6 common exercise form mistakes and how to correct them

Planning on hitting the gym in 2022 or adding a few extra home workouts into your routine? Make sure you’re not committing any of these common form mistakes while exercising. It’ll help you to avoid injury and ensure you’re making maximum progress.

Here at Liz Earle Wellbeing, we’ve spoken to two top personal trainers. They explain the most common mistakes clients make while performing popular exercises like squats, lunges and planks. They also reveal why it’s imperative to get them right, every single rep…

Why is it important to ensure correct form and avoid mistakes?

It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the faster you move or the more reps you do equates to a ‘better’ workout. But, sloppy movements are often a fast track to injury.

As menopause fitness PT Kate Rowe-Ham explains: “It is so important to make sure you understand any exercises you are performing in order to avoid injury and hinder progress.

“So if you are unsure of any moves, always ask a professional, and if you can’t, replace the exercise for something you are comfortable doing until you can.”

Michael Garry, Liz’s personal trainer, adds that it’s also important to get your form right because you will “perform much more efficiently” and, no matter what exercise you’re doing, you must do it with a “good, strong posture.”

“The main thing is you want to be consistent, year in year out,”he says. “You don’t want to stop for two or three months because you’ve got a shoulder injury, or you’ve torn a bicep or you’ve ruined your back. You want to keep everything consistent.”

Planking and engaging your core

The importance of having a strong core is key when it comes to exercise. It can help with balance, support running, improve your posture – we could go on and on (and on).

But how many times have you been told to ‘engage’ or ‘activate’ your core during a fitness class, without actually knowing if you’re doing it right?

“Engaging the core is quite possibly the most misunderstood and incorrectly executed of muscle actions,’ Kate says. “Essentially, your core refers to all the muscles that wrap around your torso and support your pelvis and spine.”

“Your core is the basics of much of your movement, so a strong core benefits ability, flexibility and strength.”

Kate adds that a strong core supports “your spine and keeps your back safe from injury and helps your posture.”

Engaging your core effectively means to brace and tighten all of the muscles in the core, while breathing normally – not just sucking it in. And if you don’t do so, for example while you’re in a plank, it can instead put a lot of pressure on your lower back, causing pain.

“In the case of planks, a common mistake is sagging your lower back, which can place unnecessary strain on your lower back,” Kate explains. “Try tucking the pelvis, which will bring the rib cage over the pelvis giving you a much stronger position.”

Not only will engaging your core during planks help avoid back pain, but it will also assist you in other movements, too.

Squats for lower body strength

Squats are often a go-to movement when it comes to strengthening our glutes for a peachy posterior.

Plus, as Kate explains, they are one of the most functional exercises we can do. They are implemented heavily into our day-to-day life (a functional exercise goes past being just a workout, helping you in your daily life, like sitting down in a chair).

But while they’re a staple, squats are a movement that she sees performed incorrectly pretty often. “It’s important we look at our form to ensure we are building the strength correctly,” Kate notes.

One of the most common squat mistakes is beginning the movement from the knees rather than the hips. This can “result in not going low enough, which can hinder muscle gain and limit your range of motion, hurting your knees, and lifting heels due to lack of ankle mobility.”

To ensure you’re getting the movement right, Kate suggests using a mirror or recording yourself in a short video – a tip that can help you improve with any movement – to see where you’re going wrong.

Then, making sure your feet are slightly wider than shoulder width apart (you can point your toes slightly out if that’s more comfortable for you), look ahead and engage your core as you squat. Send your hips back and down, and take the squat deep enough so that your hip joint is parallel or lower than your knees.

“If you feel your heels are raising and making it harder to go deeper in the squat, which is quite common, you can use a folded towel or mat and place this under your heels so that your feet remain in contact with the ground at all times,” she adds.

Push-ups for a strong upper body

When it comes to body-weight exercises, push-ups are often considered the ultimate test of strength. But don’t make things any harder for yourself by committing these faux pas.

