It’s the spooky season, and there’s nothing scarier than bad form. It can not only reduce the effectiveness of your workout, it can haunt you for weeks or even months afterward in the form of an injury. Boo to that! Here are four of the most terrifyingly common mistakes you might be making when doing popular body-weight exercises — and more importantly, what you need to do to correct them.
Problem: Crunches and sit-ups shouldn’t be a pain in the neck, but if you’re interlacing your fingers behind your head and jerking upward, they will be. Remember: You’re working your core, not your neck.
Do it right: Contract your abdominal muscles and move in a smooth, slow, controlled manner without tugging on your head or straining your neck. In fact, get your hands away from the back of your head all together. Instead, gently rest your fingertips near your ears (no pushing) or your temples or cross your arms over your chest.
Problem: Having a five-minute plank hold time loses its impressiveness if your form is faulty, but it’s all too easy to let your hips sag low or your butt to creep up toward the sky, downward-dog-style, as that timer ticks off the seconds.
Do it right: Like its namesake, your plank should be as straight as a board. If you’re doing a forearm plank, keep your forearms parallel with your palms on the ground to help evenly distribute your weight. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your neck should be in a neutral position. Contract your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes to prevent hip sag or excessive low back harsh, and then hold! Stay there only as long as you can maintain proper form. And don’t forget to breathe.
Problem: Lunges look simple, but the exercise is fraught with peril for those who are careless with form. Leaning your torso forward or to one side, letting your front knee creep out past your toes, rotating your knees inward (or outward), taking tiny steps, looking down at your feet, putting your weight on your toes — they can all reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, at best, and cause injury, at worst.
Do it right: During this movement, keep your shoulders back, your head up, and your chest tall. Take a big step forward and lower your hips until both knees are bent at around 90 degrees. Your front knee should be positioned above the heel of your front foot while keeping your back, knee, hip, and shoulder in line with one another. If your front knee pokes out past your foot and your weight ends up in your front toes, try stepping out a little further to correct it. When standing up from the bottom of your lunge, make sure to drive into the heel of your front foot.
Problem: Like its buddy, the plank, the push-up requires you to maintain a nice, straight line with your body. If your hips or forehead are the first thing to reach the ground, your form needs work. Same goes if you push your torso up first and your hips and legs follow.
Do it right: To get your body position right, set up lying flat on the ground. Keeping your shoulders down and back, place your hands on the ground below your shoulders with your thumbs across the bust line. Your neck should remain in a neutral position with your ears, shoulders and hips in a line. Engage your glutes, tuck your elbows in and push hard. Everything should leave the ground at the same time. Think straight as a ruler, not bendy like a worm. As you lower back to the ground, maintain tension throughout your core and glutes so your chest hits the ground first. Shoulders have a tendency to come creeping up toward the ears, so focus on keeping them pulled back and down.