Unexpected Exercise Mistakes We All Make

We asked experts to point out our most common workout mistakes and tell us how to fix them.

Not thinking about your tongue while doing sit-ups

Women, particularly, tend to use their neck muscles more than their abs when doing crunches, which is very uncomfortable, says Haley Perlus, PhD, a sport and exercise psychology expert in Colorado. Shift the focus back to your abdominals by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth before starting your reps. This helps to keep the strain off your neck, forcing your stomach to do the work instead.


On the topic of form, it’s really easy to strain your knees doing lunges and squats because people tend to step too far forward, so the knee extends past the front ankle and toes, says Sabrina P. Sawlani, DO, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Department of Family Medicine & Orthopaedics, and assistant team physician at UCLA Athletics. “This causes pressure to be absorbed in the front of the knee, rather than working out the appropriate muscles,” she says. Check your lunge form by keeping your front heel pressed firmly on the ground. Or if your knees just can’t hack it, sub out the move for backward lunges or single-leg bridges, which can achieve similar results, Sawlani says.


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Carrying your phone to the gym

Our phones drive us to distraction, and distraction can bung up our workouts, says Perlus. “It’s very easy to get lost in our phones, looking through playlists and workout videos—so much so that we can lose momentum during the workout and therefore not complete it to the best of our abilities,” she says.


A weak core can lead to poor workout posture, which can lead to mistakes like back-arching while doing overhead presses or push-ups, leaning too far to one side with single-arm exercises, or losing balance with single-leg exercises, says Sawlani. Instead, keep your core activated throughout each and every move you make by taking a deep breath as if you were bracing for a sucker punch to the stomach, from cardiovascular exercise to strength training. It also helps to keep your posture in check by engaging your core while sitting at your desk or walking.

Being too diligent

Newbie runners tend to add miles to their jaunts too quickly, without incorporating enough rest days. Failure to include adequate rest days can lead to muscle fatigue, poor form, and injury, Sawlani says. She often sees bone stress injuries and stress fractures due to this. “Bone stress injuries mean the bones cannot tolerate a repetitive mechanical load. It is typically experienced as localized bone pain and pain that worsens with weight-bearing activities,” she says. She says a rule of thumb is to “start low and go slow,” limiting distance increases to no more than 10 percent each week, as per the American College of Sports Medicine.

Craning to see what the instructor is doing (at home or in person)

Perlus says one of the biggest exercise mistakes she sees is ironically made when people try hard to get their workouts right. “Contorting your neck to look at your screen or the instructor in the packed room can be a big mistake,” she says. Instead, she recommends learning to rely on auditory cues during workouts as much as possible. “At first, you may be watching and pick up on what the instructor is doing, but you must listen. Some instructors give excellent cues.” You could also place your screen in your profile or directly in front of you. “Try to position yourself so your back is never to the screen in order to maintain alignment and keep your head from turning too much,” she says.

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