Six of the Worst Workout Habits

Some of the most common exercise routines could be turning your gym sessions into wasted time. Here's how to make every minute count.
By Sarah Kliff Newsweek Web Exclusive

Simply going to the gym doesn't guarantee you'll have a great workout. Reading a magazine on the treadmill, skipping breakfast before aerobics class, and ditching the weight room altogether are all things people often do that diminish the value of their visit. Here are six of the worst exercise habits many personal trainers say they see every day-and the best ways to avoid wasting time at the gym:

It's Not a Library: If you're concentrating on an article in Cosmo, it probably means that you're not focusing enough on your workout. Amie Hoff, a fitness consultant with New York Sports Clubs, says that reading can be one of the worst things to do while exercising. "If you're going to be there to work out, you have to focus on pushing your body," she says. If you do need a distraction to make it through, Hoff suggests watching television with earphones instead, since it tends to take up a little less attention.

Don't Sweat It: While getting drenched in sweat may feel like a more intense workout, shedding a few pounds of water weight is anything but healthy. "One of the things that continues to amaze me after 30 or 40 years is that people still try to sweat fat off," says Mark Occhipinti, president of the American Fitness Practitioners and Associates. "They exercise in a hot environment, thinking that they're losing fat or weight, but all they're doing is dehydrating themselves." And serious sweat can come with serious risks-the dehydration can lead to cramping and injuries. Your water intake-making sure that you have a bottle of water on hand at all times-is much more important than your water output.

Just Resist: Simply riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill means missing out on the benefits of resistance training, which can have an even more significant impact on weight loss than a lap around the track. "You might burn 100 calories walking a mile but in the same 20 minutes with a weight machine you may burn 300-400 calories," says Occhipinti. Resistance training will also strengthen the muscles necessary for every day activity, like climbing stairs or reaching for groceries, and keep muscles in shape for old age.

Weigh In: Scared that a round of weight lifting will cause you to look like Mr. Universe? Fear no more-it's a common misconception that heavy weight lifting or resistance training will cause females to bulk up. "That doesn't happen unless you're doing growth hormones," says Occhipinti. "You're not going to become a feared freak of nature if you add some weights."

Take a Bite: Exercising on an empty stomach is like driving on an empty tank. Your body needs energy to work with. A healthy snack, such as oatmeal and a banana, can digest during the drive to the gym and provide the extra boost you need. This is especially important in the morning. Because your body has been fasting overnight, you need to give it fuel to get moving.

Speak Up: Trying to look like a know-it-all will win you few workout points. For those new to the gym, one of the worst habits can be scanning the room, attempting to copy those around you. Most gyms have trainers on the floor and Hoff suggests taking advantage of them. "Don't abuse it, but if you're really questioning whether it's proper form, then go ahead and ask," she says.
"You really want to prevent injuries." The same goes when you're new to a fitness class-let the instructor know about any injuries or concerns. Your body will thank you.

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Gym Sins

Fitness club managers dish about their members' most obnoxious habits.
By Tina Peng Newsweek Web Exclusive

It was perhaps the most extreme case of gym rage—ever. While taking a Manhattan spin class last August, Christopher Carter became so annoyed by the unrelenting grunts and shouts of a fellow spinner that he tipped the other guy right off his bike and into a wall. The grunter was hospitalized for two weeks after the incident. Carter was acquitted of assault charges on June 2. Hopefully, the acquittal won't inspire a rash of altercations, as other exercisers decide that they too have had it with obnoxious gym behavior. Because any gym rat can tell you, grunting isn't the most irritating thing people do in fitness clubs. From making lunch in the sauna to sporting unsavory yoga attire, club managers report that some of their patrons are clueless when it comes to gym etiquette, or general decency. Here are nine of the most outrageous fitness club offenses.

1. The Sauna Stovetop A manager at a New York Sports Club was walking through the women's locker room a few years ago when she smelled cheese. Puzzled, she opened the door to the sauna, where a woman had placed bread and cheese on the hot rocks to make a postworkout grilled cheese sandwich. "Not only was it a health code violation, it was not really respectful to the other people in the sauna," says NYSC PR director Linda Hufcut. "She said, 'I do this all the time.' That was, obviously, the last time she ever did it.'"

2. Nude Fitness? A couple of visitors to a Gold's Gym in Paramus, N.J., decided to get naked and weigh themselves before they started working out. The two men didn't seem daunted by the fact that the scale was outside the locker room. They hung out by the scale, in full view of the other, clothed patrons, until a manager asked them to put some clothes on. They told Mike Epstein, the gym's owner, that they did that sort of thing all the time at their home gym. Perhaps they meant "home gym" as in the one in their basement.

3. Creative Blow-Drying A man in a California Crunch gym decided that the best way to dry out his sweaty shoes was to stick a hair dryer in each of them while he took his after-workout shower. He was shocked when managers asked him to cease and desist. "He said, 'I didn't even realize I shouldn't be doing this'," says Keith Worts, chief operating officer of Crunch, a national fitness chain.

4. Downward Dog? At another Crunch location a man had a habit of taking a yoga class while wearing shorts without underwear. He was more than happy to correct his faux pas as soon as managers made him aware that other members were uncomfortable with the view they were getting.

5. Work Out, Sleep In Some people get a little too relaxed at the gym. Gold's Gym managers have reported finding customers who fell asleep in the tanning facility and didn't wake up until the gym was closed, as well as customers who fell asleep on the bench press in between sets.

6. Killer Karaoke It's common and profoundly annoying: gymgoers get carried away listening to their music players. Before they know it they've treated everyone in the room to an off-key rendition of "...Baby One More Time." "I call it karaoke gone bad, because there is no background music and they're singing at the top of their lungs," says Harry Reo, a regional vice president for 24 Hour Fitness.

7. Talking (Too Much of) the Talk Fed up with people gabbing on their cell phones as they used the elliptical, many gyms have banned cell phones around workout equipment and designated areas for patrons to make calls. Still, people forget. "There's nothing worse than running on the treadmill and having someone next to you conducting an extremely loud conversation," says Hufcut, who's seen some people use walkie-talkies while on the treadmill.

8. Sweat Sins It seems basic, but enough people forget to wipe down their equipment after using it that this was one of the four deadly gym sins included on an informational video NYSC taped a few years ago. During the segment a careless gymgoer didn't dry off his machine; when he stood up, the entire machine was covered in dripping goo.

9. Scrimmage to Scuffle It's only logical that testosterone can run high at the gym, and sometimes managers need to break up altercations on the basketball court, says Nancy Pattee Francini, co-founder and president of the Sports Club/LA, which has 10 locations around the country. "Those guys, when they're playing basketball, can get into fights," she says. "They're not terrible fights—we're a high-end club."

These are, of course, the worst offenses, not the norm. Obnoxious behavior can usually be curbed with a little etiquette education, say gym owners. "Most of the time it's really an awareness issue with members," says Worts of Crunch. "We have to remind them that they're in a shared public space." Nonetheless, it might not be a bad idea to look over the list and make sure you're not committing any gym sins.

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