4 Workout Mistakes That Can Lead to Pain

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Are you using common fitness equipment incorrectly? Try these simple fixes to lower your risk of injury—and boost your results.

workout mistakes

With just a little instruction, most gym equipment is beginner-friendly.

But even experienced exercisers could use a form check now and then, says Brian Zehetner, C.S.C.S., director of health and fitness at Planet Fitness.

In fact, he says, it’s often the less obvious errors that usually stall your progress—or worse, lead to injury.

Here are four workout mistakes people make when using popular fitness equipment. Plus, see simple ways to fix your form for a safer, more effective workout.

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Workout Mistake #1: Overdoing the Incline on the Treadmill

If you’re devoted to the treadmill, adding incline is a great way to boost the intensity of your workout. But if you’re holding the handrails and leaning back to support yourself while you walk or run, start looking for a chiropractor.

“This position minimizes core engagement and may eventually lead to back problems,” Zehetner says.

The human body is designed so your upper and lower halves work together, and your core plays a key role in that.

Plus, when you hold the rails, your arms aren’t swinging naturally in rhythm with your stride. This creates a twisting force through your pelvis that could cause injury over time.

Fix it: Choose an incline that allows you to go hands-free. And just like when you walk down the street, allow your arms to swing naturally.

Want a refresher on good treadmill form? Check out our beginner’s guide to the treadmill.

Workout Mistake #2: Locking Your Elbows with Dumbbells

If you’re using dumbbells or other free weights during strength training, you don’t want to lock your elbows at the top or bottom of a movement, Zehetner says.

What that means: Say you’re doing a dumbbell chest press. As you press up, you want to straighten your arms—but you don’t want to straighten them so much or so forcefully that they’re rigid. Doing so can create excessive stress on your elbows and lead to cranky joints down the road.

Fix it: Get a feel for what you want to avoid. Stand comfortably, and let your arms hang down by your sides. Now, lock your elbows. You should feel some extra tension in your elbows, and you may actually see your forearms rotate a bit.

When using dumbbells or other free weights, stop just before you get to this point, Zehetner says.

Not sure if free weights are right for you? You might like our guide to free weights versus strength machines.

Workout Mistake #3: Skipping the Setup on the Indoor Bike

“The setup is important,” says SilverSneakers fitness expert David Jack.

You wouldn’t start driving a car without checking the seat and steering wheel, would you? The same concept applies to an indoor bike.

If your seat and handlebars aren’t in proper position, you won’t be when you ride. Instead, you’ll be hunched over, slumping down, or generally straining your joints.

Fix it: Adjust your seat so it’s high enough that your legs are almost straight at the bottom without your knees being locked. Similarly, adjust your handlebars so they’re high enough that you can reach them comfortably as you sit up tall.

If you’re using the recumbent bike, adjust your seat so your front knee is slightly bent and your foot is comfortably extended on the pedal. Get more tips in our beginner’s guide to the recumbent bike.

Workout Mistake #4: Pulling Behind Your Neck on the Lat Machine

The lat pulldown machine gives your back and posture some much-needed attention. And the traditional cable-style machine is great because it’s so versatile. You can mix up your grips, try different handles, or use one arm or two. But there’s one variation that puts your body at serious risk.

“Many individuals still pull the bar down behind the neck, which is not recommended,” Zehetner says. “This motion puts the shoulders at a greater risk for injury. It also puts the spine at risk, since most people will end up with their head protruding forward while trying to lower a heavy weight behind it.”

Fix it: If you’re using a cable-style machine, grab the bar, lean back slightly, and keep your torso stationary. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together as you pull the bar down to your upper chest.

Perfect your form with our beginner’s guide to the lat pulldown.

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