11 Fitness Mistakes Most of Us Make and How to Fix Them [with videos]
I had given up. Seeing doctor after doctor had made no progress.
But I couldn’t stop. I was already addicted.
Every Monday I would walk into the gym, step onto the treadmill, and begin my routine.
Running was my therapy. When I moved away from my mom and brother to go off to college, when I ended a 10 year relationship with my highschool sweetheart, when I was jobless and living off $600/month in a dark apartment in LA, running was my therapy.
So, despite the physical pain I felt every time I ran, I kept running. I kept running until I couldn’t run any longer.
I had gone to see several doctors who recommended I “rest, take some ibuprofen, get a massage.” None of which worked.
But one day, by chance, I bumped into a guy at an event who worked at a “lab,” sort of.
He asked if I’d be interested in them fixing my knee, with no drugs or invasive surgery.
I’m not entirely certain, but I’m pretty sure I heard angels begin to sing.
This post is about my experience at a place called “Perform For Life Run Lab.” To put it lightly, the things I learned within a 2-hour session have changed everything I know about fitness, and even a little bit beyond.
Here are 11 lessons that completely changed my approach to healthy fitness and might change yours too:
#1 Body-Fat Composition — Are you just measuring your weight?
Perhaps one of the most commonly misused metrics people use to measure their health is weight. Weight is simply a sum of your entire body’s composition all added up into one number. For example, I can be 140 lbs and be in great shape, or I can be 140lbs and be incredibly unhealthy.
A lot of people who are trying to go from unhealthy to healthy tend to get discouraged when their weight doesn’t change, but that shouldn’t be the case. As you can see in the test here, doing an InBody analysis can actually show you whether you’re turning some of your body fat into muscle mass. Your weight might not change (you might even gain weight), but you’re actually becoming healthier and more fit. You won’t know though, until you measure it.
#2 Respiratory Exchange Ratio — Are you working out too hard?
This was a surprising discovery. If your goal is to burn fat, working out too hard can actually be less effective than working out less.
In the video, Carlos explains that our bodies burn different fuel sources depending on the intensity of what we’re doing. We mostly burn fat in low-to-mid intensity exercises and we burn carbs in higher intensity exercises. What’s even more surprising is that doing high-intensity workouts can actually encourage your body to store more fat.
So what is considered low, mid, and high intensity? Well, it depends on your current level of fitness. I run every week, so according to my test results, jogging is actually considered low intensity, whereas for someone else it would be considered high intensity. The takeaway here is that doing just this one test alone (V02 Max), can pay off huge towards getting you to your fitness goals. Yes, on first glance the test might seem expensive, but if you add up even just a few months of wasted gym memberships due to working out ineffectively, it’s well worth it.
#3 Neural Locking — You might be strong, but can you use your strength?
This was a consistent weakness for me and something I had never really thought about before. Neural locking is the brain’s ability to activate your muscles when they’re needed.
My brain wasn’t very good at this. Overall my fitness level was good, but when Carlos tested whether I could activate my muscles on-demand, they were “slow to activate,” meaning they weren’t very sharp. This was one of the reasons that my knee might have been hurting, simply because the muscles that need to support it couldn’t activate quickly enough to do so.
#4 Muscular Endurance Test — Are you actually as strong as you think you are?
This test was surprisingly simple, but also surprisingly insightful. The test involves simply doing 10 leg dips and 25 calf raises. Sounds simple right?
Well I didn’t do too well on this one. You can see that my left leg was clearly up for the challenge, but my right leg floundered. What was even more insightful was that my on my right leg my hip would lose stability, again pointing to those weak glutes and knee stabilizers.
You can try this one at home.
#5 Supporting Muscles — You’re saying I have a weak ass?
Within about 30-minutes of doing a few simple tests, Carlos had figured out what was causing me all my pain. It was my ass.
I had gone to the doctor nearly half a dozen times to figure out why my knee gave me a shooting pain after I ran for more than a couple of miles. The doctor recommended I rest for 2 months, then he recommended ibuprofen, then he recommended massage. All this was useless and didn’t help at all.
