Understanding Fitness: An excerpt from ‘Fitness On The Go’ by Abhishek Sharma

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Avoid Five Common Mistakes

I often come across people, especially those who have not been exercising for a while, making the same mistakes when they start working out. I am sharing these with you at the beginning so you can learn from the mistakes of others and avoid these pitfalls.
Take up exercise that’s right for you—not what’s the latest fad. Don’t waste your precious workout time doing exercises that are not suited to you and which might do more harm than good.

Avoid an ‘Outside-In’ Approach

Workouts focused on acquiring a six-pack or muscles popping out of your T-shirt might not be for you, unless you are Salman Khan!
Avoid the common ‘outside-in’ approach to fitness. If you’re particularly pressed for time and are not already fit, trying to sculpt your body by excessive weight training is like trying to focus the little time you have towards decorating your house from the outside before fixing the leaking roof through which water is seeping onto your bed! Become aware about the basics of fitness. Decide what your realistic fitness goals should be. Keep in mind what is good for you in the long run before blindly signing up for a gym membership, or buying that abs machine with the goal of sculpting your body to look like your favourite model’s or film star’s.
Instead, adopt the ‘inside-out’ holistic approach to both fitness and wellness. By ‘inside-out’, I mean get acquainted with the current state of your body, its strengths and weaknesses, correct its imbalances, and get your basic overall fitness in place. If you are obese or have a chronic back problem or high blood pressure or extreme stiffness or weakness of certain muscles or any such imbalance, when you decide to take charge of your health, you should prioritize fixing these first before moving on to other superficial fitness goals.
The right way to start is with holistic exercises like yoga postures and walking, and then moving on to freehand fitness exercises like jogging, push-ups, and freehand weights.
A lot of men who come to train with me have done a brief duration of body building exercises using machines and had to stop due to injury or lack of time. Their body is in a worse state than before. It has become stiff, disproportionate, injury prone, and weak. Training towards getting a bodybuilder’s physique and training towards developing an athletic physique requires very different kinds of training. A bodybuilder mainly trains different muscles in isolation, working out different body parts on different days, whereas an athlete does more freehand exercises that work several muscles at the same time. An athlete works out all the muscles, works on all-round fitness, and doesn’t ignore flexibility and stamina.
Professional bodybuilders, most models, and action stars build and maintain a muscular physique that requires them to put in a lot of time, energy, and effort. A bodybuilder’s training is very meticulously supervised and very regular.
And the truth is that they put themselves through huge discomfort to build and maintain their physiques. It is important to understand that sculpting a physique like a bodybuilder does not necessarily have much to do with fitness. Bodybuilders train primarily to show off their muscles—muscles that might not be of much practical use and prone to injury if not accompanied by enough stretching. Moreover, if you do this kind of training for a short while and then stop, it will be harmful to the body, leaving it stiff and injury prone.
On the other hand—athletic bodies, acquired mainly by freehand exercises, are truly fit and of much more practical use, as athletes train for performance. They pay a lot of attention to their core muscles, which are not even visible!
So you have to ask yourself: why you would invest your time—which you could devote to work, family, and other worthy pursuits—in getting a body which is just good to show off and is not of much practical use.
In spite of being aware of the pitfalls, if you still want to sculpt a bodybuilder’s physique then go about achieving it like Salman Khan. He is a good example of a fit person. Salman was into sports and had a very fit, lean, and athletic physique to start with. He started bodybuilding at a later stage, and continued freehand and cardiovascular endurance exercises along with the heavy weight training. I had the opportunity to do a yoga-based stretching session with him. He has retained good flexibility in spite of his muscular physique. Moreover, he does a lot of cycling and brisk walking to keep up his stamina.
So even if you really wish to take up bodybuilding, first work towards getting truly fit and athletic—acquiring a strong foundation before you dive into it.

Avoid ‘sprinting’, especially at the start

When you start to exercise after a long gap it is very important to begin at a gentle pace and gradually prepare your body over a few weeks for a full-fledged workout.
People who’ve played sports or worked out at a high intensity in the past have a tendency to push themselves too hard when they are starting afresh after a long gap. If you have been a champion sprinter in your early years, and after giving it up have not been working out at all, it doesn’t mean you can sprint on your first day or even your first week. In fact, it is best if you avoid a very high-intensity workout for a month, during which time the body needs to be gradually reintroduced to that kind of movement, the muscles warmed and woken up.
It might seem that I’m asking you to be too patient, but I see so many people, specially the ones who have done high-intensity activities like sports, martial arts, etc in the past, getting injured by pushing themselves too far too soon.
Just because you used to do 50 push-ups at a go years back doesn’t mean you should start with even 15 if you have not been exercising for years. Perhaps you will manage 15, but why risk an injury? Start with 5 and gradually increase it so you can slowly get back up to 50 within three months. Also, make sure to warm up, specially if you are over 25, as it reduces the chances of injury.
If you are planning on a martial arts class, wall climbing, playing squash or football, or any such vigorous activity, try to make sure you prepare yourself for a few days beforehand. Walk, jog, and stretch so that your body is somewhat ready for the assault and doesn’t get shocked. Otherwise, you’re going to be seriously increasing your chances of injury.
Over the weekend, I get the people I train to do a long run outdoors or play a sport—often basketball. A friend of mine who used to train with me a few years back has been keen on joining in for a game of basketball with us as she was a fantastic player fifteen years ago. I’ve not let her join knowing that she might injure herself. Except for walking, she’s not been working out for some time now, and just walking doesn’t prepare you for an activity as vigorous as basketball.
You have to be jogging and regularly stretching before attempting such high-intensity activity.
Also you must warm up well before starting. In case you’ve had injuries or have a weak back or knees, then it’s all the more important to start easy and make sure to do a warm-up before doing a strenuous activity like playing a sport.
I warn people I start training that the only thing that can stop them from getting super fit and in super shape is being foolish and getting injured. Sloppy technique or doing a movement with a jerk or without warming up or overstraining without proper technique can get you injured in no time. Which means you’ll have to rest until you’re healed, which, in turn, means you’ll have to start from scratch again.

Avoid overtraining

Another very common mistake I witness time and again is people exercising at very high intensity without giving adequate rest to the body.
High-intensity exercise, though great for the body if done systematically and combined with right amounts of rest and nutrition, can get addictive and harm the body in the long run if not combined with adequate rest.
When we push the body too hard in a workout, it goes into repair mode. A vigorous workout followed by adequate rest and nutrition makes the body stronger than before. If the body is repeatedly pushed into high-intensity workouts while it is still in repair mode, it causes fatigue, lowers immunity, causes injury and, over a period of time, even permanent damage to our joints.
Though it might not apply as much to people who do not have much time for a workout, I advise people who want to work out every day that they should push the body on alternate days and do a lighter exercise, yoga, or mainly stretching on other days while the body is still recuperating from the high-intensity workout. However, if your daily exercise regimen is low intensity like a brisk walk and gentle yoga postures, you do not need a rest day in between unless you’ve pushed yourself too much on a particular day.

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This is an excerpt from ‘Fitness On The Go’ by Abhishek Sharma: http://bit.ly/UexL26

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