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4 Exercise Mistakes That Could Harm Your Back

The devil is in the details. So it is with exercise! Small mistakes that could be causing back pain often lurk not in the exercises themselves, but in subtle ways you’re holding yourself as you do them. Here are the 4 things you may be doing that can harm your back.

1. Relying on abdominal and back extension machines for core strength

Plank ExerciseThe heavier you go, the greater the risk. I don’t advocate a forward flexion or rotation machine exercise for anyone. Back extension is less of a risk unless it’s done with too much weight.

Even with good form, these exercises don’t get you the results you want. The goal usually is a stronger, and flatter core so it both reduces risk of low back pain and looks and feels better.

Fix: Do some stabilization exercises like planks, or back extension, like birddog or “swimming” lying prone on your own.

2. Rounding the back performing a bent over row

Whether you perform this dumbbell exercise standing or seated, rounding your back compromises the lower back. You want to lengthen and use those stabilizing muscles of the spine and the front core.

Fix: Create a small arch in the lower back to keep it in neutral where it is most protected.

To be able to do this, you may need to work on hip and pelvis mobility first. Meanwhile you can sit during this exercise.

3. Arching the back excessively during overhead exercises

Shoulder PressIt may seem like I’m contradicting myself here since I just advised not to round the back, but form is relative to the exercise you’re doing. These little mistakes that could harm your back and cause back pain are so seemingly small, but they do matter. They’re also easily avoidable.

Whether you’re attempting overhead shoulder press (not one I advocate often unless you need this for function: there are other ways to safely work the shoulders), or a triceps press; you want to be thinking as much about your core as your arms.

You, in fact should feel like these moves are core exercises since you’re leveraging by stabilizing. If you don’t feel a keen awareness of your core, it’s time to regroup.

Fix: Keep the weights lighter, alternate arms, and sit on a bench.

4. Performing standing exercises before you have the core strength to maintain good form

I have a soft “rule” when I teach a new exercise or one that has several things to focus on. We master each thing individually before we ever put them together. So you would want to have a strong core foundation, and be able to do a perfect shoulder press seated, before we’d have you try one standing.

When you’re standing you have more joints to stabilize. If you’re doing a new-to-you exercise or using a heavier weight you’re more likely to neglect good form. You can only focus on so much at a time when you’re learning. When it becomes automatic after you’ve done it repeatedly it will be second nature.

Fix: Sit and avoid balance props when you’re doing new exercises.

If you’re exercising at home, use a mirror so you can self-correct. If you have a trainer with a sharp eye, he or she should be catching these, but check yourself just in case. You won’t always feel that something is wrong. These little mistakes do develop into more chronic issues later if they’re not caught.

The saying goes practice makes perfect. In reality, practice can make permanent. Be sure you’re practicing the right thing!

With these simple fixes you’ll avoid these small exercise mistakes that could harm your back and cause back pain.

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