Heading to the gym but making little or no progress? Find out if you’re making these mistakes that women commonly make.

It can be so frustrating for some women to continually make the effort to go to the gym after work, or head out for a run three or four times a week, but still see no discernible difference to your fitness or weight. Why isn't exercise working for you? What should you be doing differently to see some results? Well here are some common mistakes and solutions to beat the workout plateau. 

1. Coffee shop treats

It’s quite possible that one of your favourite things to do after a workout is to sit and have a coffee and a cake. The trouble is, by doing that you are probably packing away 500-600 calories that you may not have burned off. A nice cappuccino can account for 300 calories and even a skinny muffin is bound to be around the 250 mark.

Even if you’ve worked out for an hour, at best you are replacing the calories you’ve burned off. Are those two hours spent slaving away at the gym really worth that one muffin?. 

Solution: Particularly when exercising with a friend, make an agreement not to reward yourself with sugary treats post-workout. Instead maybe replace a coffee and cake with a refreshing homemade smoothie or some fruit with yogurt.

Although not as appetising as a nice slice of cake, these foods will provide your body with a more nutritious supply of nutrients, with less sugar and less calories. Making the switch to healthier and homemade options could be the difference to reaching your goals.

2. Overestimating the calories burned

After spending 20 minutes on the treadmill and a further 15 on the bike we just assume we've burnt enough calories, when actually we could be overestimating how hard we've actually worked. We treat ourselves to that cake because we think that by popping on some lycra and heading out of the door for a power walk or a run, we have burned a ton of calories.

The trouble is, we may not have worked quite as hard as we think. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, just increasing your pace slightly can have a profound effect on the effectiveness of your workout. 

Solution: Just because you've started to sweat doesn't mean this justifies eating anything and everything, instead you must pay close attention to your duration and intensity of a workout. Keeping a log or note of how many calories actually burnt, whether by using the machine or online calculators, and trying to work harder and burn more calories each time is key to ensuring you're progressing with your exercise.

Whether by increasing speed, incline, duration, weight, any increase of exercise will keep you working harder and those results will start flowing. A woman who weighs around 150 pounds will burn around 140 additional calories an hour, just by increasing her walking speed from two and half miles an hour to 4. 

3. Poor technique

Holding on to the treadmill while running or trying to pull and push on the elliptical trainer while you work out, are just two of the major mistakes women can make if they use gym equipment. Little things like not engaging your core when doing weight exercises or swinging your body when using dumbbells is essentially cheating to make your exercise easier.

Poor technique not only inhibits your calorie and fat burn, it also exposes you to the risk of injury. For instance a lower back problem can be the end result if you don’t get it right on the rowing machine, while your hamstrings are in peril if the seat of the exercise bike is set at the wrong height for you. 

Solution: Perfecting your form is one of the easiest problems to fix. Before doing a workout research the perfect technique you should be using, making sure you're positioned correctly and your movements are using the full potential of your muscles. It’s really important to concentrate on technique and the muscle groups you should be working on and so If you have any doubts, talk to an instructor at the local gym, that's what they're there for. 

4. Fear of weights

While men run at a dead sprint to the weights area and love to parade happily in front of the wall-sized mirror, women tend not to, rarely will you find too many women in the ‘big-boy area’. In fact a lot of women are scared to death of lifting heavy weights. Why? Because they worry that reps of anything will turn them into the Michelin Man. But trust us, it won’t!

The male hormone testosterone is what contributes to increased body mass associated with weight training in men, while the female hormone oestrogen prohibits the ability of muscles bulking up in the same way.

Ignoring weight training also means women are missing out on significant health and fitness benefits. It’s a fantastic way of burning calories and fat, and a stronger body and core help prevent any injuries. A significant amount of research point to the findings that combining both cardio and weights is actually the most efficient way to lose weight, engaging both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Plus, stronger muscle and increased bone mass will help combat the risk of osteoporosis.

Solution: Give it a go! even picking up some free weights and trying out some exercises, or even try one or two of the machines, they are relatively straightforward and usually have an information panel explaining technique! If the well-trained weight users are too intimidating for you then at home exercises are just as useful, either buying dumbbells for home or using cans of beans, any bit of weight training will be beneficial.

Even booking one or two personal trainer sessions can be very useful as they can teach you different exercises and machines if you're too scared to do it alone. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps, if you're not struggling by the end of each set then you need to hitch up the weight! 

5. Keeping the same pace

It’s easy to fall into the trap of jumping onto the treadmill, popping on some headphones and doing a steady workout in the fat burning zone while catching up with your favourite soap or indeed The Kardashians. But residing yourself to the same exercise, same intensity and same duration will do nothing to your body.

Tieing in with a fear of weights, a variation in your routine is key to ensure calories are burnt. You need to push your body to really burn calories. Doing the same thing over and over again can lead to boredom and plateaus in your training. 

Solution: Step out of your comfort zone. Working harder, pushing yourself, trying something new , following someone else's routine, take up a new sport, anything to change it up. Switching things up are best to avoid stagnant workouts, instead get that heart pumping again and you may even find yourself enjoying some of the new exercises or sports!

If you still want to continue at the sport or equipment you're comfortable with then change it up by including some HIIT training. Periods of intense training activity followed by active recovery are the best way to go, burning the highest yield of calories. If you’re reading a book on the treadmill or glued to the TV, the chances are, you probably aren’t working as hard.

6. Unreasonable expectations

Have two months until your holiday and want to lose a third of your bodyweight, or want to be able to run half a marathon after a week of training, we hate to admit it but it's not going to happen. Unfortunately exercise is a very slow process, health, stamina, flexibility and weight loss make up the major benefits of exercising, but they don't come overnight. And so expecting too much too quickly can be another trap, easy to fall into.

Having made the decision to get fit it can be frustrating to not to see quick results. The temptation to do far too much, too soon and then lose interest when you haven’t dropped a dress size in a fortnight is all too common among women. It takes time and commitment to get a killer six pack and simply doing 100 crunches for a week won't bring those results. 

Solution:  There is no way around this other than to be patient. You can try supplements, fad diets or working out three times a day but essentially all of these things have an expiry date. Keeping a formulated plan and making sensible achievable goals is the best way to keep your eye on the prize. So brace yourself for the long haul when it comes to getting fit. You need to commit to doing exercise regularly and repeatedly, and may even reach those points when you think nothing is working, but trust us, you will get results in the end.

7. Area targeting

Aiming your fitness guns at one particular part of the body is another common mistake. Want washboard abs or nice toned arms? Unfortunately only ever working the same area won't result in the aims you hope for. You actually need to lose any excess body fat before targeting one specific area and trying to turn it into muscle.

For many women their trouble area is the abdominals, but forgetting the rest of the body will do nothing to strip any fat lying over those muscles. Plus, working the same body part and the same set of exercises becomes monotonous and can lead to a loss of motivation. 

Solution: Get that full body workout. You dont have to work every muscle every day, but mixing it up making sure your legs, arms, back and core have all been worked throughout your week is key to stripping back fat and developing a good base strength before area targeting. So keep it fresh with plenty of variety, including indoor and outdoor exercise, weights and cardio, to ensure different areas and exercises have been used. 

A quick tip, doing endless crunches will not get you those flawless abs! A lot of your stomach size actually depends on what you eat, keeping it clean in the kitchen is very important. For the rest of those abs, doing core exercises is actually better to trim the tum. Working only one specific muscle when doing exercises like crunches, can actually be relatively ineffective, instead try pilates classes for example to get a bit of variety on the midriff.