26 Exercise Mistakes You’re Probably Making

A woman does situps on an exercise mat

A woman does sit-ups on an exercise mat | iStock.com/CreativaImages

For dedicated gymgoers whose physiques inspire fear and respect in newbies, it’s easy to get overconfident. Sure, you’re hitting your weight goals and impressing your personal trainer. But no matter how seasoned you are at the gym, there’s always room for improvement.

Exercises as simple as pushups easily can be incorrectly performed. Even if you’ve executed an exercise countless times, it’s always important to pay attention to form and technique. Experts can slip into bad exercise habits just as easily as newcomers.

For those who are starting out at the gym, learning correct technique the first time is crucial to avoid mistakes in the future. Performing an exercise improperly not only hinders your ability to bulk up, but it can pose serious risks to your health.

Here are 26 exercises you’re probably doing wrong, from basic lunges to high-level compound workouts.

1. Lunges

Man does weighted lunges at the gym

Man does weighted lunges at the gym | iStock.com

Lunges might seem simple enough. But this common exercise requires much more than a simple extension of your legs. According to Harvard Health, those with weak knees or other previous leg injuries could face serious harm from improper lunge tecrhnique.

It’s crucial to start by making sure your front knee is bent fully at a 90-degree angle, while your back leg forms a straight line. Make sure your abdominal and back muscles are tight, so your torso remains straight throughout the duration of the stretch. Slouching will render the stretch ineffective and put unnecessary stress on your knees.

2. Pull-ups

Men do pullups at the gym

Men do pull-ups at the gym | iStock.com

For those with poor upper body strength, the pull-up can be a dreaded exercise. Even those who breeze through reps often fail to perform a true pull-up. Bodybuilding.com explains you first should make sure you’re pulling your head fully over the bar and then immediately returning to a low-hanging position.

It’s common for people to get overzealous and rush through the full range of pull-up motion. Many also mistakenly focus solely on their arms, when core muscles serve an equally important purpose. Engage the core while pulling up, so your body stays stiff and straight through the entire exercise.

3. Barbell rows

A woman does barbell rows

A woman does barbell rows | iStock.com/blanaru

Some of the most effective exercises are the most dangerous. Barbell rows help to strengthen the lateral muscles in your back, known as the latissimi dorsi or just lats. Performed incorrectly, these rows will place undue stress on your spine or other fragile bones and muscles.

Never try and show off by lifting more than you’re comfortable with. According to Stronglifts.com, the angle of your back is one of the most crucial elements of this exercise. When the barbell is fully lifted to your chest, the back should be at a 45-degree angle instead of being too upright or low to the ground.

4. Lateral pull-downs

A woman works out her back

A woman works out her back | iStock.com/Sujay_Govindaraj

Every gym worth its salt will have a solid cable lateral pull-down machine. This simple pulley system is a relatively safe, easy way for experts and beginners to work myriad muscles. Despite its safety, poor posture still poses many risks for those who don’t adequately prepare for the exercise.

Men’s Magazine advises to always have your back in an upright position as the shoulders are pushed backward. Be careful not to pull the bar too far forward as it can cause further unnecessary strain your muscles.

5. Dumbbell side lifts

An instructor shows the finishing position of a standing dumbbell lateral raise

An instructor shows the finishing position of a standing dumbbell side raise | iStock.com/starush

Dumbbell side lifts are a popular shoulder exercise that hone in on your deltoids to increase the thickness of the shoulders. For newbies, these raises often are one of the first shoulder exercises recommended because they involve a simple range of motion.

Naturally, even these basic motions require proper technique. According to fitness expert Sean Nalewanyj, make sure your elbows are slightly bent at about a 20-degree angle as you raise your arms out to your sides. Avoid keeping the arms too close to the chest, so the exercise focuses primarily on the deltoids.

6. Planks

A woman demonstrates a plank

A woman demonstrates a plank | iStock.com/capdesign

A staple workout among the wide regimen of ab exercises, planks are crucial for core strength. When executing a perfect plank, it’s important to remember where the exercise gets its name.

