FREE GAME: 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid During Your Workouts

Joe Holder
6 min readJul 11, 2023

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Joe discusses 4 simple but overlooked workout mistakes that you should avoid. If you prefer to watch/listen to these tips instead you can find them on Instagram here. We will try to keep these tips short and sweet.

  1. ) Breathing Hard for No Reason

I was on set for a shoot and the photographer asked me to make it look like I was “working harder” during an exercise. I’ll never forget it. This has always stuck with me. “Forced effort” is a pet peeve but it does a disservice to all of us. Breathing too hard instead of controlled puts excess strain on our nervous system. The whole point of workouts are to be able to stay controlled when a stress appears or improve the threshold for what is perceived as hard. We’ve been fooled into thinking forced and deliberate breaths are the sign of effort. It is not. Many of us are overexerting ourselves during basic exercises and even in the warm-up! Yes, there will be moments where full exertion is necessary and the strain on the face will have to show but you should not be breathing hard unless it is absolutely necessary.

I want you to be aware of your breathing patterns for two key reasons– shallow breathing can increase tension in our body and put our nervous system on high alert at times when that is not needed– and the role that breathing rate plays in our effort levels. When you are breathing unnecessarily shallow, hard, and fast during low intensity exercise (which I have seen plenty of people do) you are sending a signal to your body that does not match-up with the context and difficulty of what you are doing. In my opinion, this will lower your work capacity, limit the benefits you can see from exercise, and increase fight or flight response when what the body needs to do is stay relaxed as the effort ramps up. Just keep the breathing relatively equal to the intensity of what the exercise calls for. The more you can stay relaxed and controlled, the better.

Additional Reading:

Why Fitness Trackers Should Measure Your Breath Rate

Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever

2.) Using Music During Every Workout

Music is a performance enhancer. This is relatively well-studied and we all can attest to the extra juice we feel when the playlist is on point. The chronic use of music and really smartphones during workouts may interfere with your body ability to have awareness in space and awareness of how you’re feeling. The rhythm of your feet, the breathing patterns, the signals your body is giving you are too often blocked out with outside stimuli, including music, pre-workout, or pain killers. We gotta get back in touch with ourselves.

I like to try a couple workouts a week with no music or phone, just a smartwatch max. Leave the phone in the gym locker or knock out that next speed workout or yoga sessions with pure focus, no music. Psychotic, I know. Whatever workout you choose to do sans tunes just be sure really to focus on how you’re feeling. Mindfulness without the meditation. In context of real life. It’s never a bad idea sometimes to just reduce the noise, lock in, and pay attention. The music will then add in that extra kick when you really need it most.

Additional Reading:

Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music

3.) Making All Workouts Difficult

Every workout does not need to be hard or high intensity. I’ve repeated this trope over the years and I think with the rise of Zone 2 training again people are starting to get it. Yes, we know high intensity exercise definitely has benefits but we have also seen possible drawbacks of ramping up these workouts to a frequency that our body can’t handle. Coupled with the stressors of every day life, this is likely a recipe for trouble as we are not giving our body enough time to recover. Let go of the idea that every workout has to be difficult and be sure to create a balanced plan that doesn’t tire you out.

My (cookie cutter) suggestion for a balanced? 1–2 high intensity workouts of 30–45 minutes a week. 2 lower intensity sessions of 1 hour per week 1–2 strength training session of 45 minutes and then add in mobility work as need be. Of course you can augment this slightly but the overall message is, as part of a well structured program, make sure that you give yourself enough time to recover and using lower intensity workouts as part of that strategy and not just “off” days.

Additional Reading:

Too Much High-Intensity Exercise May Be Bad for Your Health

Effects of Individualized Low-Intensity Exercise and Its Duration on Recovery Ability in Adults

4.) Skipping Your Warm-up and Your Cool-down

The data on warm-ups and cool-downs are mixed — much of it depends on the type. The “best” for relative injury prevention seems to be a dynamic warm-up which I tend to have part of all my workouts. I look at warm-ups and cool-downs really as on and off ramps though. Assimilation from our day and then back into it, increasing the chance of having a good workout, decreasing injury risk, and improving stress response. I call this “dynamic presence” and is why I don’t want you to skip your warm-ups and cool-downs. Bear with me for a second.

I know during workouts you often feel pressed for time so you’ll say the hell with a warm-up and cool-down, let’s just get the session started and then leave. Using the warm-up to mentally and physically prepare though is where it is at. During the warm-up you can improve your focus, leave the bullsh*t of the day behind, get blood flowing to working muscles, and slowly ramp up the rate of your heart beats better preparing your body for the stress of the workout especially if it is high intensity. Then, with the cool-down, a light stretch coupled with breathing practice, is a way to not only reflect on the workout but get mindful. Reactivate your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) as we are getting ready to go on about our day. Since many of us also eat after our workouts, I have seen the benefit that a cool-down actually has on improving mine and others digestion as well. My routine? Pick 3–5 stretches coupled with a 3 second inhale, 1 second pause, and 4 second exhale while I do them.

So don’t skip! This extra 10 minutes or so will be immensely beneficial.

Additional Reading:

Quick Mobility Warmup with Joe Holder

Best Warm-Up For Runners

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Joe Holder

Founder of The Ocho System™, Plant Based Gang, and Exercise Snacks. Writer for @GQ. Consultant for various, primarily @nike @hyperice @dyson. Views my own