We’re all guilty of slacking off from time to time, whether at work, at home or in fantasy football  (well, probably more the first two; that last one is meant to illustrate how detrimental it can be to half-ass important things, and to remind you to check your standings), but time is too precious these days to continue making the same mistakes over and over again. Winners work out smart, not hard, so it’s time to take a good hard look at your exercise regimen and get rid of the dead weight, so to speak. Use this checklist of common workout mistakes to keep your game – and your gut – in tip-top shape.

Mistake #1: Working out inconsistently

There’s a reason gym memberships are crazy-expensive in January and insanely affordable in the summertime; it’s because people like you (and us, don’t worry) wake up at the beginning of a new year feeling refreshed (and fat) and ready to tackle the world and stick to their resolutions (…to lose weight, because they ate too much stuffing and are now consequently fat). Going for two hours a day, seven days a week for one month out of the year, however, does not a worthwhile fitness routine make; in fact, it doesn’t even contribute meaningfully to your overall health, because the body needs about 30 days to just get used to a new habit. Instead of working your ass off when you feel motivated and letting yourself sleep through your alarm when you don’t, try viewing fitness as just another part of your day, like brushing your teeth or sleeping. It’s not a special occasion, it’s just a Thing You Do, even if it’s for 20 minutes on the treadmill while reading your morning paper. Every little (consistent) bit helps. Sprinting for two miles and then collapsing – the equivalent of working out like crazy and then falling back into your slug-like ways – is not.

Mistake #2: Starving yourself

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that working out on an empty stomach burns fat. This person, whoever he may have been, was entirely wrong, and as a result, tens of thousands of unsuspecting gents have been undercutting their exercise goals by going in calorie-starved and gorging themselves afterwards to make up for it. The key to an efficient, useful workout is to give yourself enough fuel to push yourself (reasonably) throughout your workout, which means a small portion of carbs, protein and good fat an hour or so before you work out. Eating a small amount of protein after you work out will also help your muscles to repair themselves and help you to keep your energy up. For the best overall weight-loss results, try for five small (400-600 calorie) meals per day, rather than waiting until you’re ravenous.

Mistake #3: All cardio, all the time

Cardio is a must for good health, but it’s only half of the story. You can’t build substantial muscle without weight training, and without muscle, your personal battle of the bulge may as well end in surrender; muscle burns about seven to 10 calories per pound per day, while fat burns a measly two to three. Muscle also decreases with age. “If you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose, you’ll increase the percentage of fat in your body,” explains Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic, which in layman’s terms means that something has to fill the void left by your now-vanished muscle mass, and that something is lard.

Mistake #4: Emphasizing quantity over quality

So, tough guy, you can do 200 bicep curls with 10 lb weights, huh? Good for you. (Pause; “not”.) In some other universes, going through hundreds of reps of anything might mean that you’re The Strongest Man In The World, but in this one, it just means that you’re pushing for high numbers instead of focusing on your form and moving through a complete range of motion. Your muscles should be close to or at the point of exhaustion after 15 reps with the appropriate weight. If you can get through 35 without breaking a sweat, then you need to slow your roll and up your weight.

Mistake #5: Going in blind

To be successful, every business (you) needs a marketing strategy (plan of attack for making yourself into the Adonis you always knew you could be). If you feel overwhelmed when you’re at the gym, it’s probably because you haven’t defined tangible goals for yourself. Looking to shed some pounds? You’ll want a calorie-scorching circuit training routine that blends cardio and weights. Vying for the next Mr. Universe title? You’ll need to pay attention to what you’re eating in addition to what you’re lifting. Just trying to make it from your house to your car without running out of breath? You’ll need to concentrate on building up your lung capacity and endurance. Working out with a purpose will not only keep you from wasting time trying to figure out what to do at the gym, but also keep you motivated; when you track results, you see the point to getting out of bed at 5 AM, even in the winter.

Mistake #6: Focusing on the wrong results

Let’s face it: sometimes simply getting to the gym will be your biggest accomplishment. While it is important to have (and stick to) a workout plan that includes measurable fitness goals, you should also remember to give yourself a hearty pat on the back for just being able to incorporate regular exercise into your hectic schedule. It’s safe to assume you won’t meet every goal you set, no matter how conservative; you might not be exactly where you want to be, but instead of berating yourself, take a moment to celebrate your commitment to your health and well-being. It’ll keep you in the positive zone, which will make you less likely to eschew your next session in favor of a date with your couch and an extra large six meats pizza.

Mistake #7: Slacking on technique

With physical education in the country being what it is, most of us never learned how to exercise properly, much less how to stretch without injuring ourselves or why certain muscle groups should work in concert and why others should always be kept separate. When you combine this collective lack of basic skill with the current state of affairs in the world, the result is a bunch of preoccupied, confused guys wasting a lot of time working out half-heartedly and improperly. If you’ve never worked with a trainer, then it’s worth inquiring at your local gym to find out how much a few sessions will set you back; even in financially stretched times, the benefits of getting some first-hand expertise far outweigh the cost of a few dinners out. Learning the proper ways to approach your exercise routine will both give you something constructive to focus on and ensure that you don’t injure yourself while trying to acquire some guns of steel.

Mistake #8: Skipping the warm-up… or the cool-down

Fitness People have been talking for a while now about the importance (or lack thereof) of stretching before and after workouts. Warm-ups and cool-downs, however, are not just about stretching; they’re about getting your body ready to work and decreasing the risk of injury before, during and after you exercise. Generally speaking, five to ten minutes of light cardio (walking, cycling, swimming) are a good way to ease your muscles into a workout session, and light stretching afterwards is enough to keep your muscles from freezing or pulling. As with your workout itself, the key is to follow through; hold your stretches for one or two minutes, breathe deeply, and focus your mind on relaxing areas of tension. Your warm-up and cool-down are just as important, if not more so, than your workout itself.

Mistake #9: Allowing yourself to get dehydrated

If you wait until you’re already thirsty to drink water, then you’re subjecting your body to dehydration, which can be the kiss of death when sweating profusely and expecting your body to achieve great things in the weight room. Even minor dehydration can increase your perceived exertion level, resulting in a less-than-stellar workout, and can reduce overall performance by as much as 20%. Keep your water bottle full at all times, and remember to hydrate consistently. If you’re feeling parched, then the benefits of your workout are already declining.

Mistake #10: Forgetting to breathe

The next time you hit the gym, remind yourself to breathe. You’ll probably discover that you, like most people, have a tendency to hold your breath during a weight-lifting set or breathe rapidly and shallowly while running on the treadmill. The one muscle you don’t want to tense during a gym sesh is your diaphragm, the muscle directly below your lungs that controls how deeply you’re able to breathe, and when. (It’s also responsible for the hiccups, but that’s a different tale for a different time.) Deep, steady breathing is a key component of working out as efficiently as possible. It gives you balance, keeps you focused (the importance of which can’t be emphasized enough), and invigorates your muscles, all of which give you increased energy and enhance the effectiveness of your exercise tenfold.