The Most Common Mistakes People Make While Lifting Weights + How To Fix Them

CSCS-certified strength & conditioning specialist By Rachel Straub, M.S.
CSCS-certified strength & conditioning specialist
Rachel Straub, M.S. is an exercise physiologist, nutritionist, biomechanist, certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with master's degrees in nutritional sciences and exercise physiology from San Diego State University, and a master's in bio-kinesiology from UCLA.

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If your exercise routine doesn't include weight training, I have news for you: It should.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that all healthy adults weight train at least two days a week (and this is in addition to at least three to five days of cardio exercise)! A common fear with weight training, however, is injury. How can you avoid it? What constitutes right from wrong in the weight room is heavily debated in the fitness injury. There are endless weight machines—with new variations coming out every year—so this further adds to the confusion.

However, understanding basic human biomechanics, particularly for the low back, shoulder, and knees, or the top three areas most prone to injury, is the first step in learning how to navigate the weight room safely.

Lower back

Photo by Rachel Straub

Basically, if you over-round or overarch your back, you will hurt it. And this can happen in just about everything you do in the weight room. For example, arching your back can occur when doing push-ups, bench presses, lunges, biceps curls, and squats. And rounding your low back can occur when doing leg presses, squats, back rows, triceps extensions, situps, crunches, and biceps curls. Therefore, learning to keep your low back in a neutral position is key to preventing low-back injuries. An example of an incorrect vs. correct low-back position during a push-up (above).

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Photo by Rachel Straub

Basically, if you use an improper handgrip or flare your elbows, you are setting yourself up for shoulder injury (particularly to the rotator cuff). For example, flaring your elbows during bench presses and triceps extensions is a common error. And using a handgrip that forces your elbows behind your head (such as when using a poorly designed shoulder press machine) is also concerning. And then a palm-down grip during exercises such as shoulder raises and triceps extensions is also incorrect as this places undue stress on your shoulders. Therefore, learning to keep your elbows close to your body and learning how to choose the handgrip that places the least amount of stress on your shoulders is key to preventing shoulder injuries. An example of an incorrect vs. correct hand placement during a barbell triceps extension, above.


Photo by Rachel Straub

Basically, if you place too much stress on your knees, you are setting yourself up for knee problems. This can result from overbending or overextending your knees, allowing your knees to move excessively inward or outward, or from poor selection of foot or trunk positioning. For example, overbending your knees during squats, hyperextending your knees during leg extensions, positioning your trunk upright during squats while allowing your knees to move forward, and twisting your feet during lunges are all common errors. Therefore, protecting your knees from injury requires careful selection of exercise variables from head to toe. See an example of an incorrect versus correct knee position during a lunge is above.

Happy lifting!

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