Skipping your warm-up and cool-down, not stretching afterward, not eating beforehand and a host of other tips focus on recommendations for before and after your workout.
But often little things you do during your workout can be just as harmful, even more so. The following eight subtle habits can wreck your workout and, in some cases, increase your risk of injury. Here’s what you shouldn’t do:
1. Avoid having your knees go off in different directions
Do not allow your knees to drop outward, inward or pitch out in front of your toes, says Liz Neporent, fitness expert with AcaciaTV. “This can cause knee problems and pain. Instead you want your feet to track directly over your toes — regardless of the type of squat you are doing.” So if you’re doing a plié squat and your legs are wide and turned out, you want to track your knees on the diagonal so they move out over your toes.
2. Never hold your breath
If your face turns red when you lift weights, you are likely holding your breath, which is called the Valsalva maneuver. “This causes a sudden surge of blood to the heart and disrupts the cardiac rhythm,” says Gary Guerriero, co-owner of the U.S. Athletic Training Center in New York.
Know the difference between good pain and bad pain. Joint pain is not good pain.
This can send blood pressure soaring and is especially dangerous for those with hypertension. “Avoid this and always maintain breath control,” adds Guerriero. Focus on exhaling upon exertion (when “pushing”) to avoid holding your breath.
3. Do not lose good posture
Use proper posture to stabilize your core and lower back, says Guerriero. Posture refers to your body’s alignment against the forces of gravity on your joints, ligaments and muscles, so good posture evenly distributes these forces and prevents any one structure from becoming overtaxed. Most importantly, your spine should stay aligned throughout your moves. Even turning your head during a squat can tweak spinal discs.
4. Don’t try to work through pain
Know the difference between good pain and bad pain. Joint pain is not good pain, says Guerriero. “You should not exercise if you feel pain in your joints. Muscle soreness is fine as long as it’s no higher than a five on a pain scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most painful).” This soreness is called DOMS for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Never ignore your body’s natural pain signals.
5. Avoid using momentum or otherwise cheating
Swinging and using momentum to lift weights sacrifices good form and can lead to injury and joint damage, Guerriero says.
“Do not exercise with extreme momentum. Always perform exercises in a controlled manner and maintain good body mechanics,” he adds. This also goes for sacrificing form, in general, in an attempt to lift more weight.
6. Don’t stop short
Be sure to use a full range of motion on all exercises unless it’s painful to do so, says Guerriero. Cheating yourself by only using a partial range of motion, such as a half squat or partial leg press, deprives your body of results, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
The 12-week study showed that participants who performed the full range of motion experienced greater reduction of fat stores and gains in strength and muscle size than those who did not, even though the partial exercisers lifted more weight (a common argument for not using a full range of motion).
7. Never stop suddenly on the treadmill
If you’re running full speed and suddenly come to a full stop, you may become dizzy as your heart keeps pumping as if you’re still running.
“Stopping short doesn’t give your body a chance to circulate the ‘old blood’ (deoxygenated) and metabolic waste (lactic acid) out,” says Pete McCall, Senior Adviser for the American Council on Exercise.
“A gradual cooldown helps you in the recovery process. Plus, if your body senses you’re still working it continues to direct blood to your legs, which takes away from blood going to your brain and could cause dizziness,” McCall adds.
8. Don’t go without a spotter when you need one
Forgoing a spotter when doing an overhead exercise or when using heavy weight can result in injury or worse. “When you do an overhead press or free weight bench press without a spotter, you risk your muscles giving out and you end up stuck under the bar or weights,” says McCall.
Your muscles have an automatic inhibitory signal that functions when it senses you’re about to do too much weight and may get hurt. “You may not be able to control it,” he adds. A spotter can help you get past the “sticking point” when you need a bit of guidance.