Top 5 Exercise Mistakes Women with PCOS Make

Exercise is a necessary part of taking control over PCOS. Every body, regardless if they have PCOS or not, needs exercise for good mental and physical health too. If you’ve been a regular exerciser, recently embarked on a new routine, or are interested in starting, there are several factors that should be taken into account to help avoid the common pitfall many people make, that cause them to get injured, or lose faith and focus and never wanting to step into the gym again.

Here are the top five mistakes that women with PCOS make and how to fix them.

Mistake #1: “If it works for them, it must work for me!”

We all know that one person with the body we idolize, who can come in and spend 15 minutes on the elliptical and do one set of leg presses and end up with a flat set of abs and legs to die for. It might seem tempting to ask them for advice, follow their program, and expect the same results, but this is a fallacy.

What works for one person, most certainly won’t work for the next person because we are all individuals with different backgrounds, lifestyles, and hormonal make ups. Being different is an amazing thing, but with this we all need to know that being unique requires us to have a unique exercise plan for ourselves to progress optimally.


Listen to those who have struggled. Just like in life, those who have struggled and overcome adversity tend to have the best results. Find the person who is not naturally gifted and those who have learned how different people and bodies respond to different exercises and learn from them.

Finding a highly qualified personal trainer or someone with that kind of expertise can help you individualize your program for your body and your goals. It is important to note that you should always question and vet your trainer before starting, as there are a lot of great trainers out there, but there are always those who are just doing it for the paycheck and using the same program for everyone. So the key is to find the best, most qualified person who fits your needs and can help you produce the best results.

Mistake #2: “I need more cardio!”

We’ve heard it all before. “Just run more!” Or “the weight isn’t dropping because you’re not doing enough cardio!” The problem with this comes to the forefront when you’ve maxed out your cardio and still aren’t progressing. When the law of diminishing returns comes into play and the amount of cardio you do can’t increase any further, what do you do?


Muscle burns more calories than fat. It might seem counterintuitive, but reducing cardio and increasing resistance training can have a dramatic effect for women with PCOS when it comes to total calories burned in a day, and also the changes in body composition over time. Women with PCOS can build muscle easier thanks to higher testosterone levels. Use this to your advantage. Life is all about balance and exercise is no different. Balancing your workouts with a mix of cardio and resistance exercise is key.

Mistake #3: “I have to keep the body guessing to progress!”

“This one works the glutes! So does this one, and this one!” There are a million different ways to work every body part and there will always be those people that will change up exercises every subsequent exercise session to “keep the body guessing”. What happens, though, when we keep the body guessing too much and can’t progress?


The law of adaptation is as so; you introduce a stimulus to the body and the body will adapt to overcome that stimulus, which is why we always vary the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercises we do.

While it is important to vary exercises, there is a fine balance between adapting and overcoming and never progressing due to lack of adaptation. The key to mastering the law of adaptation is to not change exercises too frequently, but still frequently enough to ensure continued progression.

I recommend including the same exercises for building muscle until you start to see diminishing returns. After that, vary movements to ensure progression, coming back to the previous exercise in 8-12 weeks to see how you’ve progressed with other movements to determine their efficacy in your training.

Mistake #4: “I need to push hard to see results!”

When first starting to exercise, it can be exciting and thrilling to see how far the body can be pushed. Some women with PCOS, desperate to lose weight fast, give their workouts everything they have, and then some. Women with PCOS are strong, but sometimes they overestimate their strength resulting in injury.


As stated previously, life is all about balance. Compulsive or excessive exercise is a serious problem. When exercise becomes the main priority, it can be easy to feel the urge to exercise non-stop, creating an unhealthy relationship with exercise and the ability to overdo it and get hurt.

Take it easy. You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym to see results. Incorporating yoga, for example, is a great way to stretch overworked muscles and has even been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and testosterone levels.

Moderation is key. Set times for when you plan to exercise each week and plan it out to help you stay on track. This helps to make exercise a healthy part of life, rather than the only thing in life.

Mistake #5: “This hurts, so it must be working!”

“Feel the burn!” “Let the burn set you free!” “If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working!”  These are all phrases heard in gyms every day. The thing is, is it really just a burn? What about when you’re feeling the burn outside of the gym and feeling pain when doing things where you don’t usually feel pain?


Lactic acid is what typically causes the burn during exercise. Muscle damage causes the soreness after exercise. Both are normal responses, but when exercise becomes too much and the burn and pain starts being felt in other areas and is persistent, that’s when there is a problem.

The key to fixing this is to learn your limits and follow the plan. The adrenaline rush of going for that little extra weight or going longer on the elliptical can be tempting, but following the plan is part of keeping the exerciser safe and healthy, allowing for long term progress.

Never let short term satisfaction cloud the judgement, leading to derailing the journey to the long term goal.

Starting and maintaining an exercise program is key to managing PCOS. Start this journey with the right mindset and the right resources by planning, learning, and implementing.  Use the tips above to help you on your journey to make the most out of your workouts and to prevent injury.

ZackKnightZack Knight, MS, RD, ACSM-CPT is originally from Chesapeake, VA, currently living in Greensboro, NC, working as a Clinical Dietitian at an acute care hospital in Martinsville, VA. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree with a double major in Kinesiology and Dietetics and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Physical Activity, both from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine, and competes in powerlifting with best lifts of a 515lb squat, 340lb bench press, and 525lb deadlift. You can reach him on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter all @TheBarbellRD.

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