17 Exercise Habits That Are Actually Hurting You
We spoke to nine fitness experts to figure out which seemingly harmless exercise habits might actually be hurting you or causing injury.
From the way you’re stretching (or not stretching!) to doing the same workout every day, you might be putting your body through unnecessary stress and pain.
Whether you’re an exercise newbie or you’ve been on your fitness grind for years, there’s no doubt you enjoy the many feel-good benefits of exercise on your physical and mental health — regular exercise is great for your brain and body, and challenging your body just feels awesome.
But plenty of common workout habits are actually kind of dangerous, and you may unknowingly be hurting yourself in the process. INSIDER spoke with nine fitness experts who gave us the low-down on common habits that are not only ruining your workouts but also potentially causing you to injure yourself.
You’re working out every single day.
Although it’s true that getting regular exercise is awesome for your body, you absolutely need to give yourself adequate rest. According to Dr. Chelsea Axe, DC, CSCS and fitness expert at DrAxe.com, there are some potentially risky (and even life-threatening!) side effects of not giving your body the rest it needs.
“The side effects of overtraining are real and can range from mild to potentially life-threatening. Consistently skipping our rest days and overtraining can lead to poor performance and excess fatigue, thanks to [the] negative impacts not just on your muscles, but your metabolic, immune and hormonal systems, too,” she told INSIDER.
Another possible result? Weight gain — which is likely the opposite of what you’re looking for. “Another common consequence of too much training is actually weight gain. Failing to use your rest days, you risk chronically elevated cortisol levels, which impairs insulin sensitivity and puts your body into fat-storing mode,” Dr. Axe said.
There are a myriad other physical issues associated with excessive exercise, according to Dr. Axe. She notes “joint pain, signs of adrenal fatigue, digestive issues, irritability, insomnia and irregular periods for women are all other warning signs that you’re in dire need of more rest days.”
One other seriously scary side effect is a higher risk of depression. Dr. Axe notes that it’s “one of the most surprising and serious impacts of overtraining and skipping rest days over the long term,” adding, “Miami University researchers found that overtraining coincided with increased depression symptoms and suicidal behaviors related to growing pain insensitivity.”
Dr. Axe advises that you “pay attention to the other things going on in your life, too.” She notes, “If you’re experiencing a few days of extreme psychological stress, counter that with more yoga or stretching … It’s most likely just what your adrenals really need.” Even athletes are sure to take regular rest days, and it’s critical that you do, too.
You’re a “weekend warrior,” saving workouts for your days off.
As our schedules get increasingly busier, it’s easy to compensate by saving intense workouts for weekends and days off instead of trying to squeeze them in during the week. This is a bad idea, according to Dr. Axe.
“One of the most serious threats of playing the weekend warrior game is a condition called rhabdomyolysis,” she explained. Often associated with ‘crush’ injuries that happen during terrorist attacks, natural disasters, war or car accidents, it can also be triggered by a single case of overtraining.
If it sounds scary, that’s because it is.
“Rhabdomyolysis, known as rhabdo, is a complex condition that is triggered by the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle,” Dr. Axe told INSIDER. “This breakdown leads to muscle proteins leaking out of the cells and into the bloodstream. People who de-conditioned and jump fast into training are at an elevated risk of rhabdo, a condition that can ultimately lead to everything from an electrolyte imbalance to acute renal failure.”
You’re only doing one type of workout.
Maybe you’re addicted to that spin bike or prefer to crush it in the weight room, thinking that as long as you’re not sitting on the couch all day, it’s better than nothing. And although that is true, you’ve got to switch up your workouts often, if only to prevent injury.
According to Tyler Spraul, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com, there are a few issues with sticking to the same exact fitness routine.
“This can hurt you in a few ways,” he told us. “You’re only going to get better in that one area — whatever it is that you’re focusing on. If you want to be more well-rounded, you need to try different exercises and workout styles! Even professional athletes need to have strong foundations in more general parts of fitness like conditioning, mobility, moving through different planes, etc. instead of only training the specific moves they use at work.”
Plus, the effects on the muscles you’re working — and not working — are potentially detrimental.