The reason my knee hurts, as it turns out, is because my weak glutes (butt muscles). That, plus tight IT bands (the muscles that go from the hip down the side of the leg), meant that my knee wasn’t being supported properly.
And the worst part in all this? I was the one that had caused the problem.
The good news was that just doing some simple glute strengthening exercises and 1 stretching exercise, my knee improved within weeks. I can’t emphasize how important it is to get a 3rd perspective on things like this. Because if something hurts, chances are it’s because of something else.
#6 Cadence — I can run faster and farther?
This test helped me improve my running faster than any other. After observing my running pace (8min/mile) and my cadence (the number of steps I take), Carlos recommended I step things up (pun intended).
He explained that the way I was running, which he described was like a gazelle, wasn’t very efficient. In the video he explains that there is an optimal number of steps to take, depending on your pace and your height. By taking shorter steps, but more of them, I could minimize my bouncing and it would reduce the amount of energy I needed to use.
He told me this on Friday and when I got into the gym on Monday I immediately applied it.
It worked brilliantly.
My Oura ring recorded the difference with incredible precision too. With my usual cadence I had a heart rate of 180. With my new shorter steps, I did the exact same run with the exact same conditions and I had a heart rate of 171. That’s a huge savings over the course of a long run.
You can see the difference in heart rates recorded on my Oura ring below. Notice the difference in both length and intensity under the “high” column for identical runs taken on a treadmill, one run before the lab experiment and the second taken after applying the techniques taught. (I repeated this same run a dozen times and saw these improved results each time)
#7 Breaking Mechanism — Why would I slow myself down?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but by trying to run faster I was actually running slower. Carlos explains that by trying to take longer strides in order to go faster, I was actually slowing myself down with what’s called the breaking mechanism.
I think this idea goes well beyond running. In this case, however, I was stretching my feet too far forward, which inadvertently caused me to slow down. So every step I took was propelling me forward and then holding me back simultaneously. Again, this is solved super simply by increasing cadence, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t seen it on video.
#8 Running Posture — If you look silly, you’re probably not doing it right?
I’m sure we’ve all seen people on the street who run incredibly awkwardly. There are the arm flappers, the gazelle bounders (aka me), the head bouncers, and a thousand combinations in between.
Chances are you’ve never seen yourself run. I certainly hadn’t. What we discovered when Carlos examined my running posture was that overall it was pretty good, but there were improvements that could be made. Everyone has a different running posture, but some things may be hurting you or even causing long term damage.
It’s usually very simple to fix these things, and if doing a 15-minute test could save you thousands down the line in health bills, then it’s a no brainer in my opinion. Once I left the running lab, I started recording other exercises I do at the gym, like kettlebell swings, and found instant improvements I could make.
Please, do try this at home (or at the gym).
#9 Ankle and Back Flexibility — Tight in all the right places?
This test was pretty simple, but it can have pretty profound effects on your health overall. The ankle test in particular was interesting because having tight ankles can actually lead to overuse of the tendons and muscles surrounding the ankle. Tight ankles are usually caused by some sort of improper landing or propulsion mechanic and can effect even the way you walk. Loose ankles, on the other hand, can lead to ankle sprains and twists, which are especially dangerous for trail running.
What was interesting was how Carlos tested my back flexibility. When I’ve gone to the doctor, they would usually only test my back in one direction (by bending over), but Carlos tested it in three different directions. This was way more thorough because it revealed I had a tight lower and upper back, something which my doctor never noticed.
#10 VO2 Max (Pace) — You don’t know your limits? Well, you’re about to.
This test was perhaps one of the most painful things I’ve ever done, but it was definitely worth it. The VO2 max measures your maximum oxygen capacity, but it also measures so much more.
The test involves doing a 15% incline and speeding up the treadmill every 2 minutes by .8 mph until complete failure.
The first insight from the V02 Max test was that I actually have a lot more potential than I thought. Apparently this is super common, which means you probably have a lot more potential than you think too.
