Unexpected exercise Mistakes we all make

We asked the experts to point out our most common exercise errors and tell us how to fix them.

Don’t think about your tongue while doing stomach exercises

Women, in particular, tend to use their neck muscles more than their abdominals when performing abdominal exercises, which is very uncomfortable, she says. Haley Perls, Ph.D., an expert in sports and exercise psychology in Colorado. Shift the focus back to the abdominal muscles by pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth before starting the countdown. This helps keep pressure off your neck, forcing your stomach to do the work instead.

Excessive impulsiveness

On the topic of shape, it’s really easy to strain your knees with lunges and squats because people tend to lean too far forward, so the knee extends past the front ankle and toes, he says Sabrina P. Sawlani, DO, clinical assistant professor in the UCSD Department of Family Medicine and Orthopedics, and associate team physician at UCSD. “This causes pressure to be absorbed into the front of the knee, rather than exercising the right muscles,” she says. Check your lunge form by pressing your front heel firmly against the floor. Or if your knees can’t penetrate it, cancel the movement for backward lunges or single-leg bridges, which can achieve similar results, Solani says.

Carry your phone to the gym

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


A weak core can lead to poor exercise posture, which can lead to errors like arching the back while doing head presses or push-ups, bending too much to one side with one-arm exercises, or losing balance with one-leg exercises, Solani says. Instead, keep your core active throughout every step you take by taking deep breaths as if you were preparing a stomach-churning punch, from cardiovascular exercise to strength training. It also helps keep your posture under control by engaging your core while sitting at your desk or walking.

To be very diligent

New runners tend to add miles to their sprint rides very quickly, without including enough rest days. Solani says that failing to include enough rest days can lead to muscle fatigue, poor form, and injury. You often see bone stress injuries and stress fractures because of this. “Bone stress injuries mean that the bones do not tolerate repetitive mechanical load. It is usually felt as localized pain in the bones and pain that gets worse with weight-bearing activities,” she says. A rule of thumb, she says, is to “start low and go slow,” no more than 10 percent distance each week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Lift to see what the coach is doing (at home or in person)

One of the biggest exercise mistakes she sees, Perls says, ironically happens when people try so hard to get their workouts right. “Distorting your neck to look at your monitor or the trainer in a crowded room can be a big mistake,” she says. Instead, she recommends learning to rely on auditory cues during workouts as much as possible. “In the beginning, you may be watching and picking up on what the teacher is doing, but you have to listen. Some coaches give excellent signals.” You can also place your screen in your profile or right in front of you. “Try to position yourself so that your back is never on the screen in order to maintain alignment and prevent your head from turning too much,” she says.

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