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posted: 9/16/2013 6:00 AM

Improve your workouts by fixing common mistakes

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  • When you move your body in a squat position, make sure your posture is perfect to get the most out of the exercise.

    When you move your body in a squat position, make sure your posture is perfect to get the most out of the exercise.


Movement. The human body is designed to move. When healthy, it's the perfect machine of maneuverability. Unfortunately, due to the intricate combination of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, there is also a high probability for things to break down -- especially if we don't maintain or care for the machine.

Exercise is essential for optimal health, but too often many movements are performed incorrectly due to an improper load or just simply being unaware of poor body mechanics.

Improve your workouts by avoiding these common mistakes in the gym.

Shortened range of motion. If you're not exercising through a full range of motion of a particular joint, you are reinforcing bad mechanics and increasing your chance for injury. Tight or weak muscles, soft tissue injuries, as well as deterioration of the joints could all be factors that limit normal range of motion. Do a squat assessment -- stand with feet hip-width apart and squat down until your upper leg is parallel with the floor. Did your heels pop up? Did you lose your balance? If you can't do a proper squat with body weight, you probably shouldn't be loading up weight on the leg press or leg extension machine. Focus on establishing proper movement with multijoint body-weight movements, and then move on to added resistance.

Rounded posture. Rounded shoulders are quite common with jobs where you find yourself sitting in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel. It's a result of certain muscles becoming shortened or tight and others becoming weak or inactive. If you have a rounded posture, learn how to release the tight muscles such as the pecs, anterior deltoid, supraspinatus and biceps, while activating posterior muscles of the mid and upper back, the posterior deltoids and external rotators. Never reinforce a postural imbalance with improper exercises.

Improper tilt of the hips. This is another issue with people who sit a lot. Either the lumbar spine has too much or too little curve in it. This involves imbalances of the hamstrings, abdominals, hip flexors and low back musculature. Because of how these muscles relate to the hips, they can have a tug of war effect and pull the hips into an excessive tilt. If you're not aware of this, it will severely impede your ability to perform many exercises correctly, putting your back, hips and knees at risk for injury. Again, activating the weak muscles and releasing the tight muscles will eventually help the hips realign.

Lack of core awareness. If you're not focusing on your core during exercise, you're not taking full advantage of your body's strength. By creating tension through your midsection you'll be maximizing your ability to lift while minimizing risk for injury to your low back and hips. Your arms and legs are only as strong as they are stable, so working from a stable platform gives your limbs more functional strength. While you exercise, keep enough tension on your abdominal wall so that you would be able take a light jab to the gut.

Retraction of the jaw/chin. Some people naturally have slight retraction of the chin from looking down at their workspace throughout the day. But retraction really shows up during exercise when you're straining to get those last few reps. Take the rowing motion for instance -- as you pull back on the resistance, your shoulders may round forward and your chin may drop down into your chest as you struggle with the weight. Counter retraction of the chin, first, by being aware of it and trying to stabilize the shoulders, and two, by pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth while performing exercises where retraction is common. This will help stabilize the neck and keep your head in better alignment.

So remember that many common mistakes can be avoided with a bit of awareness and a few simple changes. For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit our website at for links to our Facebook and Pinterest pages.

• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact him at

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