If you’ve resolved to get fit in 2016, you’re not alone. Almost half of us (44 percent) have set our sights on wellness, according to the 7th annual New Year’s Resolution Survey from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.
No doubt exercise will play a major role in any fitness program—and with good reason. Study after study furthers the science on the extensive benefits of exercise. From treating depression to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s to increasing longevity by running just five minutes daily, exercise remains the safest and most accessible medication on the planet.
But you can only reap the benefits if you do the exercises correctly. Do them wrong and you might be setting yourself up for injury.
“You can strain a muscle, you can pull a muscle, you can really hurt yourself if you’re not doing it in the correct form,” says Michelle Smith, exercise specialist with Bayhealth’s Lifestyle Fitness Center at Milford Memorial Hospital.
Smith recommends consulting a fitness expert—or even a friend who has been working out at a gym—rather than relying on virtual coaching. “They could be doing something that’s likely out of their range,” she says.
Smith explains some of the most common exercises you might be doing wrong and how to do them correctly to avoid injury.
With correct form, this isometric exercise works just about every muscle in your body, no equipment necessary.
Wrong: Hiking/tilting/dropping your hips, dropping/craning your head and neck, or rounding your shoulders can cause back pain and shoulder strain.
Correct: Keep your body in a straight line from shoulder to ankles and engage your core by sucking your belly button into your spine.
This most basic of exercises offers a variety of benefits from strengthening back muscles and bones to boosting metabolism and, of course, keeping you fit and healthy.
Wrong: Positioning hands way outside shoulders and forcing shoulder to drop, causing pain over time.
Correct: As in the plank, maintain rigid alignment from your heels to your hips all the way to your shoulders. You should be able to draw a straight line from your ankles to the top of your head.
Pull-ups are the hardest exercises you can do but ones that also provide the greatest benefits to the back and upper body.
Wrong: Hyper-extending your back and neck to get your chin over the bar can cause back pain, neck pain or even a herniated disc.
Correct: Begin in a dead hang, with your arms fully extended, your core engaged and your shoulders depressed. Initiate the pull by pulling your elbows down to your sides as your entire body travels to the bar. Return to the dead hang slowly.
Lunges target most if not all of the muscles in the lower body, making them one of the most effective exercises for shaping your legs and bottom.
Wrong: Bending your front foot too far forward so that it extends over your foot, which stresses the knee.
Correct: Keep your body upright, making sure your rear knee is aimed directly at the floor and that the other knee does not extend beyond your big toe.
5. Barbell Bent Over Row
This is an exercise that will give you a back that commands respect if done properly.
Wrong: Rounding the back can squeeze spinal discs and strain neck muscles.
Correct: Keep your lower back neutral. Don’t hold the bar in the air between reps; it will tire and round the back.