Seven mistakes you could be making at the gym (and why your workout has to change after 50)

Are you exercising hard but not enjoying it? Or not getting the body you want? There are some simple reasons why, and simple fixes, says Lorraine Furmedge, PT Ambassador for Fitness First

You’re staying on the treadmill for too long

If you’re using the treadmill for a cardiovascular (aerobic) workout, you don’t need to be on there any longer than 20-30 minutes. If you’re using it to help you train for an event, that’s a different story and you should follow a planned programme with your coach or personal trainer to get you ‘event ready’.

The best way to get the most out of your treadmill session is to think about the effort you are putting in rather than the length. By the end you want to be hot, sweaty and breathing hard, but still able to talk. That’s a much better rule of thumb as that way you know you’ve made the most of your session.

You’re not varying your treadmill programme

Most  treadmills have a range of programmes on them, incorporating sprints and incline increases, and you should be varying your choice to keep you motivated, interested and challenging your body. Explore the programmes so you get a varied workout: don’t just press Quick Start.

However, always be aware of how your body feels. As we get older we become more prone to injury and recovery tends to be slower. So if you need to slow down, do. If you don’t want an aerobic workout, simply slow your pace down. But keep the programme choice varied so you don’t get bored.

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 You don’t use weights

You may not be using weights as you don’t want to build muscle and end up with Madonna arms. But it’s quite hard for women to bulk up as we don’t have a lot of natural testosterone in our bodies (the hormone that helps to build muscles).

To tone and shape your muscles, you should use weights. Use a low weight with high repetitions (reps) and aim for two to three sets of 12 to 16 reps per exercise. This tires the muscles out and encourages them to change shape but not get bulky.

If you do want to build muscle, however, then you want to use heavier weights and lower reps. Per exercise, aim for two to three sets of six to eight reps.

Whichever way you do it, the last three to four reps should be hard work. That shows you have exhausted the muscles and that has encouraged all the correct changes to develop the muscles.

As we get older you lose muscle density if you don’t regularly use weights. Ageing means this process of shaping or building muscle can take a little longer than it did in our 20s, but it will happen if you do it frequently, regulary and have patience.

You’re working out for too long

If you follow an inclusive programme that includes CV (cardiovascular/aerobic) and resistance (weights), there is no need to be in the gym for hours and hours. Unless you are endurance training, two hours on the cardio machines is a waste of time and a 45-minute combined session is more effective.

You will also work a lot more efficiently if you ensure you give everything your full effort and attention; if you do, 45 minutes to an hour is plenty, at least three times a week.

Think of your effort level on a scale of one to ten (with one being no effort and ten being flat-out maximum). You want to finish your workout between eight and nine.

By the end you should be hot, sweaty and tired. At this point, if you carry on you will be putting yourself at risk of injury.

Fat loss or muscle gain: you don’t know your goal

You have to know what you want to achieve with your workouts. I recommend that you set yourself some goals, however small, so that you know what you are working towards. This will also help you to focus on what exercises you need to do during your workouts and which equipment to use or classes go to.

You don’t warm up and cool down

Lot of people think they don’t need to warm up or cool down and stretch after a workout. You do.

A warm-up allows your brain and body to prepare for the workout, and should be three to six minutes. By warming your body up slowly your brain releases extra hormones into your muscles and joints to help prevent injury.

A cool down and stretch at the end allows your body temperature and heart rate to return to normal, and reduces the rate at which blood is pumping round your body.

It encourages any lactic acid (which gives that burning feeling in your muscles) to be flushed out of the system. If you just suddenly stop, the blood that is moving very fast round your body can drain away from your heart towards your legs. This can make you feel unwell, to say the least, and your muscles sore the next day.

You haven’t varied your workout for years

It is tempting as we get older to stay in our gym comfort zone and stick with the same workout. I have come across clients who have done the same workout since their 40s and then mention that their shape isn’t changing and they’re gaining weight.

Regardless of your age, your workout should still be challenging for you, because our bodies adapt and change all the time. This process slows down a little as we get older but it doesn’t stop. Ask yourself, is it time for a change? A new challenge? Don’t be put off by new equipment in the gym. Ask the staff for some advice – that’s what they’re there for! –  and keep moving forwards.