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Maximize Your Workout

Get results faster -- without injury or burnout -- by avoiding five of the most common workout mistakes. We consulted top professionals to get the key tips and advice they give to their clients. Learn how to maximize moves, use correct form, and push your workout to a new level.

The Problem: Too Much Too Soon
Enthusiasm is great, but too much weight lifting or excessive cardio on an unconditioned body can result in injury. Your mind needs time to adjust as well. When people start off too strong, the pleasure and gratification tend to drop soon after and they quit, says Erin McGill, training and development coordinator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

The Fix
Start slow and listen to your body. With weights, aim to complete at least eight reps; if you can only do six or seven, the weights are too heavy. For cardio, if you're exhausted or can't catch your breath during a workout, take it down a notch. After your routine feels comfortable, you can increase the weight and add 10 minutes of cardio, says Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Missouri State University. Give your body time to adjust, and you'll be more likely to avoid injury and stick with it.

The Problem: Not Enough Heft
Fear of bulking up keeps some women from challenging themselves with heavier weights, instead opting for many reps of lighter weights. "Women don't really have the hormones for creating muscle bulk," points out McGill. If you skimp on the pounds, you won't stimulate the need for muscles to grow stronger and tighter.

The Fix
Choose enough weight so you can complete eight to 10 reps; the last rep should be tough, but not so difficult that you can't maintain good form. As you adapt, increase your reps up to around 12, advises Bushman. When that becomes effortless, increase the weight and drop back down to eight reps. You'll work harder and see results faster.

The Problem: Using Momentum
Lifting weights too quickly uses momentum, not muscles. This increases your risk of injury because you're not in control of the range of motion. "Our bodies find ways to compensate when muscle groups are too weak to produce the movement," says McGill. "The excessive force is distributed, potentially causing joint pain and straining connective tissue."

The Fix
Lift the weight to a count of one, hold for a count of two, then lower to a count of four, recommends the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You'll stay injury-free by keeping control of the exercise, instead of the exercise controlling you.

The Problem: Improper Breathing
Do you ever hold your breath when lifting or during an all-out cardio interval? For some reason we think this translates into more power or vigor. But the opposite is true; depriving our bodies of oxygen inhibits performance. Proper breathing increases the oxygen to our muscles, helping us push out a few extra reps or endure the last leg of cardio.

The Fix
To ensure you breathe while lifting, Bushman recommends focusing on exhaling during the lift and inhaling when you lower the weight. To help maintain controlled breathing during cardio, listen to the rhythm of your breath. If you're gasping, or if it's forced, choppy, or irregular, drop the intensity down a notch. Not only will you get a more effective workout, you'll also decrease the stress on your body.

The Problem: Incorrect Alignment
Fatigue or distractions can lead to poor posture while working out. "Losing correct spinal alignment during exercise happens frequently because poor posture has become second nature," says McGill. Not only will this result in an inefficient workout (a misaligned body isn't using its full strength), but it can result in injury.

The Fix
"Optimal spinal alignment includes a neutral spine," says McGill. Don't tilt your pelvis forward or backward, and draw in your abdominals. If you can't maintain this form during cardio, lower the intensity, advises Bushman. Maintaining good posture and a strong core is crucial to weight training, too. Don't arch your back, and focus on keeping your core still -- no rocking or shifting of your body. You'll get a better workout when your body is aligned and stable.

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