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Workout form mistakes you don’t know you’re making

Even seasoned gym-goers make common workout form mistakes that undermine results and increase injury risk. Audit your technique with these physio tips.

When performing any exercise, correct form or technique is crucial both for getting results (e.g. increasing strength) and preventing injury. Not only do exercises become ineffective when incorrectly executed, but they can place undue strain on certain parts of the body, which become susceptible to injury. Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of deficits in our form. What’s more, the more familiar you are with an exercise, the less likely you are to question your technique, which is why common exercises such as lunges, squats and lat pulldowns are frequently implicated in injuries requiring physiotherapy treatment.

Even if you’re a seasoned gym-goer, put yourself in the mindset of being a beginner or novice and practise performing these moves in accordance with our experts’ recommendations. If you notice or suspect that your form is lacking, practise correcting it until correct form becomes habit.

Squats

The glitch: Your knees turn in or form a knock-kneed position while squatting, placing undue sideways or lateral stress on knees. Also known as ‘valgus’, this position can cause joint injury.

The fix: To keep the knees from turning, push your knees out to the sides so they’re above your feet throughout the movement. This helps to activate the medial glutes. 

Lunges

The glitch: An acute stance forces the front leg’s knee too far past the toes, increasing stress on the knee and the injury-prone anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. A short or narrow lunge stance also undermines activation of the glutes. 

The fix: Step farther forward or backward as you lunge. As your foot lands, push your front heel into the floor as an anchor to stop your knee pushing excessively forward. For greater glute activation, widen your lunge stance. 

Push-ups

The glitch: The most common mistake with push-ups is sagging or letting the body hang, with little or no core engagement. Other errors include dropping the head and shrugging the shoulders up towards the ears.

The fix: Ensure that your core is engaged and that there is tension throughout your body. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels. Work to pull shoulder blades down and together, away from your ears. 

Lat pull-downs

The glitch: Pulling down behind the neck misses the point of the ‘lat pull-down’ (which is supposed to work the latissimus dorsi, located in the middle and lower back). It also places shoulders in an unstable position and places undue stress on shoulder ligaments.

The fix: Pull the bar down towards your collarbones rather than forcing it down behind your neck. A 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that this in-front technique was just as effective for strengthening lats, with the added bonuses of working pectoral muscles and reducing strain on shoulders. When pulling the bar down, stop just below the collar bone. Pulling the bar further down can cause internal rotation of shoulders, potentially leading to strain and undermining effectiveness. 

If you’re returning to working out after lockdowns and gym closures or you work out alone without a trainer to spot form slips, consider consulting a physiotherapist, personal trainer or exercise physiologist for a workout once-over to correct technique errors and optimise results and injury prevention. 

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