Hey, listen: I hate the gym too. I also, frankly, don’t like exercising. So I commend you for moving around at all, whether it’s because you’ve realised that it’s easier than lugging yourself down to your local sweaty Fitness First at 7AM or you’re just making good use of the equipment you impulse-bought in the depths of that first lockdown.
But just because you’re working out from home doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. There are plenty of mistakes that people make, many of them to do with limiting your gains, wasting energy or causing soreness and even injury. Fortunately, they’re all pretty common mistakes and there are solutions to most of them.
Whether you’re looking to take your home workouts to the next level or you’re a beginner and want to avoid starting on the wrong foot, here are a few common mistakes people make and how to solve them, according to personal trainers.
BUYING LOADS OF EQUIPMENT TO USE AT HOME
Getting hench might seem tricky when you don’t have 10KG of metal to lug about. But that doesn’t mean you have to immediately equip your whole room out like your own personal gym (unless you have the space and funds, in which case – sure, go for it).
“People forget that actually, strength training is basically resistance training,” says Lillie Bleasdale, personal trainer and head coach at PASSA. “So bodyweight and resistance bands offer a lot.”
In other words, while people might rely on using machines and weights at the gym, just using your bodyweight in different ways (pull-ups, press-ups, squats etc) can be pretty effective. You might not start seriously packing a mass – because that does take heavy weights – but you’re going to get stronger, which can only be good.
Bleasdale also points out that home exercises can be improved by something called “time under tension”.
“What this basically means is how long you’re keeping your muscles contracted or extended during a specific exercise,” she says. So if you’re doing a press-up or a squat, for example, try holding the position for a few more seconds each time. That’ll burn more than absolutely smashing through every exercise.
DOING HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT) EVERY DAY
Somewhere along the line, many of us internalised the myth that if we do HIIT for 15 mins a day, every day, we’re going to come out looking like Dwayne Johnson crossed with Jessica Ennis-Hill. Plus: It’s convenient and quick and gets the heart pumping.
Sadly, while good for a lot of things – improving oxygen consumption, for example, or increasing your metabolism – HIIT isn’t the panacea you think it is.
“People do something like HIIT every day, because it feels so good. It’s very addictive,” says personal trainer Meera Kumar. “However, it also puts a lot of stress on your body and it’ll increase your levels of cortisol. You have to remember that exercising is a stressor, so you have to honour that recovery process.”
Kumar recommends doing it a couple times a week, but balancing it with other activities. Which leads us on to…
DOING THE SAME WORKOUT EVERY DAY
Repetition is probably going to be the biggest hindrance to your fitness progress. “You won't gain strength, you won't gain speed, or whatever your goals are, because you're just doing the same thing over and over again,” says Devinder Bains, a personal trainer and health coach. “Your muscles adapt to the exercises that you're doing very easily.”
Whether you’re forgetting to exercise certain muscle groups (we all know the upside-down triangle guys who skip leg day), or you’re doing the very same exercises every day, repetition will hold you back. Like anything, your routine has to get continuously more challenging for you to progress.
“We can take the idea down to focusing just on your abs, for example,” says Bains. “When you're working your core, don't just work with sit-ups and crunches. Make sure you incorporate exercises that involve rotation and functional movements. Because humans rotate – we reach up, we bend down. Exercise is supposed to help us do other things in life better and more easily.”
NOT MOVING ENOUGH WHEN NOT WORKING OUT
“Humans are meant to move periodically, not just once in the day,” Kumar points out. This doesn’t mean you should be non-stop working out, but it can help to incorporate a nice walk or some yoga into the mix.
“It helps with recovery,” Bains adds. “It’s called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).”
Personal trainers continually underline the importance of NEAT. Generally, when you go to the gym, you’ve tied your shoes, gone up or down a flight of stairs and pushed a few doors open at least before getting there. At home we’re often guilty of moving from bed to burpee in an instant, which isn’t ideal for the body.
It’s important to emulate that little bit of moving you’d do when at a gym where possible. This might mean walking while taking phone calls, having a stroll around the block before working out or going up and down the stairs. It all makes a difference.
NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO TECHNIQUE OR FORM
Having good form means you’re working out more efficiently. Having bad form means you might be targeting unintended muscle groups, or wasting energy. Most people don’t tend to pay any attention to their form or technique when exercising at home, but this can be missing a trick.
“A key thing that I've been doing with my clients is asking them to film exercises and then watch it back and look at their form,” says Bains. “Notice where you might have a knee wobbling or something not quite in-line or tilted over to one side more than the other. Then work on it next time.”
If you’ve never thought about form before, knowing when you’re doing it right might seem difficult – but once you master it, home workouts can be improved forever. “Caroline Girvan on YouTube is a really good trainer to watch when it comes to form,” Bains adds. If you’re not sure whether your form is one hundred percent, Girvan, like all good trainers, would prefer you “lifted lighter and focussed on getting form correct”.
So there you have it, folks. Working out from home doesn’t have to be all pain and zero gain. Happy improving.