Not Enough Low Intensity Workouts
There’s nothing like that feeling of going all out, which is why high-intensity interval training (HIIT) tops many fit women’s must-do workouts. But too much HIIT training can backfire. "Repetitive high-intensity training can stress both your heart and your muscles," notes Jari Love, a trainer based in Calgary, Canada, whose popular Get Ripped workouts focus largely on HIIT methods. Instead of doing back-to-back or several HIIT workouts a week, try subbing in one or two days of lighter cardio, like a 30-minute jog or swim. "Doing a less intense workout after a hard day can help with the next HIIT workout, but more important, prevents muscle soreness and injury," Love says. And don’t forget that your workouts should always include some kind of warmup for at least 5–10 minutes before you amp up the intensity.
You’re conditioned to hit the gym day in and day out, but we all require time off. "All of the magic happens when you’re resting," says Andrea Barkley, a trainer based in Phoenix, AZ. "Working out is catabolic: You’re constantly breaking down your muscles. Rest is anabolic: It’s the time when you repair and rebuild." The golden rule for most exercisers: Take at least one rest day—and as many as four—a week, depending on how intense your workouts are. "You can still get out and move. Go for a hike, do yoga, try meditation, dance, anything that feels restorative,” Barkley adds. “I call those the ‘working-in’ days!"
No Love For Your Muscles
If you’re not using a foam roller as part of your work out prep or recovery, it’s time to start. "Rolling out is vital to helping your muscle and fascia [the tissue that covers tendons and muscles] stay healthy," explains Geralyn Coopersmith, an exercise physiologist and director of Nike SPARQ Performance Training. Fascia has a viscous quality that can easily get stuck on itself, causing knots and adhesions, Coopersmith says. Result: tightness and discomfort that can compromise your performance and lead to injury. "Think about it like brushing your teeth, something you do every day to stay healthy," she adds. "Even five minutes of rolling each day can dramatically improve the way your muscles feel and function." Start by placing the roller under your calves and work your way up to your shoulders, slowly rolling back and forth under your entire body; when you get to a tight spot, keep rolling for about 10–15 seconds until it starts to loosen up.
If you grocery shop on autopilot and can’t remember the last time your lunch or dinner didn’t include some grilled chicken, it may be time to revisit your menu planning. "Your body needs a variety of food to stay healthy," says Laura Mak Quist, a trainer based in Los Angeles. "When you constantly eat the same thing, you not only get bored, but you’re also depriving yourself of important nutrients." Try adding one or two new things to your menu every week, whether it’s a new vegetable, like eggplant or okra from the produce aisle, or a different type of whole grain, like farro or amaranth. "Take advantage of what’s in season so you’re getting something fresh and delicious," she adds.
Let’s face it: Relying solely on energy bars or shakes for recovery or a pre-workout boost often pushes far more nutritious choices out of the way. "When you work out hard you need the best nutrition possible," Barkley says. "Most packaged products lack the important micronutrients found in ‘real’ food." Instead of always reaching for a bar or powder, try an apple dipped in coconut butter, a broiled chicken drumstick with the skin on (it’s good for you!), or a small grass-fed burger patty with mashed avocado on top as an afternoon snack. "These foods stimulate cellular growth and repair and are well metabolized in the body," Barkley adds.
A Negative Relationship With The Scale
It’s easy to become obsessed with daily weigh-ins, especially if you’re focusing on a big event like a fitness competition. But those shifting numbers aren’t the best indication of your results. "Instead of worrying about the scale, focus more on your body composition," advises Ryan Ehler, a trainer in Chandler, AZ. "If you’re lifting hard and eating a high-protein diet, you may not see your weight going down, but your body fat might be shifting dramatically." Use a scale that measures fat levels or have your measurements taken weekly. "If something doesn’t change after two or three weeks in a row, that’s a sign you need to make some shifts in your diet or workout," Ehler adds.
Not Enough Sleep
If it’s a choice between slamming the snooze button or grabbing your sneakers and car keys, many fit chicks will usually choose the latter. But solid shut-eye also plays an important role in helping you get lean and strong. "Sleep is when your body is able to continue that important repairing process," notes exercise physiologist Brad Schoenfeld, author of The MAX Muscle Plan. "If you regularly deprive your body of rest, it impairs your ability to synthesize new muscle tissue or recuperate." Try shutting out the lights a little earlier and make sure your bedroom is dark, comfortable, and conducive to catching lots of z’s. "It’s not just the quantity of sleep that matters," Schoenfeld adds. "It’s also the quality."
No Change In A Workout
Your workout repertoire likely includes a solid mix of squats, presses, lunges, and curls, but it’s important to make sure you’re moving your body in all directions. "Many women, especially those who are very fit, tend to work in the same plane of motion over and over again," Barkley notes. "But in the real world, we’re doing things like twisting from side to side or diagonally in multiple planes." Add some multiple-direction moves to your routine, like woodchops or scorpion raises (belly down, arms out to sides, opposite toe toward palms of hands) to increase core strength and give an added cardiovascular challenge.
Boosting your weight load or sweating through a new interval plan may help your routine keep its forward progress, but for real advancement, you need to occasionally downshift. "A good workout routine not only involves training at different intensities but also knowing when to deload or scale things back," Schoenfeld says. Periodized programs (building in set blocks of intensity) can help you stay on track. Try organizing your workouts with three weeks of hard work and one week of recovery in both volume and intensity. "This will help to prevent overtraining and keep you on track for making positive changes," he adds. "At the end of the day, it’s the total workout package that really matters."