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Working out at home? Common mistakes that can lead to injury

With no trainer or instructor there to correct your form, it’s up to you to ensure you’re performing these exercises accurately and safely.
Arching your back while performing push-ups or planks is a tell-tale sign that you aren't engaging your core properly.
Arching your back while performing push-ups or planks is a tell-tale sign that you aren't engaging your core properly.GrapeImages / Getty Images

Taking our workouts virtual is just another one of the adjustments we’ve all had to make this year. And while continuing to exercise at home is important for maintaining our physical and mental health, it also presents the opportunity for injury.

Not having a trainer by your side to keep you in check means that you could be performing exercises incorrectly. Making these mistakes can not only make your workout less effective, which is definitely not what we want after setting aside the time for exercise, but can also open the door to injury.

The mistakes aren’t unique to exercising at home — I commonly see people in the gym or in group classes using improper form. But with no trainer or instructor there to correct you, it’s up to you to ensure you’re performing these moves accurately and safely. Whether you're live streaming classes or going through your own routine, take note of these common mistakes, assess your form in the mirror and make the necessary adjustments to prevent injury.

Not engaging your core

If you’re performing core exercises like planks or sit ups, it’s important to be aware if you're relying too heavily on other muscles to help you complete the move.

There are some key signs you can watch for that indicate when you’re not engaging your core properly. Arching your back while performing push-ups or planks is a tell-tale sign. Relying on your back muscles for core-related exercises will only cause muscle strain. Feeling off balance when performing leg exercises is another sign that you need to focus on engaging the core. You can do this by:

  • Pulling your navel in towards your spine as if someone is punching you in the stomach and you’re trying to pull away from that punch.
  • In standing core exercises, aim for a straight line between your neck and tailbone. Check yourself out in the mirror to make sure you’re not arching your spine (and overusing your back).
  • When lying down, make sure that your lower back maintains contact with the ground. If you feel it start to lift when performing core exercises, focus on engaging the lower abs and pressing your back gently into the floor.

Using your quads instead of your glutes and hamstrings

This mistake could be the reason you're not seeing much muscle growth in your glutes even though you’ve been doing exercises targeted at those muscles. This mistake is commonly made when performing squats and lunges. When lifting your body back into standing position after a squat or lunge:

  • Press down through the heels to activate the hamstrings.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of each repetition, tilting your pelvis forward and being careful not to arch the back.

By making a conscious effort to activate your glute muscles, you’ll avoid overworking or pulling your quadriceps, and also increase your strength and see more toning as a result. If you’re performing squats by relying on your quads, you’re putting additional pressure on your knees and the front of the legs during an exercise which isn’t meant to overwork those muscles. Be sure to keep your heels and glutes in mind while squatting and lunging!

Rounding your shoulders forward

Adding dumbbells or resistance bands to your at-home routine is a great way to tone muscles, build strength and combat poor posture. But many people round their shoulders forward during weighted exercise — you may not even realize you’re doing it. Not only does this prevent you from getting the full benefit of the exercise, but it can be dangerous, putting pressure on the back that can lead to injury. To avoid this, proper shoulder and spine alignment is key:

  • Stand in front of a mirror to keep an eye on your shoulder position. Make sure to keep your shoulders back and your chest up and out. (It can be helpful to think about squeezing your shoulder blades together.)
  • Be mindful of your body alignment. Keep the shoulders over the hips, and your ears over your shoulders.
  • Reduce weight. If you’re having a hard time maintaining proper form, switch to lighter weights. As the muscles you’re working in the arms and shoulders fatigue, it’s easy to slip into incorrect form and allow the shoulders to round. Train your body to do the exercises correctly before throwing challenging weight into the mix.

Overdoing it on high-impact exercises

We all want the most bang for our buck, which means we gravitate towards high-intensity exercise. While HIIT workouts do torch calories and can be great for weight loss, it’s also possible to overdo it. Done too often without time to recover, high-impact exercises can lead to extreme soreness and even injury.

High-impact exercises include burpees, jumping, squat jumps, jogging and more. If your virtual workouts continuously incorporate moves like these, you may start to feel worn down. These types of exercises can be especially harmful for people who experience joint pain. Here's how to prevent high-impact exercise from turning into an injury:

  • Take a rest day. Allow your body time to recover with a day in between high-impact workouts.
  • Switch up your workouts. If your workout today included a ton of high-impact exercises, practice yoga or strength training tomorrow. Varying the type of exercise you do is essential in allowing your body to recover.
  • Don’t push through joint pain. If you notice pain creeping up in your ankles or knees, don’t ignore it. An injury to these areas can sideline you completely, so if you suffer from joint issues you shouldn’t continue any exercise that puts stress or pressure on these areas. Workouts don’t need to be high impact to be high intensity. Protect your joints by choosing exercises that are low impact, while still getting your heart rate up.