SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Good form a key to avoiding exercise injuries

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In the fitness world and magazines, we often read articles that reveal exercises for fast weight loss, tight buns and flat abs. However, it is rare to find articles that warn people about the safety precautions or exercises to be wary of depending upon your fitness level.

Everyone's genetics are different, so when reading these belly buster articles, one should realize that not every exercise is best designed for your body and any ailments you may have.

Here is a look at some of the potential pitfalls of different exercises and machines.

Lat pull-downs behind the head are known to cause an impingement on the shoulder and wear on the rotator cuff.

Most people do not have enough flexibility in the chest muscles to squeeze the shoulder blades back together, so a person usually pushes the torso forward to get the bar behind the head which also forces the spine forward. In addition, if a person bounces the bar on the back of the neck, he or she can cause damage to the cervical spine.

Military presses behind the head also results in the same impingement. For that reason a person should complete these exercises in front of the body.

Another shoulder impinging exercise is to bring an upright row to the level of the chin.

The shoulder is such a delicate joint that proper strength maintenance is required, but when improperly performing exercises we cause muscle and nerve damage.

The safer alternative is bringing the bar in level with the "breast bone" and the pectoral muscles.

In shoulder rehabilitation, I advocate people to complete a 90-degree shoulder abduction and adduction.

Shoulder abduction is performed when the elbow is placed by the side, and the hand moves away from the body while holding a rehab band.

However, in shoulder abduction the last 30 degrees causes shoulder pressure.

In this instance, a person should roll a towel and place it between the side of the body and the elbow to comfort the joint.

The Smith machine when used improperly compresses the discs of the spinal cord.

Many people tend to place the bar on the back of the cervical spine, where it should lie across the back of the shoulder blades.

Squat jumping and placing the feet too far out in front results in an ineffective squat with extra pressure placed on the spine.

Youths under the age of 15 should not use a Smith machine. This load on a growing spinal cord will not only cause damage but can hinder proper development.

As youths begin to train for sports, coaches and the youth should be educated on what is appropriate.

On a reclining leg press, it is often seen that many people bring their legs past a 90-degree angle.

When this occurs, the lower lumbar spine and the femur bone receive stress.

It is vital for people to keep their legs from going no farther than 90 degrees to receive the effective strength gain in the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals.

The No. 1 "incorrect form" exercise is utilizing the Stairmasters and the elliptical trainer.

When hunching the upper-body on these machines, not only are you cheating your workout, but it jars the spinal column and creates extremely poor posture. Many people already have bad posture, but this form enhances kyphosis, commonly known as "hunchback".

This posture is a curvature of the thoracic spine that also brings the shoulders inward, resulting in tight chest muscles. Degenerative issues including osteoporosis and arthritis may happen with weak joints and poor postures.

Finally, I am "iffy" when it comes to weight belts.

These belts are effective for lifting heavy loads, as well as supporting the back for medical issues.

However, when used in every workout our bodies rely on the belt and not our core muscles, so our core is learning to stay weak and not strong.

Proper form assists you toward your strength or weight loss goals!

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience from India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is the associate director of healthy living at the YMCA. She can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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