Number one on the list? Having your hands too close together, says Michael. “People often have their hands too close. The hands should be just outside of the shoulders.”

It’s not just the positioning of your limbs though, as you need to be thinking about the rest of your body, too.

“What I normally see is the bum is up in the air – it’s in a triangle – and the hands only go down to 45 degrees,” Michael continues.

“Or, you’ll see an arched back, where the middle is dipped onto the floor, and there’s a lot of pressure on the lower back every time you go down.” No guesses for what that causes: back pain.

Michael reveals: “You should have a straight core, just like a plank, and you’re just lowering your arms to 90 degrees.”

Lunges for legs

Lunges are a fantastic movement to generate and maintain a super strong, lower body and core, and can also improve your balance and mobility, says Kate.

But to ensure you’re reaping the benefits and reducing the risk of injury, it’s important to perform them correctly.

Kate says she often sees ‘slouchy’ lunges, as well as knees shooting past the toes. To correct the movement, ensure you’re creating a 90-degree angle.

“Common mistakes can be slouching or curving into the lunge, so maintain a good line and posture,” Kate suggests. “Knees often shoot past the toes so make sure you take a good step forward or backwards depending on the lunge so that you create that 90-degree angle.

“Lunges can highlight imbalances and instability so go slowly and focus when performing this exercise.”

Bicep curls for toned arms

Bicep curls are a classic – and fantastic – movement to help improve your upper body strength and sculpt super toned arms.

But, especially when the weight is too heavy, it can be all too easy to cheat by swinging your dumbbells upwards, which is a no-go for back pain.

As Michael explains: “A common mistake is instead of just isolating the bicep muscle, the lower back comes in. So, when the weight comes up to the shoulders, the legs move in and the lower back does the work, not the arms.

“So that’s swinging it up. If you do that 1,000 times, 2,000 times over a period of months, you’re going to have back pain. And you’re not going to know why and you’ll blame it on something else. But no, it’s poor form, poor technique.”

Michael says one of the best ways to work on your bicep curl form is to watch people doing it correctly, for example on YouTube, and copy. And instead of rushing through your reps using momentum, focus on doing it correctly.

“If you say, it’s not about how many I do, it’s about how good my form is. Because that builds strength. That’s more important,” reiterates Michael.

You can either do single arm curls or both arms at once. Bend your elbow and pull your hand towards your shoulder slowly and controlled. Curl all the way up, pause, then slowly lower back down.

Michael adds: “I would say start with a lower weight, make sure that you obviously get the correct technique, the correct form.

Tricep dips for range of motion

As well as being another great movement for upper body strength, tricep dips can also help to increase the range of motion in the entire body. But, like the other movements listed, they’re an exercise that can have form mistakes.

Some of the most common errors Michael sees are “not having the hands in the right position, having them out too wide” and “going down too low and then putting more pressure on the shoulder joint.”

Of the latter, he adds: “That can cause a lot of problems on the shoulders and you’re defeating the object – you can’t do anything in the end.”

Michael says to perform this movement correctly, you need to keep your arms close together behind you, and only go down to about 90 degrees. Also make sure that you’re keeping your hands as close to your body as possible.

He adds: “And again, far too much momentum, and not enough slow, controlled movements. And I think that’s important. Everything should be done slowly and controlled.

“Momentum starts to come in when you start to speed things up.”

Download Liz’s guide, A Stronger, Slimmer You

A Stronger, Slimmer You is a compliation of the very best of fitness advice from Liz Earle Wellbeing magazine into an essential e-book. Liz’s easy-to-follow, effective workouts are always at your side whenever you need them. It’s the ultimate companion on your journey to get fit.

Enjoy more than 30 pages packed with tried-and-trusted, at-home exercises developed by celebrity personal trainer, Michael Garry, and a number of delicious and nutritious, low GI recipes to fuel your body along the way. It truly is a one-stop-shop for tightening bums and tums, toning arms and legs and perfecting posture.

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