When Carrie showed up for her first weight-loss workout with me, she was injured. Only three weeks earlier, she had made up her mind to lose weight. So she started running for 45 minutes per day. But doing so much, so soon was a bad idea for her body, given that she was 20 pounds overweight and hadn’t gone running in years.
It was no surprise that Carrie had developed a muscle strain in her upper thigh, which required weeks of rehabilitation to heal. This made our fat-burning workouts more difficult, because she couldn’t do interval training or many of the bodyweight exercises I use with my clients.
Over time, Carrie was able to heal her injury while losing fat with short-burst workouts. However, she should not have gotten hurt in the first place.
The first thing to remember about keeping your workouts safe is to avoid doing too much cardio.
I don’t understand why so many personal trainers still recommend long, slow cardio workouts for fat loss, when research has shown them to be relatively ineffective and experience tells me that cardio often just lands folks in the doctor’s office.
If I had met Carrie before she started running, here’s what I would have told her to help her lose fat fast… without getting hurt.
Top 10 Rules for Safe Workouts
1. It is important to train conservatively and not overdo things. If you are doing resistance training (and everyone should), don’t do any exercise that you aren’t sure how to do. Always get personal instruction from a certified trainer.
2. Don’t do anything that hurts or “doesn’t feel right.” There are plenty of alternate exercises for any exercise in any workout program. Just ask a qualified trainer for help.
3. Whenever you start a new resistance-training program, use lighter weights than normal and perform only one set per exercise. This will minimize the muscle soreness that you can expect with any new program.
4. If you need extra recovery time within the workout or between workouts, don’t hesitate to take it. Most beginners only think about how they can do more and more exercise to help them lose weight faster. But everyone (from beginners to pro athletes) needs some days of light exercise to allow the muscles to repair. And don’t worry. If you do the right type of exercise, you’ll still lose fat even when you are not working out at the gym.
5. Check your ego at the gym door and start with the easier alternate exercises, even if you have exercised in the past. New movements – even those that “look easy” – will cause muscle soreness. This goes for yoga too. Many beginners overstretch and end up with the same kind of injuries often associated with weight training. So no matter what you do, be conservative.
6. Do not do interval training or hard cardio more than four times per week. Even pro athletes don’t play hard every day. Doing too much cardio is the biggest reason beginners end up hurt, frustrated, and in the doctor’s office. Research shows that all you need to lose belly fat is three interval-training workouts per week.
When you do cardio, you’re doing the same movement thousands and thousands of times in the same workout. If you have even the smallest injury, it will be magnified by this repetition.
7. Never skip a warm-up. Instead of using the treadmill to warm up (which is pointless), do a general bodyweight circuit of easy squats, easy push-ups, and ab planks to prepare your body for resistance training.
8. If you decide to use running as your form of interval training, make sure you have good running shoes, always do an extra-thorough warm-up, and choose a safe running surface (grass or trails rather than pavement/concrete). If you use a treadmill, please operate it safely.
9. If you have any type of injury at all, get medical attention and have a professional therapist rehabilitate the injury before you start an exercise program. You are better off committing three weeks to rehab now, before the injury becomes serious, than to neglect your body and be forced to stop exercising for three months (or more).
10. All together now: “Safety first!” Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise or diet program. There is no need to get hurt, no matter how serious you are about losing weight fast.
Don’t Let Your Workouts Be the Reason You Can’t Work Out
Those are the top 10 safety tips to keep in mind before you start your new fat-burning workout. Don’t make the classic beginner mistake of doing too much exercise too soon.
The great news is that, as a beginner, your diet will have a much greater impact on your weight loss results – so there’s no reason to over-exercise. Your program should include resistance training and interval training to help you burn fat, but you only need to exercise three times per week with total-body workouts.
Take your body seriously! Train safe!
[Ed. Note: No matter where you are in your weight-loss efforts, you don't need hours of cardio to get into tip-top shape. Learn how you can get fit with three 45-minute workouts a week with fitness expert Craig Ballantyne's Turbulence Training for Fat Loss program right here.]