Committing to an exercise program takes motivation and dedication, but you’ll ultimately get more benefits, and avoid injury, if you use proper form when you train. Think about it – an injury could limit your training for weeks, so learning how to do training exercises right is a smart investment. Recently, CNN polled physical therapists to find out what exercises their clients frequently do wrong. Here are exercises you might be doing wrong.
Kettlebell swings offer a variety of benefits in a single move. When you swing a kettlebell, you’re building strength and power while burning more calories than with a standard resistance training workout. An intense kettlebell workout also turns on anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone that help you get more benefits out of other strength-training moves. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So how do people get it wrong? They turn a swing into an upper body move, placing too much stress on their arms and shoulders. When you do a kettlebell swing properly, you generate power to move the kettlebell using your core, hamstrings, and glutes, your shoulders shouldn’t bear the brunt of the exercise. When you’re doing it right, the momentum comes from your hips, not your upper body. Do it the wrong way and you could end up with a shoulder injury.
How can you avoid injury? When you first start out, choose and light kettlebell you can easily handle until you’ve mastered proper form. Remember, thrust should come from the hips.
EMG studies show bicycle crunches are one of the best exercises for activating abdominal muscles, but many people do them incorrectly. When you do abdominal crunches, it’s not a speed contest. Twisting back and forth quickly places stress on your spine, placing you at risk for back pain or even disc herniation. Slow down the movement and use less momentum. By doing this, you’ll make the exercise more effective by not releasing tension on your abdominals. Watch your hand placement too. Propping up your head with your hands as you crunch places strain on your neck and cervical spine.
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time. It’s also an exercise that carries with it a high risk for injury when you’re using improper form. The biggest problem most people have when doing this exercise is they round their back when they lift and lower the weight. The power you generate for this exercise should come from your core, not your back. Doing deadlifts wrong can lead to back pain or, worse, a herniated disc.
Before tackling deadlifts, make sure you’ve built up basic core strength since that’s where you want the power to come from. Once you’re ready to deadlift, go light at first until you feel comfortable with the movement. Always maintain a neutral spine, no rounding, and don’t shrug your shoulders at the top. Doing so could lead to shoulder injury.
Lifting overhead is challenging in and of itself, but you increase the challenge when you add a squat to the equation. Overhead squats are among the most challenging of the strength-training moves. Needless to say, you should master your form on overhead presses and squats before tackling this more complicated movement. To do this exercise correctly, you need good mobility in your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. That’s why it’s better not to tackle overhead squats when you’re first starting out. One of the biggest mistakes people make is squatting below the point they can maintain good form – their backs start to arch and their knees move too far forwards. Only squat as low as you can with good form.
Preacher curls are a highly effective exercise for strengthening the biceps muscles but going too heavy on this exercise could lead to a shoulder injury. When you’re curling from a seated position, your shoulders are tilted forwards and your core isn’t well stabilized due to the posture you’re forced to assume. When you choose a weight that’s too heavy, there’s a tendency for your elbows to flare. Use a weight light enough so you can keep your elbows glued to the pad you’re supporting them on.
Bent-over rows are a compound exercise that strengthens all the major muscles in your back, including your traps and lats, but physical therapists point out that lifting from a position where you’re bent at the waist can strain your lumbar spine. Other common mistakes people make when doing bent-over rows: using momentum, working with a weight that’s too heavy, not keeping a neutral spine, and craning the neck during the movement. Another common mistake is to use an incomplete range of motion to allow you to lift more weight. As with most of these exercises, problems arise from arching the back and spine and going too heavy.
Other Exercises that Are Easy to Mess Up
Physical therapists also mention backward medicine ball rotation tosses and seated leg extensions as exercises many people do wrong. Still, there are others they don’t mention. For example, planks are a problem for many people, particularly beginners who have poor core strength. Two common problems with this exercise are letting your hips sag and not keeping the abdominal muscles tight.
How’s your form on lunges and squats? As with other exercises, not keeping a neutral spine is a problem. During lunges, it’s easy to shift your weight too far forward or backward when you bend your knee, rather than maintaining good spinal alignment with shoulders even with hips. Spinal alignment is important for squats too. As you descend, your hips should press back behind you as if you’re sitting back in a chair and your knees shouldn’t descend over your toes. Some people tuck their hips and buttocks underneath them during the descent.
How’s your push-up form? Hopefully, you don’t place your arms too far forward and put extra pressure on your shoulders. Your arms should form a straight line to the floor, and your back should be straight. Your hips shouldn’t be sagging or pushed up into the air. Poor head alignment is another issue for some people. Keep a space between your chin and neck, so your chin never comes close to touching your neck.
The Bottom Line
Using good form helps you maximize the results you get when you train but it also lowers your risk for injury. Don’t sacrifice form so you can go heavier. It’s not a good trade-off if you get injured.
CNN. “The exercises physical therapists know lead to injuries” June 5, 2015.
About.com. “The Best and Worst Ab Exercises”
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