Common mistakes in common gym exercises

Working as a Physio inside a gym has been an eye opening experience. Sure when you train at a gym you see the odd person doing an exercise a bit wrong but when you’re here all day you get to see all sorts of ‘modifications’ to common exercises. A lot of the time they are injuries waiting to happen, you might not get the pain straight away but it might be the reason for your nagging shoulder pain, tight back or stiff neck.

Today’s blog isn’t going to highlight the common culprits you would expect to read about like a deadlift or squat but rather mention a few exercises you might not realise you are compensating on.

Incline/Flat Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press

I’ll start with the one all the guys love to do. The bench press, in its many forms,is a great way to build a big chest. I often see people lift the back of the head off the bench either throughout the movement or as they push up. This chin poke position will compromise your form and may end up being a contributor to  nagging neck pain.  If you find yourself suffering from a constant stiff neck, check in with your positioning next time you bench press.

Leg Press

Many people regard the leg press as a simple controlled leg exercise where form can’t really be sacrificed. Well unfortunately I disagree. The one error I want to focus on is range – are you going too deep for what your body can control? Of course I’m not encouraging people to do half reps (seriously one of my pet hates is when people only care about how many plates they can put on this machine!!!!) but you also don’t want to go too deep if you don’t have the mobility and strength too do so. Going too deep can irritate the front of your hip and/or your lower back. You should work in a range where your glutes and lower back stay in contact with the seat your hips don’t pull forward and up.

Shoulder Press or DB Seated Shoulder Press

In the pursuit of improving and lifting heavier weights often one will compromise form & it’s often seen in shoulder press movements. I regularly see people arching their lower and mid back to improve their chances of getting the weight above their head. In the short term you will probably get away with it, however the repercussions can be a stiff thoracic spine (upper and mid back), pain in the lower back and neck irritations.  Keep the back flat against the bench or think about keeping our rib cage over your pelvis and use appropriate weights that allow you to control this position.

Step Ups

When doing a step up the leg that should be working and taking the most load should be the leg on the step itself. How many of you feel like the leg on the ground pushes you up just as much? This may not  necessarily be a huge deal from an injury risk perspective but it’s a common mistake we see being made.  The second issue is probably more cause for injury and it’s usually the result of a step that is too high or a weight that is too heavy resulting in lack of control of the movement. We tend to see collapse of the knees especially which places undue stress on the hip and knee joints. Ideally we want too keep that knee over the foot or even have the knee drive out to the side as you step up.

Just so we are clear I am by no means suggesting that any of these exercises are inherently bad. Quite the opposite in fact. They are all very effective exercises that I have in my own gym program. At the end of the day it comes down to how the exercise is done. You will only get away with bad form for so long before something in the system becomes overloaded, tight or weak. I believe your goal should always be to  maintain form, in the long term this approach will make you stronger and more durable.