Common Mistakes Made by Individuals Who Engage in Aerobic Exercise

Fitness Expert

1. Rely upon "muscle burn" as an accurate indicator of exercise intensity. For an aerobic training effect to occur, individuals must exercise at or above a specific intensity of exercise (e.g., 60% to 90% of their maximum heart rate). In reality, your heart’s response to the demands of exercise is not related to how much your muscles "burn" during physical activity. It is more important to focus upon your overall perception of effort (rating of perceived exertion, or RPE), which is closely linked to your training heart rate.

2. Mistake neuromuscular difficulty as a meaningful barometer of training intensity. Some exercise activities require a greater degree of motor skill (including coordination, agility, balance, and power) than others. Even though individuals may find it relatively difficult to perform whatever combination of limb and trunk movements are involved in a particular activity (e.g., exercising on a crosscountry skiing machine), it does not necessarily mean that they are achieving the desired training effect.

3. Work out at an inappropriate level of intensity. Getting the most out of your aerobic exercise efforts requires that you exercise within a particular training zone. If you fail to work out hard enough, you won’t achieve the desired training effect. On the other hand, if you work out too hard, you may incur other negative consequences (e.g., be unable to exercise sufficiently long enough or injure yourself).

4. Engage in activities that place too much stress on the lower extremities. Some aerobic activities involve a greater degree of impact forces on the lower body of the exerciser than others. By the same token, some individuals can withstand greater loads on their lower extremities than others. As such, it is critical that you select your aerobic exercise modality wisely. For example, if your feet, ankles, or knees are unduly susceptible to excessive force while exercising, you should avoid certain activities, such as jogging downhill.

5. Worry more about the clothes on their body than the footwear on their feet. How you look while working out has no impact whatsoever on the nonsocial benefits you might otherwise achieve from your exercise efforts. As a rule, the most important personal wear item of significant consequence while exercising is proper footwear.

6. Lean on the exercise machine while working out. Many individuals compromise the safety and quality of their aerobic workouts by excessively leaning on the handrails of whatever aerobic equipment device they are using while exercising (e.g., treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, or stair climbers). Such a practice reduces the overall quality and safety level of the workout.

7. Fail to warm up before exercising. To diminish the likelihood of overdoing things with your heart and to help make your exercise efforts orthopaedically safer, you need to warm up before you work out.

8. Fail to get enough rest. Even though you may feel passionate about exercising, you need to give your body an occasional day off (or two) from working out to provide your body with the opportunity to recover from the physical demands you have placed upon it.

9. Wear weighted items (such as vests, wristbands, or ankle weights) while exercising. In addition to offering limited training benefits, the practice of wearing weighted items while exercising increases your risk of changing your exercise mechanics during the activity. Such a change may expose your musculoskeletal system to a heightened level of undue stress.

10. Rely upon aerobic exercise gimmicks marketed on television and the Internet. Geared to individuals who are wishfully looking for a quick, easy, and painless way to achieve the innumerable benefits of proper exercise, most of these items look to good to be true. . . and they are.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.