5 mistakes athletes still make

Even experienced exercisers are guilty of making errors in the gym, ones that can prevent progress or lead to plateaus. From time to time, check in with yourself to make sure you’re not guilty of these five common slip-ups.

You never increase your resistance.

To continue building muscle you need to progress your strength-training program, and load is an important variable to change. If a muscle is fatigued, you should slow down between your final sets, struggling to complete your last reps. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends you increase the load between two and 10 percent whenever you can perform one or two reps more than your set range. For example, if you’re using 20-pound dumbbells for bicep curls and performing 12-rep sets, increase the load between one and two pounds when you can do 14 reps.

You always stretch your hamstrings.

The backs of your thighs may feel tight, but the culprit may not be your hamstrings. When the pelvis is elevated in the back, the hamstrings are already lengthened. Instead of focusing on those muscles, perform hip-flexor stretches and core strengtheners to realign your pelvis into a neutral position.

You neglect your lower body.

“To get a big response, you have to use big muscles—and your legs contain the largest muscles in your body,” says Justin Jacobs, Equinox Tier X program manager for the U.K. Working your legs can create a strong response from your endocrine system, which secretes hormones (like testosterone) that are critical to muscular development and metabolism. Incorporate lower-limb exercises like lunges, squats, and deadlifts.

You foam roll your IT bands.

While it’s not dangerous, rolling out your iliotibial (IT) bands is a waste of time. The reason: They’re too strong to be loosened by the pressure of self-myofascial release. Roll out the muscles at the top of the IT band, like the glutes and tensor fascia latae (TFL), instead. To find them, put your hands on your hips. The palms of your hands cover them.

You always stand up straight when you lunge.

Keeping your shoulders over your hips is a solid guideline, but it shouldn't be your only lunge stance. It puts the bulk of the workload on the knee and the surrounding muscles instead of on the glutes and hamstrings. To shift the focus to the muscles that surround the hips and wrap around the back, occasionally perform lunges while hinging forward slightly at the hips. (Both your shins and torso will be slightly past 90 degrees.) Mixing up your position will help ensure your entire lower body gets the benefits of this powerful strength move.

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