Jan. 28, 2013 at 7:43 PM ET
Stop! If there is sharp or shooting pain in your wrist, nausea or popping sounds
You might be at risk for a torn bicep tendon or wrist sprain. “If your wrist is rotating, you’re utilizing your wrist to lift the weight instead of your bicep,” says physical therapist and Joint in Motion Director Eric Huffman.
Correct your form: "Keep shoulders pulled back, and focus on breathing. Muscle strains occur more commonly when people hold their breath," says Huffman. “Also, maintain your elbow in towards your body instead of out to the side. Both of these check points will ensure you are stabilizing the joints and maximizing your efforts,” says Jennifer Galardi, who’s created dozens of popular DVD workouts and has her own YouTube channel where she teaches proper exercise form.
Stop! If there is any pain isolated to your tailbone, or even a split-second knee freeze
Fancy a broken or bruised tailbone and calf or hamstring strain? “If the position is incorrect on the bike, there is inappropriate force transferred to the tailbone, pelvis and knees. This may include kneecap pain or clicking, and pressure at the wearing aspects of the pelvis or tailbone,” says Huffman.
Correct your form: “To prevent tailbone injuries, either pedal standing up or avoid cycling until after buying a cushioned seat or padded bike shorts,” Huffman says. "If you're using toe cages make sure the ball of your foot is centered over the pedal. Correct seat height will ensure your ride is comfortable as well as safe,” says Galardi. “The best thing to do is take a spin class where the instructor can assist your setup. Then you'll be able to go on your own," she says.
“When one leg is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, there should still be a slight bend of the knee,” she says. “It should never be locked out. Hip to knee alignment is also crucial. When your knee is in the top position, it should not be over the ankle. And keep the handlebars height enough so you can maintain a long spine with a when your hands are in the center position.”
Stop! If there is any sensation in back of your knees, sharp or shooting pain in glutes, quads or low back.
When you experience these signs, you could be on your way to a tilted kneecaps or lumbar spine disc irritation. “A squat should involve moving your rear and not your knees," says Huffman. “This causes an injury because when your knees move in front of your ankle, this applies inappropriate force to the anterior knee, and increases the shearing across the knee joint.”
Correct your form: Squat with your glutes. “With the hips and rear moving backward during the descent of the squat, the lumbar spine is in a neutral, protected position,” says Huffman.
Stop! If there is pain in the lower back or tailbone
You are in danger of a lower back injury or herniated disc. “In some persons, the movement of the reverse crunch places too much shearing force across a susceptible disc in the lumbar spine, predisposing them to potential disc injury. Bringing the knees to the head is not advisable,” Huffman says.
Correct your form: “When you release the legs back down make sure you don't arch the low back. This will keep the low belly engaged and reduce the risk of injury," Galardi. “Planks will not affect your tailbone or low back,” says Huffman.
Overhead Triceps Extensions
Stop! If there is shoulder, elbow or neck pain
“Overhead extensions can create a flexed neck position, which increases shear forces on the cervical spine,” says Huffman. “This exercise is most likely to strain the neck in persons who are looking downward. It is advisable to look horizontally and level,” says Huffman.
Correct your form: Your forearms should be straight up, above your shoulders or right next to your head. To guarantee elbow stability, exercise one arm at a time so you can hold your elbow with the other hand, Galardi says. "You should keep shoulders down," says Huffman.
Supine Dumbbell Flys
Stop! If pain is in elbow, neck and back
“By allowing the weights to drop too far down, the pec is at risk for injury, and therefore the low back and elbow are placed in a position to support the dumbbell’s weight instead of your torso and chest,” says Chasan.
Correct your form: “Use weights light enough that they don’t pull your arm well below your chest when you’re lying down. Turn your hands so your pinkies are together at the top.,” says Chasan. “Make sure your head is supported,” he adds.
Stop! If you feel neck, shoulder or back pain
“In general, people tend to lift weights that are too heavy,” says Chasin. “Often the neck muscles are working as well.” This is bad.
Correct your form: “Keep your elbows soft. The movement should be as smooth as if your arms were gliding across a railing,” says Huffman. “Your abdominals should be pulled in and your shoulders should be stacked.” Chasin adds, “use light weight with perfect form and lots of repetitions.”
Stop! If you get neck or elbow pain
“People use weights that are way too heavy,” says Chasin. When weights are heavy workout posture weakens. “Avoid rounding your back,” says Huffman. “This leads to injury because it increases the risk of rotator cuff impingement at the shoulder as well as compressive forces in the neck,” he notes.
Correct your form: “Your back spine should stay stacked,” says Huffman. “Don’t completely straighten your arms when you’re coming up. At the top, elbows should be at 90 degrees,” adds Chasin. “Arms can straighten towards the bottom of the exercise.”
Stop! If at any time you feel out of control
“Are you landing with your knee slightly bent?” questions Huffman. “If you’re not, you could cause a knee sprain injury because the knee is less able to respond to changes in force when completely locked,” he says.
Correct your form: “While there’s a freedom to jumping on a trampoline, you always have to feel in control of the movement,” says Huffman. “Don’t attempt a back handspring if you’re not a trained gymnast,” he says.
Stop! If there is any pain in lower back or neck, a zero-to-sixty feeling in your hamstrings, or a pinching in the back of your knees
It doesn’t seem like the muscles are not warmed up enough, says Adventure Bootcamp Master Trainer Calabrese. “That kind of flexibility can take time and conditioning to gain,” she says.