“If you’re only doing one thing, chances are that you will build up a lot of imbalances between different muscle groups, and maybe even from one side of your body to the other. While muscle imbalances are common and not usually problematic, if you only do one thing year after year, you’re going to run into trouble,” he told us. “You also need to be on the lookout for signs of overuse. Repeating the same motions over and over can cause problems, particularly if your form isn’t spot on”
He also noted that if you’re feeling pain or soreness in your joints and ligaments instead of your muscles, that something’s not right.
You’re loyal to your cardio machine of choice.
Since we already told you how important it is to switch up your workouts, you will definitely want to add variety to keep your muscles safe and healthy. But sorry, switching from running to spinning or going from the treadmill to the elliptical doesn’t count.
Yes, it’s crucial that your workouts get your heart rate up, but cardio-based workouts do little for many of the biggest (and smallest!) muscles on your body, like your core.
“If you only focus on cardio, you probably have strong legs, but you may end up with a weak core and upper body since you aren’t doing anything to strengthen those muscles. You can also end up reinforcing muscle imbalances,” Dr. Jasmine Marcus, a New York-based physical therapist, told INSIDER. “For example, you may be overusing your quadriceps and neglecting to use your glutes. Over time, your glutes may get weaker and weaker, and unless you specifically work on strengthening them, your muscle imbalance will only get larger.”
You’re adding too much weight too quickly.
Conversely, if you’re all about strength training, it’s critical that you’re super careful about how you’re doing those reps.
“Your connective tissues might not be able to handle the stress of heavier weights if you try to progress too fast. In order to avoid this, I recommend keeping the weight where you can control it 100% on the way down for the majority of your workouts,” Spraul said.
Working with a trainer — especially at first — is perfect for learning about the proper way to lift weights, so you build stronger muscles without risking injury.
Those Spin classes are unknowingly doing damage to your hip and knee joints.
Plenty of trendy cardio workouts have droves of loyalists, and with good reason: Who doesn’t want to have a dance party on a bike? But even if you prefer other group fitness classes, like cardio dance or yoga, or even if your go-to workout is simply running on a treadmill or outside, you have to know how to protect your sensitive joints from injury — and it’s not as easy as you’d think.
“If your workout is hurting a joint in your body, you are potentially damaging the joint. Pain is often a warning sign from you body to stop doing something harmful, and ignoring that warning sign can lead to injury,” Dr. Marcus said.
She cites spin classes as causing the potential for hamstring tendonitis, an overuse injury in the soft tissues that connect the muscles of the back of your thigh to the pelvis, knees, and lower legs.
So even though you might be addicted to getting your sweat on, Dr. Marcus says to listen to your body, acknowledging any amount of pain or tenderness … even if it feels mild.
“Your best bet is to have a certified trainer or physical therapist watch you doing the painful exercise to see you how you can perform the exercise in a pain free way and correct the potential injury before it becomes serious,” she advised.
You’re doing a few static stretches pre-workout.
Stretching can be annoying when you’ve only got time for a quick workout, but it’s a pretty important part of keeping your body running at its peak. But there is a right way to stretch, and it doesn’t involve a few static stretches before you jump right in.
“You should never stretch statically (holding stretches) before working out,” Dr. Marcus said. “This can decrease your strength in the short term and lead to injury. Instead, you should perform an active warm-up and save static stretches for after your workout.”
Spraul agreed, noting that it’s more important to focus on how you’re stretching.
“If someone is feeling pretty tight, [it’s] no problem to get some stretching in to loosen up a bit and get things back in order, but I would prioritize dynamic movements for both warm-up and cool-down, to slowly ramp things up before a workout then back down after you’re done,” he said.
“It’s not a good idea to go from 0 to 100, then right back to 0 sitting on the couch! It doesn’t give your body time to adjust and you end up triggering more of a fight-or-flight response [by rushing], and if you skip the cool-down, you’ll only be extra sore and tight the next day.”
You’re using a foam roller all wrong.
If you pray to the gods of the foam roller to ease any soreness before or after your workout, you know just how effective a tool it can be. However, foam rolling the wrong way can lead to serious injury.
