The Top 5 Exercises You're Doing Wrong

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By: , – Jessica Smith, Certified Personal Trainer
5/13/2013 12:00 AM   :  44 comments   :  197,800 Views

For some people, safety and form during a workout is a huge priority. For others, it's an afterthought. If you work out without the careful eyes of a trainer or instructor watching your every move, it can be difficult to know if you are exercising with proper form—even when you're really trying to.
 
Learning how to move with correct alignment isn't just about looking good; it can mean the difference between muscle activation and joint strain—or even injury.
 
Here are five exercises that are common—and may even seem simple—but are most often performed incorrectly by people of all fitness levels.
 
(For detailed instructions on each move, continue reading below this graphic.)
 

 
#1: Plank
 
What You're Doing Wrong
  • Placing your hands on the floor too far in front (or behind) of your shoulders
  • Sinking into your arms (causing your shoulder blades to "wing" out across your upper back)
  • Letting your hips sag and/or your abs relax
  • Jutting your chin forward
 

Fix Your Form: Line up your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders and brace your abs into your spine as you extend into plank. Press your arms into the floor and imagine you are lightly gripping the ground with your fingertips to engage your wrists.

Your body should be in one straight line (diagonal with the floor) from your heels to your hips to your head. TIP: Imagine you are holding a grapefruit between your chin and your chest to help keep your neck neutral.
 
#2: Lunges

What You're Doing Wrong

  • Stepping too wide (or narrow) with your feet (so that knees don't bent at 90 degrees)
  • Shifting your weight and/or torso forward as you bend your knees
  • Leaning back with your torso as you bend your knees (pushing your hips in front of your shoulders)
  • Bending front knee past your toes
 




Fix Your Form: Begin in a wide split stance (one foot in front of the other) with your bodyweight centered between your legs and your back heel lifted (not pictured).

Bend both knees about 90 degrees and lower your body straight down, keeping your spine neutral (shoulders stacked over your hips) and back knee underneath your torso as it bends.
 





#3: Crunches

What You're Doing Wrong
  • Pulling on your head as you crunch (using your arms to lift)
  • Closing your elbows in toward the sides of your head
  • Pushing with your leg, squeezing with your glutes
  • Pressing your belly out as you lift your upper body off the floor
  • Gazing at the ceiling
Fix Your Form: Clasp your hands behind your head lightly and relax your head into your hands to keep your neck lengthened. Open your elbows wide to the sides and curl up over the top of your ribcage, looking forward with your eyes so that your chin comes slightly to your chest.

Relax your legs and glutes and keep your pelvis parallel to the floor (envision trying to balance a wine glass on top of your belly as you crunch).
 
#4: Squats
 
What You're Doing Wrong
  • Using a slouched, rounded posture (sinking the chest and tucking your tailbone under)
     
  • Bending your knees and lowering straight down with the hips (so that your knees extend past your toes and your hips stay underneath you)
     
  • Allowing knees and/or toes buckle (roll inward)
 




Fix Your Form: Keep your back neutral (there should be a slight natural curve in your lower back), chest lifted.

When you bend your knees, press your hips behind you (as if you were going to sit back into a chair), tracking your knees over (but not past) your toes, with your feet and knees pointed forward.
 
 





#5: Push Ups

What You're Doing Wrong
  • Placing your hands on the floor too far in front of your shoulders
  • Bringing palms too close together (for a traditional push up)
  • Pushing hips up in the air
  • Pressing chin forward and looking up as you lower, or (not pictured) letting your head drop down toward the floor as you lower
  • Lowering further than you are able to with proper alignment of the body (as listed above).
 
Fix Your Form: For a traditional push-up, try to line up the midline of your chest with your thumbs, keeping your hands under your body and wide enough that you can lower your chest straight down in between your hands. Keep your hips in line with your spine (similar to the plank, your torso should form a straight line from your shoulders to your hips to whatever point, knees or toes, is in contact with the floor). Look down to the floor with your eyes—not by bending your neck—to avoid neck strain, keeping neck in line with the spine at all times. Only lower down as far as you can with proper alignment.
 
 
If you noticed that you're guilty of even a few of these form guidelines, don't beat yourself up over it. The key is to continue to improve and focus on that form. Proper form is essential to target the muscles you're trying to train while also avoiding injury. So enlist the help of a friend, use a mirror when you can, or consider getting help from a personal trainer for even more insight.
 
Are you guilty of any of these common mistakes? What specific exercises do you have troubling maintaining proper form with?

About the Author
As someone who struggled to lose weight for years, Jessica found that the key to her own 40-pound weight loss was making small, healthy lifestyle changes that led to big, lasting results. Now, as a certified wellcoach, fitness instructor and personal trainer, she has spent the last 15 years helping students and clients reach their goals in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, and now reaches millions online through her YouTube Channel and home exercise DVD series. Please visit jessicasmithtv.com/shop to learn more about her fun, results driven programs for all levels of exercisers.

All photos by Vanessa Rogers Photography.


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