Exercises like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses can cause pain or injury risk if done incorrectly.
To lift weights safely, prioritize good form, check your mobility, and protect your joints.
It's not necessary to lift the heaviest weight possible to build muscle and improve your health.
Lifting weights is great for your health — but a wrong move can put too much stress on your joints instead of your muscles, leaving you with pain instead of gains.
Proper form can help you lift more effectively and avoid the most common gym injuries, according to a physical therapist.
While research suggests strength training is generally safe, and the benefits far outweigh the risks, improper technique during popular exercises can lead to pain and injury.
Movements like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses are often done wrong, said Andrey Simeonovski, a doctor of physical therapy
"As you hit fatigue, you start compensating and trying to generate force with other muscles," he told Business Insider.
Performing a movement incorrectly, especially with too much weight, can prevent the body from engaging the target muscles and put pressure on the spine and joints instead, risking immediate injury or longer-term issues.
Simeonovski recommends following a few basic exercise guidelines to ensure good form, protect yourself, and get the most out of your gym sessions.
Avoid back pain during deadlifts by engaging the core
Deadlifts are a popular exercise for good reason — they provide a lot of bang for your buck by working multiple large muscle groups simultaneously.
But they're often blamed for causing back problems and aches, which can happen if you're not correctly using your hips, glutes, and core to power the movement.
"People tend to deadlift with the quads, they're not in a good position and end up pulling through the back," Simeonovski said.
A proper deadlift uses a foundational movement called a hip hinge, which involves starting with your butt pushed back behind you while keeping your back flat, allowing you to drive through the big muscles of the posterior chain to pick up the weight.
"Stabilize the core and back, and push the hips forward, instead of pulling," Simeonovski said.
Get more out of your squats by improving your mobility
Another compound movement that taps into multiple muscle groups is the squat, which requires good joint movement to do correctly.
Many people struggle with a lack of ankle mobility in the squat, setting them up for inefficient form, Simeonovski said.
To check your ankle mobility, get into a half-kneeling position about 6 inches away from the wall, and gently push your raised knee toward the wall — if it can't move beyond your toes, you may have ankle mobility issues.
It's a common misconception that your knees shouldn't move past your toes in a squat. Limiting your range of motion can prevent you from getting low enough into a squat to reap the most benefits.
If you're collapsing at the bottom of a squat or feeling pain in your lower back, you may need to strengthen your core, or have limited mobility in your thoracic spine, known as the T-spine.
A good way to improve T-spine mobility is to alternate between yoga poses cat and cow, or practice back extensions on a foam roller, according to Simeonovski.
Build upper body muscle without shoulder pain by fixing your form
A common cause of injury in upper body workouts is the rotator cuff, the tissues around the shoulder joint, which can be damaged by moving into an unstable position with weight.
"You end up fatiguing those muscles and increasing the risk of injury," Simeonovski said.
To prevent shoulder pain, focus on keeping your joints in the right alignment.
For example, when bench pressing, aim to keep the elbows around a 45-degree angle instead of directly out to the side in a T shape to correctly engage the chest muscles instead of stressing out the shoulder joint.
Focus on quality movement, not maximum effort
One of the most common mistakes in the gym is trying to lift as heavy as possible, regardless of how well you can complete the movement, according to Simeonovski.
"The main issue people have is just trying to move the weight, instead of focusing on engaging the right muscle group," he said.
Trying to lift excessively heavy weights can cause you to compensate by using different muscles than you're supposed to be working, which can make the exercise less effective and risk injury.
Instead, work your way up in weight gradually and make sure you can correctly perform the exercise with good form and full range of motion.
And forget about maxing out every lift — unless you plan to compete, you can make better progress by sticking to slow, steady increases over time to build muscle and strength.
"For an average person just trying to be healthy it's not worth pushing the weight because it can lead to injury over time, and it's not a good return on investment," Simeonovski said.
Read the original article on Business Insider