According to Dr. Axe, you’ll want to “find a tender spot on the muscle and hold it with pressure over the foam roller for at least 30 seconds,” but “do not roll quickly over the tender muscle adhesion,” which can cause pain.
She added, “Never foam roll your lower back. It can mess with the natural curve of your back, ” noting that “mid- to upper back is OK, so long as your health professional doesn’t advise against foam rolling.”
Lastly, you’ll want to be gentle. Dr. Axe said not to “apply so much pressure that you’re feeling intense pain, tingling or numbness. Rolling muscles is OK, but you shouldn’t be pinching nerves, stopping blood flow or rolling over bones, tendons and ligaments.”
Your form is all out of whack.
It can be hard, especially in the beginning, to know if your fitness moves are effective … but trust us, good form is critical to preventing injury and pain.
“If your form isn’t good, you may be doing something harmful such as over-stressing your knees,” according to Dr. Marcus ” You also may not be strengthening the muscles you’re trying to strengthen. To fix this, have a certified trainer or physical therapist supervise one of your workouts so they can correct your form.”
Spraul agreed, especially when it comes to strength training routines.
“Everybody wants to keep increasing the weights they use, but the key to doing that is mastering the movement first,” he said. “Starting out with body-weight movements is an excellent way to learn and also build up your bones and connective tissue to prepare for harder workouts later on!”
It’s also important for cardio-based workouts, so all our experts agree that checking in with a licensed fitness professional is the best way to ensure your form is on point.
You’re setting unrealistic fitness goals.
Motivation is certainly important, and most of us have specific fitness goals, whether you’re looking to strengthen a certain area or focus on your overall health and fitness. But you also have to be patient with yourself and your body.
“It’s helpful to think of long-term progress,” Spraul said. “When it comes to working out, sometimes less is more. Keep in mind that your results aren’t going to come in one day … If you set unrealistic goals, you’re only setting yourself up to create workouts that you can’t recover from, get frustrated when you can’t do as well as you wanted, and ultimately end up losing your motivation because you don’t see any progress.”
Lots of people experience those initial bursts of motivation and go too hard, too fast, putting themselves at risk for burnout or injury. Slow and steady wins the race.
You’re not sleeping enough and still working out.
You might pat yourself on the back for having a rough night of sleep and still making it to that early morning sweat session, but those bleary-eyed gym sessions are not good for you.
“Skimping on sleep and trying to ‘warrior’ through challenging workouts and long workdays is a recipe for disaster! If this is a regular habit for you, chances are that your body is slowly breaking down over time instead of being built up and made stronger,” Spraul said.
Of course, this is challenging when running on little sleep is the norm for many of us, thanks to our frenetic daily pace and hectic daily schedules. In fact, you might even feel praise for still managing to squeeze in a workout, but Spraul says, “We’ve got to fight the mentality of celebrating getting so much done while running on only 3-4 hours of sleep.”
Getting enough sleep is essential for your overall health and well-being, and your fitness routine is a huge part of that. That’s why those rest days are extra important.
You’re not hydrating correctly.
We all know that drinking enough water is crucial to keep oxygen flowing to our muscles, but the way you hydrate is just as important, especially when it comes to working out. If you’re chugging a gallon of H2O just prior to working out, you may feel pretty ill when you go to hit the gym.
“A couple of ways to make sure you get enough water is to carry a water bottle with you and drink throughout the day,” Megan Ostler, a registered dietitian with iFit, told INSIDER. “Drink water when you wake up, before and with meals, and anytime in between.”
Ostler explained that “hunger can often be confused for dehydration,” so she said, “it’s a good idea to drink before snacking. Also, because your food provides about 20% of your total water intake, make sure to take advantage by filling up on water-loaded fruits and vegetables. Some of my favorites are watermelons, strawberries, spinach, and broccoli. They’ll not only help you hydrate, but because of their high water content, they’ll also help you feel full on less calories.”
And even though drinking water often carries a health halo, especially by health and wellness gurus, you can actually drink too much. ,
“Be careful not to overdo it. Even with water, you can drink too much,” Ostler said. “Over-hydration can be dangerous, due to an electrolyte imbalance in the body. This is a condition called hyponatremia. This typically occurs when you’re drinking and sweating a lot.”
