Stacy notes that almost everyone knows that lifting a heavy object without bending at the knees strains the lower back or running on an uneven surface causes sore knees and hips. What most people don’t know is that even slight changes in posture and incorrect technique while performing weight-lifting movements can cause great injuries. Below Stacy lists the top five exercises that people do WRONG in the gym, and how to correct your own technique to avoid getting hurt.
Sit-ups: The sit-up is not only bad for the neck, it isn’t very effective at toning the mid-section, either. Many people lock their hands behind their head and strain their neck while sitting up, causing a torque in the spine, which ultimately leads to neck and back pain.
- Do it Right: According to Stacy, “For a safe and effective stomach workout, you should do abdominal crunches instead of sit-ups. Lie on your back and position your legs with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Then, with your hands either behind your head or crossed over your chest, lift your entire torso from the belly button-up to about a 45-degree angle, taking care to keep your spine aligned and your back flat against the floor.” Stacy also notes that slower is better – slowly lift and lower your torso for a better overall ab workout and less strain on your neck and back.
Squats: When done correctly, squats can be a great strength building and toning exercise for the lower body, however, Stacy says, many people overdo it when it comes to weight – which can lead to injury. “Doing a squat exercise with a barbell across your back puts you in a position to lift a great amount of weight many people – men especially – are prone to add too much weight too soon, causing them to default into improper position just to lift the weight.”
- Do it Right: Starting at a low weight is key for squats, notes Stacy, because you can focus solely on your form. The proper positioning for a squat should be as follows: standing straight with a plain (no weight added) barbell across the back of your shoulders and your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, lower your body down as if you are going to sit in a chair. Keeping your knees in a straight line as you lower and stop as your thighs are creating a 90-degree angle with your lower legs. Your knees should stay in line with the rest of your legs (do not let them buckle in or out) and should not at any point bend too far forward as to cover your toes (always keep your toes in sight to make sure your are sitting “deep” enough into the squat).
Shoulder Press: This exercise strains the shoulders, both on the way down and on the way up. The little muscles on the top of your shoulders work too hard and become inflamed, causing “weight lifters shoulder.” It can also a lot of stress on the shoulder joints, which can lead to permanent damage.
- Do it Right: By keeping your spine in line with your shoulders and head, you can avoid potential pain and injury in your shoulders and spine, says Stacy. Just like the squat, moderate weight should be used while you are still developing proper form. Stacy also adds: “you should avoid the common ‘thrust up’ than you may see many weight lifters using at the gym – which creates a lot of force on the way up, making the exercise easier, but very dangerous if you are not in control of the weight you are lifting.”
Push-ups: Push-ups are often the culprit of neck, lower back, elbow and shoulder pain. They require a lot of strength - holding your entire body parallel to the floor is no small feat and it’s easy to overdo it.
- Do it Right: According to Stacy, “the number one sin when doing push-ups is the ‘saggy back,’ which I see in almost all of my clients when they first start doing the exercise.” Stacy recommends you start with modified push-ups on your knees in the proper form – which is hands placed shoulder-width apart and lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor, keeping your head, neck and back aligned. “Once you are comfortable doing modified push-ups, start adding just a few ‘regular’ ones into your routine until you are strong enough to completely replace the modified ones,” says Stacy.
Pull-Ups: Ever since Middle School, push-ups have been the time-old test for fitness. Stacy says the exercise is only effective if you do it right – the most common mistake, she notes, is locking your elbows when you are lowering yourself from the bar. “Pull-ups are a combination of raw strength and momentum. Being in control is a top priority – because if you are swinging up and down on the bar, you will strain your arms, neck and back in the process. Knowing when to stop is also a very important piece of advice.”
- Do it Right: Using an assisted pull-up machine at the gym will help you reach your goal while keeping proper form. Using a machine should not make the exercise easy for you, but just “doable” says Stacy. “Position your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Traditional ‘pull up’ hand position is to curl your hands under the bar, with your fingers facing you. The primary muscle you will be engaging is your biceps. Lower yourself slowly until your arms are almost completely extended, but not ‘locked’ at the elbows. Pull yourself back up in the same controlled motion. Do this with a little less assistance each time and eventually you will be on your own!”
One final point from Stacy: working out should be fun and leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated, not in pain. Don’t feel pressure to show off at the gym or get ahead of yourself – slow and steady wins the race!