Top seven exercises done wrong

It’s all over Instagram: exercises that look really complicated, making the exerciser look like they are working really hard, and a great caption with a bunch of related and totally unrelated hashtags. We see this insanely fit person and we want to emulate them so we do as they do and hope it yields the same results.

The truth is, they are working really hard, but I’m not sure what the end game is. Is it to burn calories? Goal achieved. Is it to improve athletic performance? Not likely. Is it to move better and prevent injury? Looks more like a cause for injury.

While it is possible to move your body in multiple ways, there are definitely safer and more efficient movements that will help you improve in multiple areas and prevent injury. Here are the top seven exercises executed poorly at the SWC:

1. Squats: The most common mistake with squats is the knees pushing out over the toes. This also happens on the leg press and is harder to spot because of the angle. The knees should stack over the heels. The second mistake is dropping the body forward. The torso should remain upright with only a slight forward flexion at the hips.

2. Low Row: Whether you do this seated, standing or on the TRX, there should not be movement at the hip joint. Stand or sit tall with a neutral spine (belly in, chest lifted, shoulders back and down). Pull the band or cable toward you as you retract your shoulder blades. Do not haunch your back or push your shoulders forward when you release the weight.

3. Bent Over Row: This is basically the same exercise as the low row, but you are bent forward at the hip joint. You can either stand with knees slightly bet and tip at the hips until your back is parallel to the floor. You may also kick-stand a leg behind you especially if you have low back soreness, or you can rest one knee on a bench. The most common mistakes are: straight legs, rounding on the back, and dropping the shoulder as you release the weight back down.

4. Cable Triceps Press Down: Stand tall with a neutral spine. Grab the ropes or bar (should be at about chest or belly level). Keep elbows beside your waist as you press the weight down and up. The most common mistake is straight or overextended legs and tipping forward and back from the hips.

5. Biceps Curl: The curl should only happen at the elbow joint. Often, we see movement at the shoulder (pushing the elbows forward and back), hips thrusting forward and back or using a power squat to help pull the weight up. There are movements called a bicep row and also a bicep extended drag curl and these advanced techniques take practise after mastering proper form of the basic standing or seated curl.

6. Fly or Lateral Raise? That is a question. Which one are you doing? If the goal is to work the upper back, then your body is tipped forward like in the bent over row and it remains in the position as you fly your arms and the weight out to the side, retracting your shoulder blades toward your spine. A lateral raise, on the other hand, is meant for the deltoids (shoulders). You stand tall with a neutral spine and raise your arms up to shoulder level and back down again. I can see how they are easily confused. The most common mistake is that someone starts in the fly position and then as they raise their arms, they also raise their body, ending up in the lateral raise position. This puts the risk for injury up high for the lower back and shoulders, depending on the speed and amount of weight.

7. Kettlebell Swing: You want it to be an arm exercise, but it’s meant to train the core muscles with particular emphasis on the glutes, lower back and abdominals. The most common mistakes are when the legs over extend at the knee, pushing your hips forward, allowing your head to drop down too far or keeping your chin up even as you bend forward. Choose a weight that you can only lift to belly height with arms straight if you were just executing a front arm raise. The weight should be heavy enough that you need the power of your legs, abs and glutes to activate and allow you to swing the weight up to chest level. If you are coming away from the Kettlebell swing with sore shoulders, you might not be executing the movement fast enough. You should be waling away with sore glutes and abs and breathing like you just sprinted.

I’m sure you could list many more. My honourable mention would be any exercise involving rotation through the torso. Many people lack the flexibility or coordination to be able to rotate at the waist. Like anything, start with a smaller range of motion and then build up over time with regular attention to the exercise, two times a week or more.

If you are not sure if your form is correct on something, don’t be afraid to ask any of the fitness staff at the Student Wellness Centre.

Karen Nixon-Carroll is the Program Manager at Fanshawe’s Fitness Centre.