Men’s Magazine instructs to make sure your body is stiff as a wooden board with your back and legs tightened to maintain a firm posture throughout the repetition. Planks are not supposed to feel comfortable, so be sure to avoid easing into a relaxed position.

7. Jumping jacks

people doing jumping jacks

People do jumping jacks | iStock.com/leaf

Jumping jacks are a time-honored exercise that serve as one of the most ubiquitous physical activities. The high-impact aerobic workout engages an array of muscles, from your quadriceps to your deltoids. And it serves as an excellent way to get the blood flowing before hitting more intensive exercises.

Despite its popularity, jumping-jack technique often can be marred by overlooking crucial aspects, such as keeping the knees bent and the back relatively straight. Some who want to show off their speed forget to maintain proper form, which could lead to injury for those with weak joints.

8. Dumbbell bicep curls

Man and woman exercising with dumbbells

Gymgoers exercise with dumbbells | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

For those seeking Popeye-sized arms, dumbbell bicep curls are a favorite exercise. The motion seems basic, but one simple mistake can render this deceptively easy exercise inert.

Don’t rush through the workout to achieve as many reps as possible, advises Men’s Fitness. Take the repetition slowly in a consistent rhythm, where the biceps are squeezed as the weight approaches the shoulder. Next, slowly lower the dumbbell, so the biceps and forearms are engaged through the entirety of the workout.

9. Hanging leg raises

woman doing abs exercises while hanging from a bar

A woman does abdominal exercises while hanging from a bar | iStock.com/chrisgraphics

For those with an existing level of abdominal strength, hanging leg raises can be a useful exercise to achieving the picture-perfect six-pack. Men’s Health explains how to perform the move correctly by dangling from a bar with your back straight, followed by lifting the knees to the chest as your abs remain tight throughout.

As your legs start to lift toward your chest, always remember to start the motion from the hips instead of the lower back. Keep an eye on your ribs to make sure they don’t rise with your knees, which is a sign the lower back is being unnecessarily worked.

10. Chest press

man lifting weights

A man demonstrates a chest press | iStock.com/ibrakovic

For those trying to manifest bulging pectorals, the chest press is a staple workout. This exercise is dangerous and often requires spotters because it involves a serious amount of weight held over your chest.

Before the barbell goes in the air, Muscle and Fitness warns you must pay attention to where your hands are placed. Make sure your hands are positioned, so the elbows aren’t directed outward. Keeping the elbows close to your chest ensures the weight doesn’t strain the shoulders and the barbell travels over your sternum instead of the collarbones.

11. Dumbbell rows

Man doing dumbbell row

A man does a dumbbell row | iStock.com/xalanx

Back muscles can be trickier to engage than biceps or triceps, but they are just as crucial to develop in order to have well-rounded strength. Dumbbell rows, where back muscles are engaged to pull a free weight upward, are a helpful exercise to work the massive latissimus dorsi muscle.

Bodybuilding.com explains when lifting the dumbbell, make sure you don’t pull the weight past the hip where your elbow juts high above your body. By stopping the weight at the hip, you ensure the exercise focuses on the back instead of the triceps or other upper arms muscles.

12. Pushups

fit woman doing push-ups on the floor

A woman does pushups on the floor | iStock.com/undrey

There are few exercises more ingrained into our minds than the pushup. Feared and revered across the world, the pushup is a basic exercise designed to engage the pectorals and a wide range of arm muscles. No matter how many times you’ve done a pushup, there’s always room for error.

According to Nerd Fitness, a common mistake occurs when people get exhausted and let muscles go limp. Keep the abdominals and glutes tight, so your body is rigid as you go through reps. If you allow your posture to become slouched and disconnected, you compromise the integrity of the pushup as certain muscles fail to work.

13. Cable chopping

bodybuilder doing triceps

A bodybuilder does cable pulls | iStock.com/Ozimician

Anyone who has had to prepare a fire or dissemble a tree can attest chopping wood is hard work. Naturally, the intense labor chopping demands also provides an excellent workout that engages various muscles.

