Don't phone in your time on the treadmill: Challenge yourself!

Don't phone in your time on the treadmill: Challenge yourself!

By Josie Rubio

Working out is tough. It’s tempting to make things a little bit easier. Haven’t we all waited a few extra seconds before going into a plank or squat even though we understood the instructions? In the darkness of a cycling studio, who’s to know if you really turned up the resistance?

Following are a few common fitness cheats—and how to avoid them (at least some of the time).

Stopping or slowing down at the beginning of the countdown. “In an interval training class when the instructor counts down 3-2-1, many start ‘stopping’ at 3,” says Lisa Wheeler, the featured trainer in multiple fitness videos, including “Weight Watchers: Pick Your Spot Stability Ball Kit.” If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Wheeler adds, “I even find myself doing it.”

Waiting to start an interval. The cheats don’t just happen at the end of an interval. There’s also the delay in getting started to buy a few extra moments of rest. For example, Wheeler says she finds herself “picking up my weights when the instructor says ‘go.’ I don’t know why I do it! I am only cheating myself.”

Taking it easy. Christine Bullock, featured trainer in the “10 Minute Solution: Butt Lift” DVD, says she often catches clients often do a shorter or less intense version of the exercise. “We’ve all seen—or done—these ‘mini moves’—two-inch push ups, half squats, toe stands instead of jumps,” Bullock says. “They know they should be working towards a full range of motion—lowering their chests to hover just above the ground, squatting deeply and exploding into the air with their jumps.”

The reason, says Bullock, is that people think they should take it easy at the beginning of the workout to conserve energy for later. However, she says, “You’re going to get more out of the whole workout if you push yourself right now, even if that means you have less to give near the end of your session.”

The key is to know when you can do more and when you actually should rest to avoid strain and injury. “I tell people to train themselves to listen to their body,” says Wheeler. “That simple task takes training. We must remember that our brains tend to give up before our body does so try to decipher when your brain is telling you to quit and when your body can actually do a little more.”

Of course, listening to your body also means heeding warning signs that you’re overdoing it. “If you are feeling pain, experiencing nausea or feeling lightheaded, you are probably working too hard and you need to back off a bit,” Wheeler adds.

To discourage people creating their own mini moves or coming to a halt, many instructors will provide modifications. “I like to provide plenty of variations to each exercise in my class,” Bullock says. “This way no one ever feel like ‘I can’t do this move; I’ll just rest.’ Instead they have the same opportunity to challenge themselves with a move that works for them. You should always be moving even if that means you’re doing a slightly different movement.”

Poor form. Even though you shouldn’t conserve your energy for later by not giving your all at the beginning of a workout, once you do get tired, it’s easy to stop paying attention to proper form. “People start to sacrifice form and just throw themselves through the moves,” Bullock says. “Poor form is cheating too!” Plus, it’s not safe for the joints, she adds.

Instead of focusing on speed, pay attention to form once you feel yourself running out of steam. “I always notice distinct physical results when I focus on working correctly, rather than working quickly,” says Bullock. “It is also more meditative to me; I fully connect my thoughts with my movements and try to feel the specific muscles of my body working. Slow it down and your progress will speed up—then you can begin to push other areas of strength like power, speed and agility without putting yourself in danger.”

Skipping the final stretch at the end of the workout. While there have been plenty of conflicting reports about the benefits of stretching before a workout, it’s generally thought of as safe to stretch at the end, when the muscles are warmed up. Yet many of us try to save a little bit of time by leaving class early, before the final stretch. “It’s the best part of class but sometimes we don’t think we have ‘time’ for it,” says Wheeler. “Usually we are talking 5–7 minutes max.” Before cutting out early, she says, ask yourself, “Do I really have someplace I need to be?” The final stretch is a nice way to punctuate the end of a workout.

Looking for the closest parking spot at the gym. Why do we do that? Sometimes we have little cheats that we think are harmless—like opening our eyes when they’re supposed to be closed in yoga. But it's best to try to follow along the best you can. Remember: You’re only cheating yourself.

"The next time you are doing timed intervals, see if you can push harder in the last 10 seconds," says Wheeler. "Gauge how your feel. You might be surprised you feel awesome! Or the next time you are doing reps, do just one more. Again, you might be surprised what you can do. Think baby steps and just keep going just a little bit more each time."

Do you have your own fitness confessions? We have been sharing some of ours on Twitter with the hashtag #workoutconfessions. Share yours with us!