According to physical trainer Alison McGinnis, “If you don’t have enough mobility at each joint to perform an exercise safely, then really any part of the body is at risk for injury.” Exercise is important to leading a healthy lifestyle, but if you are not properly trained in how to perform each of the exercises in your regimen, you might be doing more harm than good.
For those who have a daily workout plan, injury can erase a few weeks of valuable training time that could have been easily avoided. In this article, we are going to take a look at five common exercises that, when not done properly, have a high risk of leading to injury. Hopefully, with the knowledge gained, you will not have to worry about being sidelined and unable to perform your exercises.
Crunches are a very common exercise done in order to build the core muscles of the body, often done in two different ways: bicycle and standard.
When doing a bicycle crunch (shown above), avoid high speed twisting motions which can lead to muscle spasms and hernias. Spine injuries can also often occur if you aren’t properly holding your neck in place during bicycle crunches. In order to avoid this, slow down the movement and keep your abs flexed.
Regular crunches (shown above) can lead to lower back and spine injuries since it places a large amount of pressure on the anterior portion of your spine, which pulls on your lumbar vertebrae.
To ensure that you avoid injury, do crunches like this:
- Lie on your back with your feet against a wall (so your knees and hips are bent at a 90-dgree angle)
- Tighten your ab muscles and raise your head and shoulders forward, off the floor
- Cross your arms on your chest or behind your head to avoid straining your neck
- Hold for about three deep breaths, lower to the ground, and repeat
For a lat pull down (pictured below), the main source of injury and strain is pulling the bar down behind your head. Instead, the bar should be pulled to your chest, not behind your neck.
The lat-pull down places a lot of stress on the back of the shoulder that can lead to impingement or even rotator cuff tears. Anytime you are pulling or raising a weight down behind your neck, you are forcing your shoulders into an abnormal position. Avoid pulling the bar down behind your head and you should be able to avoid injury.
Behind the neck shoulder presses (shown below) is another exercise where the weight comes down behind your head, which can overload your shoulders. Again, do not perform any exercise that forces your joint into unnatural positions or positions that exceed your ability and/or mobility.
The safest approach to neck presses like these is to bring the bar down in front of your head onto your chest, same as with lat pull-downs. Another alternative is performing more shoulder mobility and stability work with elastic resistance bands or medicine balls.
Kettlebell swings (shown below) are great for strength-building, but unless they are done properly and with the right technique, they can easily lead to injury. The key thing to remember when performing kettlebell swings is to avoid using your arms to lift or swing the kettlebell.
Ideally, the power of the movement comes from your lower body, so if you are using your arms to move the kettlebell, you can unintentionally increase your risk of shoulder injuries and even damage your rotator cuff.
These routines (or swings) are designed to throw off your center of gravity, thus forcing you to use multiple muscle groups. However, before you try them yourself, make sure that you:
- Know the proper form. If you don’t, consider spending time with a personal trainer who is kettlebell certified or join a beginner class at your local gym
- Are not using your arms. Make sure that the focus of your swing is in the lower body, thrusting your hips forward to “lift the weight.” Let momentum do the work for you!
Pull-ups or chin ups (shown below) are a good exercise, designed to strengthen your arms and shoulders. However, unless your lats are strong enough, attempting this exercise may lead to injury as the areas it strengthens are typically underused.
Before you add chin-ups or pull-ups into your routine, make sure that you have done some basic training on these underused muscle groups such as your lats and shoulders. Otherwise, you will definitely do more harm than good.
Remember the next time you head to your gym that it is OK to ask the staff about proper exercise and safety techniques. Avoiding these precautions can be dangerous to yourself and others if you are not careful, so make sure to work out responsibly.