Exercises That Might Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Ways People Exercise Wrong


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Ways People Exercise Wrong

Matters of Form

Simply getting motivating to work out can feel like an achievement — yet all of that dedication and hard work can be derailed if you're not exercising correctly. Without learning proper form for even simple exercises, you run the risk of injury, forcing you to postpone fitness goals while you recover. Even if you manage to avoid a debilitating and painful injury, bad form can also keep you from getting the full benefit of a workout for the muscles you're targeting. And it's easy to miss the problem, especially if you've been doing exercises for years or picked them from a class.

"Most people are desk workers and have postural distortions because of it. Rounded shoulders, forward head posture, tight hips, ankle weakness, and inactive glutes," says Kelly Michaels Giordano, a certified personal trainer with more than 22 years in the fitness industry. "Having the body in correct alignment, in my opinion, can help eliminate the 'problems or incorrect movement' that we see as professionals." The following are some common mistakes and how to fix them.

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When the weather is bad, the treadmill is a good option to get your miles in. That said, avoid trying to go too fast or at too steep of an incline that you're forced to hold onto the railings. This affects your posture and puts strain on your back while decreasing the effectiveness of the workout. Instead, run at a slower pace or less of an incline so you can practice proper form.

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"An overwhelming amount of gym goers are not doing proper squats,” says Elizabeth Radinovic, a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor. "Actually, many are told to avoid squats by medical professionals — not because of the squat itself, but because it can be harmful with improper form." A squat is a "compound exercise" that means it works many muscles and has several moving parts. This is a great exercise for the leg and gluteus muscles if done right; done wrong, all those parts risk injury.

"Common mistakes include arching the back while sticking the butt out too much, and another is leaning forward with the upper body and shifting into the knees," Radinovic says. She recommends starting with proper spinal and pelvic alignment. "It's important to start with a neutral spine — no excessive arching in the lower back. Once the spine is in a neutral position, maintaining it while sitting back into the squat is so important. Also, keeping the chest lifted helps to avoid leaning forward and shifting into the knees."

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Knee injuries are a risk if you do lunges the wrong way. The biggest mistake is allowing the knees to bend past your toes. Instead, you should lower yourself so both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and your front shin is perpendicular to the ground. Be conscious to keep your core pulled in and your back straight. Do not lean forward or arch, which risks a back injury.



Deadlifts are another compound exercise that Radinovic considers a great time saver and muscle builder. If done incorrectly, though, a whole host of things can go wrong. "Common mistakes people make with doing deadlifts include leaning too far forward and rounding the spine, which can lead to or exacerbate a back injury," Radinovic says.

Radinovic says to focus on pulling the shoulders back and driving your heels into the ground. This helps avoid leaning forward while keeping the neck in line with the spine. Keep your eyes looking forward, and remember that keeping a straight back is essential. "Due to the advanced nature of this exercise, I highly recommend working with a professional to help master form before attempting to go it alone," Radinovic says.

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Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/istockphoto


Lower-back and shoulder injuries can be a risk with pushups gone wrong. According to Giordano, common pushup mistakes include the core sagging, hands placed wrong, glutes not engaged, knees bent, and feet placed too far apart.

"Lower into a pushup position with hands pointing forward and hands placed under your shoulders," Giordano says. "Bring your legs and feet together, activating your glutes and core and a flat back. Lower into a pushup position while squeezing your shoulder blades together as you are pressing away from the floor. Engage your core, glutes, inner thighs, and press back up to a starting position."

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Situps carry the risk of lower back or neck injury if done the wrong way. Tucking the chin into the chest or pulling on the neck can cause strain, while arching the back or rounding it too much puts strain on the lower back.

The best way to do a situp is to lie on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground. Put your hands behind your ears, making sure not to pull on your head or neck. Slowly, keeping your back straight and stomach pulled in, sit all the way up to a sitting position; then slowly, keeping the same form lower back down.



The biggest problem with crunches is that people tuck their chin to their chest and put extra strain on the neck, risking injury. To do this exercise correctly, keep from tucking your chin by pretending there is a tennis ball between your chin and chest. Lift up slowly and just slightly. Your shoulders should come no more than 3 inches off the mat. Then lower back down slowly, with your chin and head in the same position.

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Shoulder injury is a risk when you do dips the wrong way. The most common problems are leaning forward, shrugging your shoulders up to your ears, or flaring your elbows. To perform the move correctly, keep elbows tucked into your sides, and keep your torso straight up and down as you dip. Keep your shoulders pressed down away from your ears, and look straight ahead with your head aligned with your spine.