Working back from the data, Carlos can actually determine the proper running pace that someone should be running at. My numbers were as follows:
Aerobic threshold — minimum adaptation
Anaerobic threshold — max steady state
According to the V02 Max, I can run at a 9:23 pace without breaking a sweat. I can run at a 6:23 pace for a whole marathon (in theory). And I can run a 5:30 pace before I max out.
The most important of these three numbers is the Anaerobic threshold (6:23 min pace). This is the pace at which I could theoretically run at for a full marathon and I would be okay.
That may be impressive or unimpressive depending on who you are, but there’s a far more important takeaway from this:
For the last 5 years I’ve been running slower than I could be.
I run Bay to Breakers every year, which is only 7 miles long, less than half the distance of a marathon. When I was “pushing myself” during that race I ended up running it at a 7:28-minute pace…
When I told him this, Carlos smiled. Apparently nearly every client that comes in the door has this problem. We constantly underestimate what we’re capable of. We hear our breath getting heavier, we feel our heart pumping more intensely, and we decide to call it quits.
Now, this is in ideal conditions and it assumes that your muscular system is on par with your cardiovascular system. Obviously a lot of other factors play a role in this, but this gives me the confidence to push harder, and as they say, confidence is half the battle (the other half is probably strengthening my glutes).
#11 V02 Max (Grit) — Can you actually measure grit?
An interesting bonus discovery from the V02 max test is that it actually allows you to test your grit. Carlos explained that once you reach your V02 max, any distance you run beyond that point is what we typically refer to as “grit.”
At this point your body is in tremendous pain because it’s running on fumes, so anything beyond that is sheer will power. My grit was 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which Carlos says is pretty good.
For reference, professional athletes who take this test can typically go for 3–4 minutes beyond their V02 max, which is most likely attributed to their frequent experience of pain during their training.
The V02 max test was incredibly insightful and I would recommend for everyone to try it out at least once. You’ll get an incredibly useful benchmark that might save you years of training in the gym because you’ll know how hard you should push yourself.
Also, going back to the fat loss tip at the beginning of this post, the V02 max test will tell you exactly how hard you should be training if you want to use those fat reserves and shed fat in the most efficient way possible.
Doing the Perform For Life Lab has arguably been the most effective training I’ve ever done. In a short 3 hours, I learned more about running than I had in 4 years of doing track and field in high school.
Regardless of whether you run or not, there are a few takeaways that I think are essential to any form of fitness:
- Harder isn’t better — If your goal is fat loss or strength training, you can actually improve your results by doing less. Staying within your mid-level intensity is key, and doing a V02 test is the fastest way to figure out what that range is. So the next time your spin instructor is yelling at you to “push it,” you may want to smile at them and just ignore the instruction.
- Don’t measure your weight — Measuring your weight is like measuring the profit of company, it doesn’t tell you what’s inside that number. Weight is an aggregate of your entire body. So, even if you’re turning fat into muscle, your weight may not be changing, but you’re still getting healthier. Measuring your body composition is simple and takes less than 5 minutes with an InBody scan.
- Your pain may have an easy solve — A lot of muscular pain can be addressed with a simple 3 minute stretch or exercise. The trick is finding the source of the pain, which is usually somewhere other than where you feel the pain. Going to a trained specialist can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in pain killer meds and surgeries.
- Don’t ignore the little guys — Pretty much all of us are causing problems to our muscle simply by doing physical activity. As we develop certain muscles, we’re inevitably leaving other supporting muscles underdeveloped. As you evolve your fitness program, pay close attention to the smaller muscles that you might be leaving behind.
- You can do more than you think — It can be hard to find out how hard you can push yourself. Rather than simply going harder for longer, and risking injuring yourself, try doing a test to find your limits scientifically. Not only will it be more accurate and safe, but it feels pretty cool to be in a “lab experiment.”
No matter which of these takeaways you apply, just remember that there’s a saying in health:
You can invest in your health now or you can pay for your illness later.
If you found this post helpful in any way, I would super appreciate it if you click the hand clap button below so that more people can find it.
Find out more about the incredible work and services being done at Perform For Life Run Lab here. And if you have any thoughts or questions about the tips above, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them.