For those who don’t feel like wielding an axe, the gym offers a similar exercise, where you grab a cable positioned high and then pull it across your body. This motion is designed to work the core muscles. Bodybuilding.com recommends making sure your arms never bend when extending the cable across your body. This brings shoulder muscles and triceps into the mix instead of working the abdominals.

14. Sit-ups

Man exercises his abdominals

A man exercises his abdominals | iStock.com/Ibrakovic

For newbies, the path to perfect abs might seem as simple as starting every day with a dizzying amount of sit-ups. But Bodybuilding.com shares the secret to abdominal training lies in a varied, vigorous workout regimen.

Although sit-ups can be useful for developing a modicum of starting strength, they are ultimately useless for developing true abdominal prowess. Instead, incorporate compound exercises, such as deadlifts or squats, that engage core muscles. That way you’re not wasting precious time with isolated ab workouts.

15. Squats

Athlete demonstrates a squat with a barbell

An athlete demonstrates a squat with a barbell | iStock.com/criene

A squat is an exercise feared for its intensity. Before incorporating squats into your regimen, it’s important to ensure proper form. Bodybuilding.com explains the workout starts as a barbell rests on your shoulders with your hands firmly clutching the bar. As your knees bend, your back stays straight, and various muscles scream with (helpful) pain.

Also as your knees bend, they never should extend past your toes because this can damage crucial joints. Instead of overextending the knees, take the workout more slowly, so your muscles stay engaged longer without having to bend down further.

16. Kettlebell swing

woman swinging the kettlebell during gym training

A woman swings the kettlebell during gym training | iStock.com/jacoblund

Kettlebells have become an important tool in the gym rat’s arsenal. These weighted metal balls are used for an impressive array of exercises that can engage countless muscles on your body. The kettlebell swing is where you lift the kettlebell out from under your legs and lift it up in front of your chest in succession.

This exercise is designed to work the core muscles from the glutes to the abdominals. According to Shape, when the kettlebell reaches the top of the swing, be sure to let gravity bring it back down in a fluid motion. Holding it at the top stresses your shoulders and interrupts the rhythm of the exercise.

17. Deadlift

Athletes practice deadlifts

Athletes practice deadlifts | iStock.com/UberImages

For weightlifters, the deadlift is the mother of all exercises. Although this workout seems like it involves little motion as you stand up with a barbell clutched firmly in your hands, it leaves a lot of room for serious injuries.

Muscle and Fitness warns to make sure your shins are as straight as possible rather than bent forward like a squat. Keeping your shins bent unnecessarily forces the barbell forward, which will cause you to adjust it as you bring up the barbell. This complicates the workout and forces you to use precious reserves of energy.

18. Medicine ball throws

A man throws a medicine ball

A man throws a medicine ball | iStock.com/OSTILL

A medicine ball is another workout tool used to work the body in ways dumbbells and free weights simply cannot. Naturally, mistakes with medicine balls usually occur when people treat them as replacements for other workout equipment rather than harnessing its own strengths.

For example, medicine ball throws are not a workout that should be done lightly and slowly as you might do with a barbell or kettlebell. Bodybuilding.com suggests using a partner for this workout. You should use a medicine ball with a weight that allows you to forcefully throw it, so your mid- to upper-back muscles become fully engaged.

19. Tricep dips

man doing bench triceps dips

A man does bench triceps dips | iStock.com/emiliozv

Tricep dips are popular for many reasons. For one, they’re a compound exercise that work your shoulders and chest in addition to the triceps. They also can be done at home with a chair or in a gym setting.

When dipping your shoulders and torso, Lean Muscle Project notes it’s important not to give up halfway by doing mini reps. Make sure you’re doing a full extension, so your shoulders are slightly below parallel with your elbows. This way, not a single repetition will be wasted.

20. Burpees

Woman practices burpees

A woman practices burpees | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

The burpee is a dreaded chimera of a workout, seemingly designed by someone seeking to turn athletes into masochists. This seven-step exercise combines planks, squats, jumps, and pushups into one brutal movement. Given its complex nature, there are many ways to screw up a burpee.

