Walk into a gym and 50 percent of the people in there are doing something destructive to their joints at any given time. No one ever realizes when they are exercising incorrectly because they’ve been doing it that way so long that the movement just feels right to them. I have picked some of the most common things I see done in the gym that are bad for your body. All of these problems can be corrected with a little mental focus and developing an objective eye. Pay close attention to your exercise movements and try to catch yourself doing some of these the next time you work out. It’s best to get out of these bad habits sooner rather than later.
When pulling a bar or weight to chin level, always do it in front of the head, not behind.
Behind the Neck Exercises
The two exercises that people will do behind the head are shoulder presses and lat pulldowns. The shoulder press is the exercise that involves a participant pushing a weight up overhead. The lat pulldown is the opposite motion that has a participant pulling a bar or cable down from overhead. Lowering the weight or bar in both of these exercises can either be done to the front of the shoulders or behind the neck. Behind the neck movements place the arms into an unnatural position. The shoulder is already an unstable joint and when it is raised over head, many muscles are at work trying to stabilize it. When adding in the extra weight and movement involved in a behind the neck exercise, a large amount of pressure is placed upon the rotator cuff muscles as well as an excessive stretch on the pectoral (chest) muscles. The neck is also under pressure from leaning forward too far. If either of these exercises is done long enough, you are more than likely to see an injury. When lowering anything to chin level in an exercise, lower the weights or bar in front of the head, not behind.
Lifting with the Neck During Abdominal Crunches
The majority of beginning exercisers make this mistake. If you are feeling neck pain while doing crunches, then you are guilty of this. It usually happens when your hands are pulling up on the back of your head or your neck is being used more than it should be during crunches or situps. The excessive strain of the neck from doing abdominal exercises the wrong way can make the neck muscles stiff, leaving them prone to injury during exercise or even later in the day. To fix the problem of lifting with your neck, find a focal point to look at to minimize head movement while doing abdominal exercises. Focus on lifting the shoulders and upper back off the ground instead of leading with the head. Try crossing the arms in front of your chest and feel your stomach periodically to make sure it is contracting as you lift yourself up.
To avoid injury when squatting, make sure your knees don't go in front of your toes. It should be a motion similar to sitting in a chair.
Allowing the Knees to go Forward During the Squat Exercise
I see exercisers that have been working out for years still doing this one. When doing a squat the wrong way, the knees will move forward excessively towards the bottom of the motion. This will leave the knees far in front of the toes which should not happen. When done right, the motion should be the same as going from a seated to standing position. This means that as you lower your body, the hips are pushed back allowing the knees to stay fairly stationary behind the feet. However, when knees lead the way into leaning forward, there is a large amount of pressure on the knee joint. It may take time to catch up to you but most people will feel this pain immediately while doing squats. If this pain goes ignored long enough, it can turn into a serious injury. The bottom line is that when doing a squat, push the hips back nice and far. Stand in front of a chair or by a wall if you need something to hold onto for balance. It may be more comfortable for some to spread the feet out. Have someone watch your knees while you squat to tell you if they are going in front of your feet.
Rounding of the Back
Moms always tell their kids to sit up straight, not to slouch. The same holds true in exercise. Slouching in general is a bad habit. Slouching when handling weights, however, is just plain dangerous. If you’re rounding your back forward, the lower spine and surrounding muscles are under a lot of pressure. Some cues to get out of this habit are keeping your chest up, shoulders back and chin from being buried into the chest. This applies for exercises who are pressing, rowing, squatting, or even running.
Moving the Head Around while Exercising
Another common cause of injury during exercise is unnecessary movement, especially of the head. When using weights or your body as resistance, keep your head still. It is very easy to strain the neck with a quick movement, especially during exercise. Going back to my recommendation for abdominal crunches, find a focal point during exercises and continue to look at it. This goes for runners too. I know it’s hard to stay still on the elliptical or treadmill, but all it takes is one movement while your head is turned to take a spill.
Avoid injury at the gym by adjusting the equipment for yourself. For example, on a chest press machine, the handles should be level with your chest.
Not Adjusting the User Settings on a Piece of Equipment
Since everyone in the world is not the same height, weight or body type, exercise equipment comes with multiple adjustments. These include adjustments of a seat, adjustment of the handles or an adjustable foot step. These adjustments are there for a reason. Use them to set the machine at a level appropriate for your height and body type. Most gyms have a staff member that can help you find the appropriate setting if needed. If a seat is too low or too high, your body is not going through the motion intended for the designated machine. Depending on the setting, you may be putting yourself at risk for injury. For example, with a chest press machine, the handles should be level with your chest. If the handles are level with the navel, then the seat is too high.