers lurking in your daily (or weekly) workout. Dangers that could negate all the lovely benefits of exercise, to the extent of causing active harm. You need to be aware of these dangers in order to reap the full benefits of exercise.

Neglecting the basics

There's no point spending time, money and energy on a fitness regime with the goal of improving your health if you don't look after the basics. In the context of a regular workout, basics mean eating, drinking, and warming up/cooling down. Both complete novices and seasoned gym-a-holics seem to be prone to this error; the former because they may not have the background information and the latter because they get complacent, as if they've somehow risen above the body's basic needs before, during and after exercise.

Here are the top three errors that could be making your workout dangerous for your heath, and ideas of how to avoid them (it's pretty simple):

  • Eat. Your body needs fuel if you're going to benefit from exercise. The right stuff, the right amount and at the right time. This means a light healthy snack before a workout (fresh fruit and vegetables are a good option) and ideally something light but protein-packed immediately afterwards (a chunk of cheese or some nuts), saving a bigger meal for later on.
  • Drink. Drink before, during and after your workout. Drink water, whatever the advertisements for yet another sports drink might be telling you.
  • Stretch. Stretch before and after exercise. No, just because you're quite fit already doesn't mean you don't need it. Warmed up muscles will be less prone to injury during a workout, and a body that's been given the chance to cool down gently will process the effects of exercise better.

Are you starting to notice a pattern? The basics are as much about what you do before and after your workout as what you do during the time you're actually exercising. Think of them as a sort of framework. Without them, you risk dehydration, energy depletion and injury.

Being a creature of habit

Being a creature of habit could mean a number of things in the context of an exercise regime. Perhaps you're doing the same exercises over and over and over again at the gym. If twenty press-ups get results, surely doing one hundred will be five times as good? Maybe you've got stuck in a particular routine – you always do 20 minutes on the rower, 20 minutes of a strength training circuit you can reel off in your sleep, and another 20 minutes on the treadmill. Or perhaps you have a bit of a personal obsession – you love anything cardio but are neglecting strength training, for example.

Whatever form it takes, being a creature of habit is not a good thing when it comes to an effective exercise regime. There's a risk of stagnation at best and injury (because you're on autopilot or because you're putting undue pressure on your joints and muscles by repeating the same narrow range of movements) at worst. The solution? A regular audit of your workout routine, building variation into your week, and not being afraid to try new things.

Destructive post-workout habits

What do you do after your workout? Do you feel that you deserve a treat after all that hard work? And what form does your treat take? A bar of chocolate perhaps, or an extra-large latte at the cafe round the corner? Maybe a glass or two of wine? Unfortunately, these little rewards are anything but harmless. In fact, the mind-set of deserving a treat after having been virtuous is probably to blame for the fact that many people find that they put on weight when they join a gym, rather than losing it. Those calories add up alarmingly quickly to a total that's greater than you could possibly hope to burn off during an hour's workout, however strenuous it might be. And it's not just about calories per se – rewarding yourself with “naughty” treats – a.k.a. junk – is hardly a good way of looking after your body, is it...

The solution? Either develop a workout that is enjoyable in its own right so that you don't feel the need for a reward afterwards, or go for rewards that won't be actively bad for you, like a massage or a soak in the Jacuzzi.

It might all sound very obvious, but avoiding these very basic errors can make the difference between a workout that is good for you and one that may be detrimental to your health and well-being.