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Is there a wrong way to exercise, or approach fitness?

Sure. There are a three common wrong ways to approach eating and exercise.

1. Shortchanging yourself on nutrition, particularly by eating too little overall or by eating too little protein. This can cause your body to try to compensate for the lack of balanced nutrition in ways that can be harmful long-term. Your body may stop trying to maintain muscle (metabolically “expensive”), for example, and step up its efforts to store fat. Plus, it leaves you feeling run-down, which makes everything worse.

2. Exercising through pain. This is a good way to turn a minor injury into a major problem. Some injuries clearly require immediate medical care. If you get a less serious but still inconveniencing injury, take it easy and keep an eye on it for a couple days. If it gets better, keep moving as much as you can but let discomfort be your boundary. If it stays the same or gets worse, call your doctor for advice.

One of the most important things you can learn is how to tell the dull soreness of an unusual or heavy workout from an injury. Try some gentle, slow stretching, just to the beginning of discomfort, and hold. Do you feel some relief? That’s probably benign soreness, and some light activity (walking, gentle stretching, yoga) will likely help you feel better.

3. Rushing back before full recovery from an injury, or returning to the same program in which you were injured, and becoming re-injured. Any time we get an injury, we should give some thought to what caused it. It could be as simple as a mistake from being distracted or rushed, or as serious as a problem with form or technique that could lead to more serious problems at heavier loads or higher intensity.

If someone criticizes your workout or your attitude, are they talking about good nutrition and exercise that support your goals (including not hurting you)? Or just saying “You’re not doing it the way I do it”? You could be a vegetarian or a powerlifter (or both) or someone who is beginning with a few minutes on the elliptical three times a week. Regular activity and good nutrition are the right way, and there’s a brazillion right ways to balance them.

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