The cheat: Cutting class before the cool-down
The verdict: Go ahead and take off! It's not mandatory to stick around for a guided stretch — or to complete a whole hour-long class. Recent research out of Appalachian State University in North Carolina shows that after 45 minutes of intense exercise, your body may remain in an elevated calorie-burning mode for up to 14 hours. But before you make a beeline for the showers, you must give your heart a chance to slow down, especially after an intense session, says Meghan Callaway, a certified personal trainer in Vancouver. The good news is walking home from the gym or even taking the long way to the locker room will help your body ease back to its regular rhythm.
Also see: Seven gym-free ways to slim down quickly for a big event
The cheat: Not breaking a sweat
The verdict: Your workout doesn't need to be heart-pumping cardio to count as hard work. In fact, you may not sweat at all from lifting weights, but you may get more overall health benefits. Pilates classes, for example, don't tend to get sweaty because they isolate smaller core muscle groups. "The emphasis is on deep core muscles and the pelvic floor, which requires slower, subtler movements," says Marta Hernandez, a certified Pilates instructor and owner of the Space Wellness Centre in Vancouver. This means that although you're getting a good workout, your heart rate doesn't usually increase enough to make you break a sweat.
Also see: The real secret to being fit and healthy: High-intensity vs. low-intensity exercise
The cheat: Putting off your hard day
The verdict: Not feeling up to a tough workout? Go ahead and fill that time with a gentle yoga class or light stroll — even if you're a little under the weather. "The most important thing is to stick to a schedule. Once you break your routine, it's so much harder to get back on track," says Zach Weston, a kinesiology professor at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "Just try to work out a little harder later in the week," he says. That said, if you're really feeling sick, you get a free pass, because it might not be safe to exercise. Not sure when it's okay and when it's not? Remember the neck-up rule: If you have a head cold, you're in the clear, but if you're sick from the neck down (with a chest infection or upset stomach), skip your session to avoid overtaxing your body when it's trying to recuperate.
Also see: 11 best slimming strategies of all time
The cheat: Walking during your run
The verdict: "Even elite marathon runners take walk breaks," says Weston. In fact, some experts believe runners who do short walks during their races are able to go farther and faster overall. In other words, you might finish sooner by walking a little. One popular walk-run method is broken down into 10-minute blocks of running followed by one minute of walking. And those breaks don't benefit just the pros: "They work well for people just learning to run, too," says Weston. New runners can ease into their program by slowly building up the time they run rather than walk.
Also see: Walking: The single best thing you can do for your health
The cheat: Jumping straight into your workout without holding any stretches
The verdict: Static stretching after exercise is a good idea, but some research says too much beforehand may decrease performance. And one large study of runners conducted by USA Track and Field found that a lengthy warm-up before exercise yielded almost no benefits. Instead, get your body ready with a few dynamic stretches like leg swings, butt kicks and walking lunges.
Also see: 14 strategies for a happy (and flat) tummy
The cheat: Resting longer than suggested during a circuit session
The verdict: Keeping your heart rate up is the key to circuit training, but it's not a deal breaker if you rest for an extra 30 seconds to a minute between sets. "Longer breaks might even do you good if you're a beginner," says Callaway. A little extra time to catch your breath might put you in a better position to complete all of your sets, and at a higher intensity, which means you'll have a more successful workout overall.
The cheat: "Forgetting" your water bottle at home or on your desk
The verdict: Although many gym-goers seem to chug back litres of water during a workout, that's not really necessary, says Callaway. A mild to moderate half-hour workout typically doesn't require much hydration. "Some of my clients don't like to carry a water bottle when they run, and I tell them that's okay, as long as it's a short route, and they're not out in intense heat," she says. However, if you're doing a moderate to intense workout for more than 45 minutes, or sweating profusely, having some H2O on hand is a good idea: Drink one and a half to two and a half cups of water to replace what you're sweating out.
The verdict: A good night's sleep sets your body up to perform better during the day. Research shows you automatically eat less and have more energy when you're well rested. So if you've had a long week (or a late night), forgoing exercise at the crack of dawn is probably a good idea. "You have to listen to your body. Working out with serious fatigue can be detrimental to your health, because it puts extra strain on your body, making you even more run down or prone to unhealthy cravings," says Andra Campitelli, a Toronto-based fitness consultant and naturopathic doctor. But keep yourself in check! If you're constantly skipping morning workouts, that's a sign you should change your routine permanently — and switch to afternoon or evening sessions.
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