What NOT to do at the Gym: 7 Mistakes You Should Avoid

As a personal trainer and passionate exerciser, I spend many hours observing people at the gym, so I am well versed in the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to get their sweat on. Here are seven of the worst things I’ve seen people do again and again, how to avoid them, optimize your workout, and stay pain and injury-free.

Gym Mistake #1: Doing exercises with improper form, especially squats and lunges. Squats and lunges are one of the biggest calorie burners, and they are portable, so you can do them anywhere! The common mistake is to hold your weight in the front toes with the heel coming up off of the ground, and/or allowing the front knee to go beyond the front toe at the bottom of the exercise. This can cause knee pain and injury. Instead, put your weight in the heel of your foot, allowing your toes to freely wiggle inside your shoe. This will also actively engage the gluteus muscles, and so you will feel it in your hamstrings and glutes–just where you want it.

Gym Mistake #2: Doing the same old thing. Varying your routine will keep you mentally engaged and will also continue to challenge the body. You can change your routine by doing any of the following: changing the intensity or effort (increasing the weight, incline, or level), adding or subtracting minutes, choosing a different type of activity, doing the same activities in a different order, or working different muscle groups on different days, allowing overused muscles to rest.

Gym Mistake #3: Using the machines most of the time. While machines can be used occasionally develop strength in certain muscles, they don’t challenge the body the way balanced or core exercises do because they are providing a stable base of support for the body to lean on. Instead, make your body work like a machine by doing exercises that use your own body for resistance, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. Common gym equipment such as free weights, resistance bands and balls, barbells, and kettle bells also allow the body to use its core muscles for stability. You may even find a TRX suspension system in your gym, which also allows for free-flowing movement.

Gym Mistake #4: Going too heavy or too light. While too much weight can cause injury due to improper form, too little weight is a waste of time. Choose a weight that will allow you to complete between 12 and 15 repetitions, while still maintaining correct form. The last few repetitions should be difficult to complete so that you “fatigue” the muscle. If you are just warming up, or if you are a beginner, using a light weight for one set is a good way to check your form and to get comfortable with the movement.

Gym Mistake #5: Hunching over. Sitting at a desk all day or spending hours in the car can cause the shoulders to round and the back to hunch; often this improper posture is carried into the gym. Trying to do any exercise from this position is a recipe for injury and ineffective movement. To improve your alignment, visualize a long string reaching from the ceiling all the way down your spine to your tail bone. If you roll your shoulders back and down, it can reset your body into correct alignment. This should be your base or set position for starting any exercise.

Gym Mistake #6: The “all or nothing” mentality. The busiest times of year at the gym tend to be January (New Year’s Resolutions), May (prep for swimsuits), and September (end of summer vacation, and back to the daily grind). People will hit the gym hard after months of inactivity; too much stress on a detrained body can cause injury and pain. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Ease back into your workout routine to gradually train your body into top shape, and keep yourself coming back to the gym by staying free of injury and pain.

Gym Mistake #7: Being a “chest and bi’s” guy or an “abs”  girl. If you are only working the muscles that you can actually see, you are missing out on the results you’ll get from getting a full body workout. Strengthening your back muscles doing rows and pull-ups, and your hamstrings by doing squats and lunges can help balance your body out. And, you’ll look good from behind, too!

Sweet, Cheesy Pancakes that Won’t Fill You OUT

I’ve been making these over the past month for breakfast and snacks. My husband loves them! If you make the batter early in the week, you can enjoy them all week long, and they are full of protein and healthy carbohydrates–2 pancakes make a perfect snack, or enjoy 3 pancakes topped with 1 tbsp. syrup 3/4 cup of berries for a 250-calorie fiber-packed breakfast.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients¼ cup white whole wheat flour (spooned and leveled)

½ cup quick cooking oats

1 tablespoon sugar (or alternative sweetener such as Splenda granular or 2 packets)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup low-fat (1%) or fat free cottage cheese

2/3 cup buttermilk (1% or skim milk also works well)

2 large egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons lemon juice or 1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Dash of salt

Cooking spray, butter flavor if available

1. In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir in cottage cheese, milk, egg whites, vanilla, lemon juice (or zest), and salt.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray pan with cooking spray. Working in batches, drop cottage cheese mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into pan (2 or 3 at a time).