Elitefts.com warns when you’re moving from the squat to the plank, pay attention to the weight distribution of your hips. Make sure your abdominals and hips stay engaged, so you’re not slouching into the ground for your plank. All the steps are interconnected, so performing a lackluster plank compromises the effectiveness of the entire workout.

21. Leg lifts

woman is working out her legs and abs

A woman works out her legs and abs | iStock.com/DenizA

Leg lifts are excellent workouts for engaging the core in a seriously brutal way. As you lie down and raise your legs, the abdominals muscles become fiercely contracted. The National Health Service warns before you even move your legs, you must focus on posture.

Keep your back straight, and never arch it off the mat as the workout progresses. Arching the back will take pressure off of the abdominals and lower back, engaging only the hip flexors. Not only will this cause the exercise to be woefully ineffective, it could easily lead to back pain.

22. Plate twist

man doing ab exercises in the gym

A man does ab exercises in the gym | iStock.com/Barryj13

Maintaining an effective abdominal workout regimen requires variation in order to strengthen the different muscles that form the core region. Many people use plate twists as a way to work the obliques, which run up and down the sides of the abs.

In this exercise, Shapefit.com explains you sit down on a mat with your legs raised and outstretched while you move a plate, medicine ball, or kettlebell from side to side. It might be tempting to focus solely on the movement of the weight, but it’s equally as crucial to make sure those legs are raised. Keeping the legs in the air makes the exercise double effective by ensuring the core is engaged throughout the entirety.

23. Shoulder press

woman holding dumbells above her head

A woman holds dumbbells above her head | iStock.com/Barryj13

The shoulder press is one of the most common exercises used to strengthen not just shoulder muscles, but upper arm and back muscles, as well. Like the chest press, it involves raising a barbell or dumbbells up to the sky, except the shoulder press requires you to push the weights over your head.

Men’s Fitness warns against rookie mistakes, such as improper form that can lead to nasty back and neck pain. When raising the weights, make sure you are pushing them up and over the spine. If the weights lurch forward, you risk putting unnecessary strain on the back while taking the focus away from the shoulder muscles.

24. Elliptical

People exercising on elliptical machines

People exercise on elliptical machines | iStock.com/nd3000

The elliptical machine is a common fixture at nearly every gym, alongside stationary bikes and treadmills. Cardio diehards love this exercise for its ability to work out the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

Before beginning your elliptical session, pay close attention to the placement of the feet. You might be tempted to stand on your toes, but Prevention stresses it’s crucial to lay your feet flat, placing greater pressure on your heels. Putting too much weight on the toes can result in numbness in the feet, reducing the length of the workout.

25. Diamond pushup

A man demonstrates a diamond pushup

A man demonstrates a diamond pushup | iStock.com/LUNAMARINA

For those who demand more from their workouts, the diamond pushup is a go-to exercise. This modified pushup requires you to place your hands together in a diamond position underneath the chest. Masterofbodyweight.com stresses it’s important to perfect the form, so you can adequately engage the triceps and core, which receive greater attention from the diamond pushups.

As always, keep the core as tight as possible, and don’t allow your abdomen to slouch toward the ground. This not only makes the workout easier and less effective, but it also causes an arch in the back that could be painful for your vertebrae.

26. Calf raise

A man does calf raises at the gym

A man does calf raises at the gym | iStock.com/Ibrakovic

You can become a dedicated gymgoer, pumping iron seven days a week, and still find yourself with the calves of a 12-year-old. Even when you incorporate calf raises into your workout regimen, there are many ways the exercise can be made inert by faulty form. Calf raises are not as simple as bobbing up and down with a ridiculous amount of weight on your shoulders.

Bodybuilding.com actually warns against using too much weight while performing this exercise. The exercise is made effective when you push upward on the balls of your feet, while make an effort to contract your calves at the top of the movement. This flexing puts extra tension on the calf muscles, which is crucial to ensuring they bulk up with the rest of your body.