Fitness Blunders: 5 Common Form Mistakes—Fixed!

Fitbit ambassador and celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak demonstrating a lunge.

When it comes to getting stronger, resistance training is key. In addition to preserving lean muscle mass, it can also help increase your bone density (key for staving off osteoporosis) and keep your weight in check—all things that get harder with age. If that’s not reason enough for you to hit the weights—or break a sweat with a bodyweight workout—know that resistance training can also help manage everything from arthritis to back pain.

But before you jump into a new routine, it’s integral that you take some steps to set yourself up for success. After all, a training program is only as good as the exercises in it. And the exercises are only beneficial if they’re performed properly. Poor technique doesn’t just yield poor results, it also increases your chance of injury. As a trainer, I come across so many people who rush into strength training only to fall victim to injury. Sloppy form is often the culprit. Here are five exercises that are often done incorrectly, plus tips on how to fix your form.

Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

Common Mistake: Reaching too low at the bottom of the movement and aiming for the weight to touch the ground, rounding your back in the process.

Simple Fix: As you lower the weight, focus on sliding your hips back as far as you can. When your hips no longer slide back, contract your glutes and hamstrings, and thrust your hips forward. This will place focus on the hamstring and glutes and eliminate potential strain on your lower back.

TRX Row

Common Mistake: Angling yourself too far back relative to the angle of the TRX strap (or lowering yourself too close to the ground). Doing this targets the wrong muscles; you end up using a lot of your upper back and arms, instead of the rhomboid muscles between your shoulder blades.

Simple Fix: Create a 90-degree angle between the strap and your spine. This forces you to use your rhomboid muscles and reduces the strain on your neck.

Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Common Mistake: Bringing the dumbbells too far back behind the head during the concentric (shortening) portion of the movement and too far forward during the eccentric (lengthening) portion.

Simple Fix: Lower the dumbbells straight down while keeping your elbows pinned to your ears. Then drive the head of the dumbbell straight up towards the sky. Your upper arm should remain still and perpendicular to the ground the entire time. This ensures you work your triceps without the muscles in your upper back (the latissimus or teres major muscles) assisting.

Forward Lunge

Common Mistake: Allowing your leading knee to slide too far forward past your leading foot. This puts undue stress on the knee, increasing your risk of injury, and only really works the quadriceps.

Simple Fix: When you lunge, don’t allow your front knee to move past the laces on your shoe and keep your weight between the arch and heel of your front foot. This redistributes the work among the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

Pull-Up

Common Mistake: Using the momentum of swinging, rather than lifting the brunt of your weight vertically. This is called a “kipping pull-up,” and it has become common thanks to CrossFit. I’m not a big fan of this version, though, as it’s kind of a functional cheat.

Simple Fix: Work to build a strong, strict pull-up (these tips can help). Your lower body should never be in front of your upper body. Push your chest out on the way up.

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