Every January, the Internet explodes with tips on how to make healthy New Year's resolutions and avoid becoming one of the 80 percent of people who've fallen off the wagon by February. But the boxing gloves gathering dust by Valentine's Day isn't necessarily the worst mistake one can make when it comes to January gym goals.
According to fitness experts, one of the biggest mistakes people make is going all in on the first week of the year. Being too committed to the New Year's fitness resolutions can actually backfire and lead to overtraining syndrome, the result of too much training with too little rest.
Overtraining syndrome can lead to underperforming, open the door to injury — and even have effects on mood.
While new year, new gym goal is an awesome mantra, too many extreme promises and not enough balanced thinking is a mistake, according to Drea McCulloch, one of the fitness instructors at THE REC in Paris. McCulloch says it's important to pay attention to how the body reacts.
“First and foremost, it is important to start slow. Begin with the basics,” McCulloch emphasized.
She noted newbies can increase the amount of steps taken in a day and work up from there.
“You can then take part in a low impact/intensity fitness class where you can learn the fundamentals with someone there to guide you,” she explained.
McCulloch suggested those just starting out try different classes to find something they really enjoy. “This can help ward off the mental burn out so exercising doesn’t feel like such a chore,” she said.
"If you feel like you can't move after a day of training, that's an indicator of overtraining," she said. A little soreness the next day is normal — after a great workout you should be around a 6 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. But extreme pain — a 9 or 10 — where you can't move is not what you are aiming for, she said.
“It is important to allow your body to adjust when starting a new routine and not do too much too quick,” she observed. “Our bodies are amazing and resilient and will quickly adapt, but we must listen to them.”
You can also keep tabs on overtraining during workouts by watching heart rate and level of exertion: "If you can't hold a conversation while working out, that can be an issue," McCulloch noted. Check the fitness tracker during cooldown to make sure the heart rate is returning to normal.
Hesitation to join a fitness class because one might be facing group members that regularly workout is not
uncommon, McCulloch said. “It can be daunting to walk into an unfamiliar environment,” she said.
McCulloch said it’s important for the newbie to, “think about why you started your journey and let that be the driving force. Many of the class participants were once in your shoes can relate to your anxiety.”
To prevent a case of resolution-ruining overtraining syndrome, follow these fitness rules when you hit the gym in January.
Don't go from zero to 60 on New Year's Day. "If you've barely worked out for the last six months and now think you're going to go five days a week nonstop, you are setting yourself up for failure," says McCulloch.
Setting realistic goals is a huge part of preventing injury and burnout — if you've never run more than a 5K, signing up for a half marathon in January isn't the best move. Sometimes, setting lofty goals can work in your favor, but you need to play it smart.
McCulloch said some newbies lose confidence when they feel like they can't perform at an expected level.
"But by setting up practical goals and a weekly workout game plan that's achievable and realistic, you set up confidence boosters,” she said.
Pay attention to form
If you don't move correctly, you won't see results and injury can be just around the corner, McCulloch said.
If you're venturing into new gym territory, work with a trainer for your first session or watch trainer videos on YouTube to make sure you're not making rookie mistakes. Then, while you're adjusting to your new routine, "slow down your movements so you get a better connection to what body part is working," she says.
You can even use a slow-motion strength training routine to see bigger gains.
Shake it up instead of going harder
When you hit the gym in January, it can be tempting to just double down on your current routine — beefing up the pace on the treadmill, showing off with the heavier set of weights, or making your occasional morning runs a daily routine. But rather than going harder, which can lead to overtraining syndrome, get more creative.
Some trainers recommend adding variety to your training-strength training or weights one day and a HIIT or yoga class on another day. McCulloch agreed.
“Keeping your training fresh is a great way to keep you motivated and on track," she said.
Set a bedtime goal
Making sure to get enough sleep is huge for our nervous system and mental health.
To prevent burnout, make healthy bedtime goals just as important as your gym goals. To get the most out of your workouts, shoot for six to eight hours a night. Using yoga and meditation is another great way to aid in mental recovery.
Everyone knows evening workouts are much easier to bail on, especially if it's dark out or if something more appealing, like happy hour, pops up. By getting up in time to work out with the morning sunrise, you'll set the stage for a successful day and can enjoy evening social commitments guilt-free.
“When it comes to choosing the time of day, I say pick a time where you have the least amount of excuses to skip it,” McCulloch said.
Eat More Fruit
Eating more fruit is always less daunting than committing to eating more vegetables. Fruit can more easily replace refined sugar when cravings hit, so start stocking up your fridge and getting your blender ready.
Drink More Water
There are so many reasons to kick your soda habit and start drinking more water. In addition to staying well-hydrated, drinking up to eight glasses of water a day will help you get clearer skin, feel more energized, and lose weight. Start by simply bringing a refillable bottle to keep at work — and opt for water when dining out.