3. Cook until bottoms are set and tops have small bubbles, about 1 minute. Turn pancakes and cook until just firm in the center, 1 to 3 minutes more. Repeat until all batter has been used. Makes about 10 pancakes.

Nutrition Information per pancake (using fat free cottage cheese and real sugar): 52 calories, 0.6g total fat (0.2g saturated fat), 2mg cholesterol, 102mg sodium, 31mg potassium, 7.4 g carbohydrate, 0.7g fiber, 2.7g sugar, 4.5g protein

Katrina’s Healthy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Servings: 4

8 slices whole wheat bread
1 tsp light soft tub margarine such as Smart Balance Light (50 calories or less per tablespoon)
4 slice low-fat (2%) cheddar, swiss, or other cheese such as Cabot 50% or 75% reduced fat

Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Spread soft margarine one side of each piece of bread and place a slice of cheese between dry sides of each pair. Cook about 2 minutes per side, or until golden and cheese has melted.

Optional additions: center cut bacon (naturally lean), tomato slices, onion, sliced apples or pear, spinach, etc.

Great pairings:
low fat (2%) swiss + mushrooms
low fat cheddar + apple slices
low fat feta + spinach + red onion
low fat american + lean ham

Per Serving (with 1 slice low-fat cheese): calories 249, fat 4.7g, calories from fat 17%, protein 8.5g, cholesterol 10.4mg, dietary fiber 4.0g

Party-Perfect Appetizer Recipe and Low-cal Alcohol Recipes and Tips

Having a Labor Day BBQ? Or, going to one? This is a healthy, delicious appetizer everyone will love.

Party-Perfect Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Combine 1-10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach (drained), 1 can chopped and drained artichoke hearts, 4 oz. fat-free cream cheese, 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, ½ cup fat free yogurt, ¼ cup skim milk, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes and serve with crudités and baked whole-grain pita chips.

Body-Conscious Cocktail Recipes and Tips

You can also do virgin versions of any of these. Leave out the alcohol, obviously.

Guiltless Margarita: Blend diet lemon-lime soda such as Sprite Zero with tequila, Crystal Light lemonade flavor, lime juice, and crushed ice. Serve with a lime wedge and a touch of salt on the glass rim if desired.

Chocolate Mudslide: Blend cocoa powder, skim milk, sugar-free chocolate syrup, sweetener, vodka, and crushed ice. Top with a dollop of light whipped topping and a shake of cocoa powder.

Mojito: Crush mint leaves and lime zest , and add lemon-lime soda and rum. Serve over ice with a lime wedge.

Flavored Vodka and zero-calorie mixer pairings:
-Cherry vodka + diet coke/pepsi/coke zero
-blueberry vodka + unsweetened iced tea
-Crystal Light (any flavor) + unflavored vodka
-New Crystal Light alcohol mixers–check amazon.com to order (Flavors include mojito, margarita, and others)

Beers 100-calories or less: Bud Light Lime (delicious), Michelob Ultra, Miller Light, Coors Light, Bud Light, Bud Light Select (55 cal); MGD 64 (64 cal)

Wine (red or white) or Wine Spritzers: combine white wines with club soda and a splash of fruit juice.

Are you in an exercise rut? Simply change up your routine.

Change your routine up this week to challenge your body and start seeing results again. Do this by changing any of the following: frequency (number of times per week), duration (length of workout), intensity (speed or weight of resistance), or sequence (order of exercises). For example, instead of walking for 45 minutes and doing 15 minutes of weight training, walk for 20 minutes, do 20 minutes of weight training, and do 20 minutes of walking. Or, instead of your usual weight training circuit, do each machine for twice as long, and do half the number of circuits.

Quick Last-Minute Recipes to Enjoy Summer Produce

As summer comes to a close, take advantage of all of the great produce before it’s too late! Here are my favorite ways to prepare summer’s bounty:
1. Dice up local peaches, saute in 1 tsp soft tub margarine, add cinnamon, and use as a topping for nonfat vanilla yogurt or whole grain waffles.
2. Puree watermelon and mix with club soda for a fun “mocktail.”
3. Microwave shucked corn in a wet paper towel for 2 minutes per ear. Spray with butter spray and Old Bay seasoning.
4. Tomatoes: slice them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on top of whole grain toast spread with light cream cheese and smoked salmon.
5. Eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes: saute with garlic and 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan and simmer with chicken stock to create a delicious ratatoille. Serve with brown rice and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

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