Have you ever pulled a muscle while working out at the gym? Or heard a friend being out of commission from a gym injury? Sounds familiar, right? It’s true and research backs it up. I see plenty of pain issues in the clinic that arose while working out at a gym. The reasons can be myriad; the primary one being that the form or posture during gym workouts aren’t that great. This is why trainers try so hard to keep their client’s postures good while training. The plain and simple fact is that unless you are extra aware of your form while working out or have a trainer who is monitoring you carefully at the gym, these injuries will keep cropping up.
When I go to the gym, I cringe as I watch people doing workouts incorrectly! This makes me want to go up to them and admonish them- which is why now I don’t look! Jokes apart, I believe if you want to achieve your fitness goals, you must pay attention to some of the exercises where you are most likely to get injured.
Squats are excellent to build strength in the big muscles of the lower body but the most common one to give knee and back issues if done incorrectly. You are already aware of not to let your knees cross your toes. Additionally, don’t let your knees drop inward. This common mistake can be remedied if you actively spread your knees apart. Doing squats with a mini band around your thighs is a good way to train proper technique.
Planks are great for core training but it is also very difficult to determine on your own if you have the perfect form. Spare yourself unnecessary spinal compression by preventing your head and belly from sagging to the floor. Tighten your core and shoulder girdle so that you are one straight line from the top of your skull to your ankles. Use a mirror or have your trainer correct you as needed.
Majority of shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries arise from this exercise done incorrectly. Failing to keep the shoulders back and down is the most common mistake. Rounding the shoulders forward and upward as you press, not only reduces the work on the chest, but also puts the shoulders in a vulnerable position. Also, as you come down, holding your elbows slightly forward of your chest, rather than directly at your sides will prevent unnecessary shear at the shoulder.
Pulling the bar down behind the neck is the most common issue with the lat pulldown. When you do the lat pulldown behind the neck, you tend to bend your head forward which puts strain on the neck and shoulders. It's safer to bring the bar down in front of your body. To perform the lat pulldown correctly, lean a little bit back from your hips, bring the shoulder blades back and down, and pull the bar down towards your chest. Keep your spine in a neutral position and engage your core muscles throughout the exercise to protect your back.
Before I tell you how to do this exercise correctly, let me tell you I am not a fan of this exercise. I think there are far too many excellent ways to tone your core and abdominals without ever having to do a single crunch. Also this one leads to a lot of neck and back issues; so if you are going to do it, do it correctly. The common mistakes are tucking the chin into your chest, jerking up into a crunch, raising yourself too high off the floor, and not keeping your abs contracted throughout the exercise. All the work should come from the abs, not the neck. However, no matter how many crunches you do, you won't get a six-pack if your abs are hidden under layers of fat!
My advice is that anyone who is doing weight training at the gym must seek the advice of a qualified fitness trainer in addition to paying attention to the body’s signals.