Exercise is good for heart health, aids in weight loss, builds strong, healthy joints and provides a number of other health benefits. But when certain exercises aren’t performed correctly, they may do more harm than good.
While the benefits of exercise generally outweigh the potential risks, it is important to practice correct form while exercising to reduce stress on your joints and prevent injury. Tailoring your fitness routine to your individual needs and abilities and working with a trainer to learn proper form can help reduce your risk of injury.
What are some exercises that may be putting you at risk? Here are a few common exercises that can lead to injury when not done correctly.
Lunges. Without proper form, you could strain or even injure your knee doing lunges. Keep your knee positioned over your ankle — do not let it extend past your toes. It is also important to be sure your knee tracks in the same direction of your toes. When standing up from the lunge position, drive through the front heel. Reverse lunges can help prevent injury, as the motion of stepping backwards uses your glutes more, protecting the knee.
Squats. Again, improper placement of the knees and feet can result in injury. Just like with the lunge, keep your toes pointed forward and knees positioned over your ankles. Keep heels flat on the floor and squat as low as you can without breaking form. Keep your chest out, back straight and your head up, rather than looking at the ground.
Deadlifts. Lifting heavy weights can be risky if you don’t use precise form. To prevent injuring your back doing deadlifts, maintain a slight bend in your knees throughout the movement, and keep your back flat and glutes pushed back. Keep your neck and head in line with your back to avoid straining your neck. As you stand up, do not allow the weights to fly out in front of you — keep them flush against your legs.
Planks. To eliminate strain on your back, keep your hips in line with the shoulders, abs up and glutes tight. Shoulders should be positioned directly over your elbows with hands shoulder-width apart. If your wrists get sore doing planks, try clasping dumbbells instead of placing your hands on the ground.
Here are a few other tips to avoid injury while exercising:
- Avoid doing too much too soon. Give your body time to adapt to new forms of exercise and ease into your routine.
- Keep variety in your workouts. Performing the same activities all the time taxes the same muscles and joints, which can quickly lead to overuse injuries.
- Wear the right footwear. Go to a specialty shoe store and get fitted for a pair of shoes designed for your size, gait and foot strike. Be sure you also choose the right shoes for the activity.
- Always take time to warm up, cool down and stretch. It can be easy to skip these steps if you’re short on time, but doing so increases your risk of injury. A proper warm up prepares your body for exercise, and the cool down brings your heart rate to a normal pace slowly and safely, preventing pooling of blood in the extremities. Stretching after a workout helps improve muscle and joint mobility.
If you have questions about a new exercise or are unsure if you are using correct form during your workout, schedule some time with a personal trainer. A certified professional trainer will teach you the proper techniques to help you avoid injury and can help design a fitness program tailored to your needs and abilities.