Weight lifting is one awesome activity, and it’s something that we FBGs make sure to fit in at least two or three times a week to keep our muscles strong and our metabolism stoked. But when doing strength training—even if you’re not lifting heavy weights—it’s really important to have good form so that you don’t turn a good activity into one that leaves you at the doctor’s office.
Stacy Berman, a New York City certified personal trainer and founder of Stacy’s Boot Camp, recently sent us the top five exercises that people do wrong in the gym, with tips on how to correct your own technique and avoid getting hurt. Follow them to stay injury free!
The full sit-up isn’t just 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: 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. Slowly lift and lower your torso for a better overall ab workout with less strain on your neck and back.
When done correctly, squats can be a great strength-building and toning exercise for the lower body. However, 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 adding too much weight too soon, causing them to get into an improper position just to lift the weight.
Do it Right: Starting at a low weight is key for squats because you can focus solely on your form. The proper positioning for a squat should be as follows: Standing straight with a 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 create 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. Also, always keep your toes in sight to make sure you are sitting deep enough into the squat.
3. 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. Just like the squat, moderate weight should be used while you are still developing proper form. You should also avoid the common “thrust up” that you may see many weight lifters using at the gym, as it 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 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: The number one sin when doing push-ups is the saggy back, which Stacy sees in almost all of her clients when they first start doing the exercise. Start with modified push-ups on your knees in the proper form, which is hands placed shoulder-width apart and lower 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.
Ever since middle school, pull-ups have been the tried-and-true test for fitness. But this exercise is only effective if you do it right. The most common mistake is locking your elbows when you are lowering yourself from the bar. Pull-ups are a combination of raw strength and momentum, but 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 key.
Do it Right: Using an assisted pull-up machine at the gym will help you reach your goal while maintaining proper form. Using a machine should not make the exercise easy for you, but just “doable.” 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. It’s a mantra that FBG believes to be in true in much of working out and eating right: Slow, steady and consistent wins the race! —Jenn