Correct your form: "Keep the shoulder blades sliding down the back (even when you are upside down) to prevent neck strain. Imagine pushing the floor away from you, pressing into the knuckles and forefinger and thumb. I always tell students to work their heels TOWARDS the mat and keep the hips high,” says Galardi. “There is no need to have the heels touch the mat. You're trying to find as much length in the spine, not tear the Achilles," she notes
Stop! If there is knee or ankle pain
Are you coming down too hard? “You’ve got to be careful with how you land or the impact could cause knee or hip damage. Jumping rope is a high-impact exercise and most people need to build up to it,” says Calabrese.
Correct your form: “Keep the movement on the balls of your feet,” she says. “Try to jump as lightly as you possibly can. But if you feel it in your knees at all, simply spin the rope by your side and march in place until you build up the endurance, calf muscles, timing and joint preparedness.”
Stop! If you feel any pain or strain in your wrists, shoulder or elbows
When you experience these signs, you could be on your way to carpal tunnel or shoulder strain. “If you’re experiencing pain in your back, it could be because you’re not keeping your back straight during the move,” says Calabrese. “Pain in your wrist is caused by weak wrist strength, poor hand positioning, a heavy upper body or fatigue,” she notes.
Correct your form: “Spread the fingers out wide to disperse the weight or chest presses until you have the strength to perform a proper push up,” she says.
Stop! If there is numbness or tingling in your wrist or there is any back or neck pain
Throwing your whole body into the movement could lead to injury. “You want to focus on strengthening the abdominals without straining the back, neck or wrists,” says Calabrese.
Correct your form: Pull your upper body up using your abdominals. You should be lifting from the core instead of your neck. The hands behind your head are for support only!
Stop! If you are shaking in the shoulders or have difficulty breathing
“Mild shaking is to be expected in persons new to the plank exercise,” says Huffman. “One should be careful to continue breathing, and to keep a level height of the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Improper form can lead to straining the neck, back, wrist and shoulders.”
Correct your form: “Hold your head as a natural extension of your spine, keep your spine aligned, and keep your hips square,” says Calabrese. “See if you are more comfortable on your hands or forearms. As you fatigue on your feet, go to one knee, then two knees,” she recommends.
Stop! If you have pain in your back or shoulder
Ask yourself ‘are you stable in the position?’ If you lose your balance in a side plank, you can fall and hurt your shoulders hip, or back. You can always put your bottom knee down until you are ready to bring both up off the floor,” says Galardi.
Correct your form: “Make sure your hips and shoulders are stacked on top of each other, says Calabrese. “Hold it for as long as you can and then slowly drop in a controlled fashion from that position.” “Roll gently on to your side and then back, pulling knees into the chest, before starting on the other side,” she says. Galardi adds, “squeeze the inner thighs together. The more you hug all your muscles to the midline of the body, the more stable you’ll be.”
Stop! If there is pain in your lower back
Time to try the one-armed row instead. “Unsupported weighted rows put a lot of strain on the low back,” she says. “Considering 80 percent of the population has back pain, a supported exercise may be a better alternative.”
Correct your form: “Make sure your back is flat and keep your abdominals tight,” she recommends. “Then focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together as you lift. Stop when you feel pain. Alternately, do a supported row while leaning your other arm on a chair or bench,” she adds.
Stop! If there is pain in the wrists, elbow or shoulder
“Keeping your hands too close together, using a narrow surface to grip such as a bar or positioning your fingers the wrong way (facing the back) can cause pain to the wrists,” Calabrese says.
Correct your form: “You got to keep those elbows really tight into the body. You want to keep your back straight and close to the object you are dipping off of—such as a bench,” she says. “Your chest is lifted so when you dip vertically down, you go to the point where you feel the stretch in your triceps and then push up and fully extend.” If your form is perfect “reduce reps or replace exercise with the one-armed extension, triceps push up or triceps extension.”
Stop! If there is any cramping or sharp pain
“Most people don’t specifically strengthen the calves. So when they do, they fatigue and get sore quickly,” says Calabrese.
Correct your form: “Build up your reps slowly. Then on your next calf workout add one to five reps,” she says. ”If your calf workouts are simply too painful, back off the resistance or repetitions. Also, realize your calves can be worked by jumping rope and during lunges.”
Stop! If there is sharp pain in the knees or hip joints, stabbing pain in any muscle, as well as burning lasting more than a few minutes
When you experience these signs, you could be on your way to a torn knee cartilage or tilted knee cap, as well as muscle sprains and joint pain. To avoid knee injuries, don’t let the knee go past the ankle. “When you lift up the front heel, it will move over the ankle and that’s a no-no!” says Galardi. Calabrese recommends, “If the burning is acute, you may need to rest for 24 to 48 hours. Along with rest, active stretching would be the next beneficial action.”
Correct your form: “If you feel excessive or prolonged burning past the completion of the exercise, or pain, be sure your legs are far enough apart. The best way to measure is at the bottom of the range of motion, noting both knees at a 90 degree angle. Your torso should also be upright,” says Calabrese. “Progress to body weight exercise in a range of motion that isn’t painful,” she says. Galardi adds, “Keep the heel of the front foot on the ground to ensure the knee tracks over the ankle.”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.