Bicep Curl

Bicep Curls

Elbow injuries are a common issue with bicep curls that aren't done properly. Improper bicep curls mean you are swinging your body into the lifting movement, flaring your elbows, and/or lifting the weights above your shoulders.

To do this move correctly, you must squeeze your elbows into your sides and keep them there as you lift. You have to keep your hips stationary so you aren't swaying back and forth, and you should not be lifting the weight all the way up to touch your shoulders. If this exercise is performed with good form, with your elbows glued to your ribs, you won't be able to lift the weights that high.

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Push Press

Overhead Press

Another move that risks shoulder injury if done incorrectly, the overhead press has a number of things that can go wrong. Arching your back, leaning your weight back, abd straining your head up or down are common mistakes.

To do a correct overhead press, you must stand up straight, with your shoulders relaxed. Keeping your back straight and looking forward, press directly up from the level of your ears; don't go up and forward or up and behind you.

Lateral Pulldown

Lat Pulldown

The biggest problem with the lat pulldown is bringing the bar behind your head. This causes you to tuck your head forward and puts unnecessary strain on the neck, risking injury. The second biggest mistake is arching your back as you pull.

The latter can be corrected with lighter weight, while the first problem is corrected by pulling the weight down in front of you. To do this, tilt back slightly at the hips and relax your shoulders. Pull the weight down and slightly in toward your chest.

garage gym

Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is a great option for a full-body cardio workout, but proper form is a must. Common mistakes on the rowing machine include rounding your back, which puts strain on your shoulders and back, and pulling with just your arms, which opens you up to shoulder injury.

Instead, each row should be a full body movement. You should be pushing with your legs, engaging the core, sitting up straight, and pulling back while your shoulders are relaxed and down. If you can't do the exercise without hunching your back, lower the resistance level.

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Stationary Bike

Stationary Bike

Setting up the stationary bike properly is key to getting the most effective exercise without injury. The seat of the bike should be level with your hip when you're standing next to it. Once seated, your leg should have a slight angle at the knee when fully extended at the bottom of the down stroke. If the seat is too high and your leg is completely straight when extended or you have to stretch to reach the pedal, you risk serious knee trouble. The handlebars should be slightly lower than the seat. During your ride, you should keep your posture in check with an engaged core and straight back to prevent back injuries.



Planks face problems like you face with pushups: not engaging your core correctly. Giordano recommends going back to the basics. Turn over on your back and practice basic toe taps or Pilates toe taps. Or lift up one foot to a 90-degree angle, inhale and hold for one second as you release your leg back down, and exhale. Repeat 10 times on each side. Focusing on slow breath and slow movement, keeping your core engaged.

Once you've mastered those basics, try a plank again. "Place your forearms on the ground, elbows under the shoulders. Draw your navel to your spine, tighten your glutes, and squeeze your inner thighs together," Giordano says. "Press your forearms into the ground as you are drawing the elbows toward the hips to engage the core more. Keep the head in a neutral position. Hold for as long as you can keep the position, and rest as soon as you feel your shoulders to lose stability."



No matter what exercise you perform, it's important to practice the proper breathing technique. Many people want to hold their breath or take short, shallow breaths when lifting. Both are wrong, and risk at the least that you'll get light-headed. More worrisome is that improper breathing while lifting can lead to increased blood pressure, aneurysm, and heart problems. Proper breathing technique means inhaling as you lift the weight and exhaling as you lower the weight. This breathing technique should hold true for every weightlifting exercise you perform. If you can't keep this breathing rhythm up, you need to go down in weight until you can practice proper breathing.

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woman stretching


Proper posture is everything during your workout, no matter what move you're performing, because it protects the back from injury. To ensure proper posture, suck your core in and keep it engaged with every move. Avoid rounding your shoulders in or arching your lower back. The spine should remain in a straight, neutral position at all times.



No matter how many repetitions you're doing of each move, they should all be done at roughly the same speed. Slow and steady wins the race here. You don't want to go fast and risk your form, as well as decrease the effectiveness of your workout. Slowing down and doing steady reps allows you to focus on your form and prevents you from using momentum to perform the rep, which decreases the effectiveness of the exercise.

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woman with dumbbells

Weight Size

Radinovic recommends starting with lighter weights until you have perfected your form and can move on to heavier weights. It is far better, with less risk of injury, to lift lighter loads with good form than too heavy of weights with poor form.

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