How can you prevent hyponatremia? Ostler said, “Be sure to replenish your electrolytes, as well as water, with a sports drink when exercising for longer than an hour. Also, don’t drink more than one liter or quart per hour during exercise.”
You’re not eating to maximize performance.
There are no shortage of “rules” out there for what you should (and shouldn’t!) eat before or after a workout. But South Carolina-based Pilates instructor Anastasiya Goers explains that every person has different needs and only you know what yours are.
“[It’s] a personal preference,” she told INSIDER. “Some people can run a marathon after eating a bowl of spaghetti (my husband is like that!) while others get nauseated if they even eat a small cup of yogurt. [For afternoon or evening workouts], eat a small protein-packed snack about an hour before your workout. You can drink a protein shake, have some nuts, yogurt or scrambled eggs. If you are getting ready for a cardio workout, make sure to include some carbs as well (a slice of whole wheat toast, some berries, a banana.)”
As for those early morning sweat sessions? Goers said, “If you are working out first thing in the morning then listen to your body. You can have a small snack or wait to eat until after your workout. You have the best advisor in the world on your side — your body. Listen to your body to know exactly what and when to eat before a workout to stay energized and ready for the challenge.”
Your workouts are too long.
You might think that spending hours in the gym is great for your body, but more isn’t always better when it comes to fitness. In fact, excessively long workouts are just as dangerous as never taking a rest day.
“Overtraining occurs when your training volume or intensity is excessive for too long,” Emily Paskins, a trainer at iFit, told INSIDER. “This affects your body differently, based on the type of exercise that you’re doing. When workout volume becomes excessive, hormone levels may be affected, specifically testosterone and cortisol. When the intensity of the workouts are excessive, exercise-induced concentrations of catecholamines are elevated. These hormones are produced in a reaction to stress. Catecholamines elevate heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
You’re pushing through injury.
Maybe you ended up with a mild pain in your joints or some aches and pains that won’t quit post-workout, but it’s not enough to sideline you completely. You decide to push through, finishing your workout or continuing the next day even though you’re in a bit of pain. Bad move, says Amanda Basham, a trainer at iFit.
“Your body is pretty good at telling you when something is wrong. Soreness and pain are different, so you first have to distinguish which one it is. If it’s pain, your body is warning you that it needs a break. If you listen to it and stop when the pain is mild it may only take a rest day or two to fully recover. However, if you ignore that pain and push on then a mild discomfort can become a big problem. That big problem can turn into chronic injury that’s much harder to treat. When in doubt, less is more. Taking a rest day won’t derail your training. If it persists after a couple of days then consult your doctor.”
You’re jumping into those HIIT workouts too quickly.
If you’re all about trendy high-intensity interval training workouts, Mitchell Starkman, a sports and orthopedic therapist at The Movement Centre in Toronto, Canada, explained that though they’re a phenomenal choice, especially for those looking for a quick workout with high impact, you should be cautious:
“Where injuries often occur is when those who are new to this type of training jump in full swing, like they’ve been doing it for years. They get a great sweat going, and their breathing rate is up (which is great!), but for many, their tendons and muscles are not ready to be loaded this way. This is a recipe for tendinitis,” especially when your joints and tendons are not used to such activity. Starkman recommends that you “gradually progress yourself into this type of training if you’re looking to get started” to prevent potentially serious injury.
But even low-impact workouts, like yoga and Pilates, aren’t always injury-free.
If HIIT workouts or fast-paced cardio classes aren’t your style, you still have to listen to your body, even in gentle, low-impact methods like yoga and Pilates. In fact, like any workout, you need to be mindful of pushing past your personal limits on that day, something many people ignore because of the “low-impact” reputation many mat-based or stretching workouts have.
“All exercise has an inherent risk of injury, even low-impact workouts,” Shapiro said. “With yoga particularly, you can be overstretching certain muscle groups or creating tension by being in positions where your mobility is lacking.”
For Pilates (if using a reformer), the tension between the straps and your limb movement can cause hip or low back strain — ironically the areas you are working to strengthen. Most cases of injury for low-intensity exercise are based upon the participant trying to perform something they should not or using an intensity too high.”