If you’ve noticed that certain exercises trigger lower back or hip pain, or make an existing chronic pain condition worse, then what you need to do is to go back to the basics and learn how to workout properly before moving forward. There is nothing wrong with taking a break to learn the basics. Pushing through the pain is not a solution and can make an existing injury worse.
Below, I’m going to introduce you to 13 of the most common exercise form mistakes that are guaranteed to overload your joints, spine, and muscles.
Anyone can be making these exercise mistakes. Even if you exercise regularly. Many people develop muscular imbalances and start compensating at the gym (including bodybuilders and experienced weight lifting athletes).
If you can’t watch the video now. I provide a full summary of each exercise below the video.
Remember, learning how to properly perform the fundamental exercises will help you in the long-run. You’ll avoid injuring yourself. You’ll build intelligent muscles. And, you’ll teach your body to move right on a day-to-day basis. This is a very crucial step in your fitness and healing journey.
Don’t let the pain disrupt your fitness progress…
Many people love to sign up for gym bootcamps or high-intensity workouts because of the fast results they promise… You work really hard. You work out as a group which is a lot of fun and you also burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time. So where is the problem?
Well, the issue is…when you’re going through a laundry list of exercises, doing as many reps as possible, in a short amount of time…you’re not really mindful about your form or how you’re doing each repetition. You’ll also reach muscle fatigue quickly. This leads to compensation and muscle imbalances.
I receive a lot of emails from subscribers saying that they went back to the gym, did an early morning ‘class’ (which I’m sure is one of those bootcamps), and now they’re hurting again.
Before you commit to a 5 am bootcamp 3x/week, make sure to first learn the exercises you’ll be doing. Practice without load (bodyweight). And, during the bootcamp, make sure to stop when you feel you’re starting to fatigue. There is no point in competing with other people to finish the circuit if you’re hurting.
13 Exercise Form Mistakes To Avoid That Cause Back Pain
Behind The Neck Lat Pulldown
The first exercise form mistake is performing the behind the neck pulldown. This position puts more stress on the shoulder joint because the joint is in a closed packed position. In this position, the joint is compressed and doesn’t have a lot of room to move.
The shoulder joint is designed for mobility. To avoid injury we want the joint to be placed in the loose-packed position (1). The safer alternative is to place the load in front of your shoulders. This gives the joint ligaments more extensibility.
2. Dumbbell Rows
The dumbbell row is a fantastic back strengthening exercise but it’s easy to do it wrong. The first thing to avoid is placing your feet too close to the bench. You won’t give your back enough space to extend and you want to keep your back straight and stable through this exercise.
Your back will start rounding and that is not a good position to be in as you add load to your spine. So make sure you brace your core, keep your glutes engaged, keep your back straight as pull the weight up. Don’t release the brace until you drop the dumbbell on the floor and come back up.
3. Shoulder Press With Over-Arching Back
This flawed movement is showing an overactive latissimus dorsi creating that exaggerate arch, tight chest muscles, and tight hip flexors. So if you notice this make sure to release these muscles as part of your warm-up.
In order to do this exercise properly, first, you need to engage your glutes, pull your abs in and brace your core. Power up using your glutes and make sure the weights aren’t traveling to the front. They should be above your shoulders. And, don’t release the core brace until you drop the weights and come back up.
4. Lateral Raises With Palm Facing Down
When performing the shoulder lateral raises, avoid keeping your hands facing down. This internal rotation of the shoulders with the added load puts more stress on the shoulder joint.
Instead, externally rotate your hand so that your thumb is facing out. By externally rotating your shoulders, you’re also activating the rotator cuff which stabilizes the shoulder joint. I made a video recently on how to strengthen the rotator cuff and restore upper back posture.
5. Biceps Curl
If your elbows are away from your body, you’ll start compensating with your shoulders and even traps to help you move the weights up. Keep your elbows as close to your body as possible. And as you curl up, slightly rotate your hands into external rotation.
You’ll notice the exercise will get more challenging when done with proper form. Reduce the weight down if you can’t do more than 4 repetitions with proper form. Don’t worry, now that you’re not compensating, you’ll be developing your biceps the right way, and you’ll see faster results. You’ll also avoid muscle imbalance and shoulder pain. (What’s the point of lifting more if the muscle you’re trying to work isn’t even doing all the work?)
6. Bench Press
To avoid shoulder impingement and injury, make sure you don’t let your elbow fall way below shoulder-level.
Start with light weights (so you can easily control each repetition). Keep your glutes and core fully engaged to keep you stable. Use your lats to press up. On the way down, Make sure you don’t lower your elbows below your shoulders-level. Another alternative is to perform the bench press on the floor. This will force you to only go as low as floor level.
7. Side-To-Side Walks
The side-to-side walk is a great exercise to strengthen the gluteus medius. However, you need to avoid side flexion (bending to one side) as you walk because you’ll be compensating and using the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle.
To do this exercise properly, make sure you keep your feet facing forward and avoid side bending as you walk to each side.
When squatting, notice if your knees turn inwards, if your heels elevate and if your back starts rounding. If any of these things are happening, don’t add load until you fix these flawed movement patterns first. (Piriformis Control is my program where I show you how to fix these squatting imbalances).
When you’re squatting, keep your lats down, glutes and core engaged. Don’t roll your back and go as long as you can without sacrificing form.
- Related: Fix your squat
Avoid rounding the back and letting the knee travel past your foot when lunging down. Keep your back straight. Keep the back leg stable as you drop into the lunge. Make sure to use your glutes and the front leg to get back up. And keep your core engaged to stabilize you.
Focusing on an item or the wall or in front of you will also help you remain stable throughout the exercise.
The deadlift is a fantastic exercise to uncover the current postural and muscular imbalance. When you’re deadlifting, make sure you’re not rounding your back all throughout the movement. (And most importantly, don’t round your back when you’re done and dropping the weights down)
The proper way to deadlift is to keep your lats down, keep everything tight and engaged, and initiate the movement from the hips. As you’re bending from the hips, start bending your knees. Push through your feet and get back up. Do not release the core brace until you drop the weights and get back up.
When planking, avoid dropping your hips…raising your hips too high…or letting your head drop forward. You want to tuck your pelvis in to engage your core. Make sure to keep your glutes tight and legs straight (don’t bend at the knees).
When performing the push-up exercise, follow the same plank technique before starting the movement. Make sure your hands are underneath your shoulders. As you press up avoid arching your back and using your lower back to get you back up.
You don’t have to go very low if you’re struggling to lift your body back up without using your lower back a little. You need to power up using your lats, chest, and arms while keeping your core and glutes engaged.
I am not a fan of the crunch exercise in general. And, it’s easy to make this exercise even worse. Crunches promote the flexed back posture…they don’t work the inner core and you’re more likely to just compensate with your hip flexors. Instead, I like to skip the crunches all together and use other more efficient deep core strengthening exercises.