9 Popular Workout Moves that Could Seriously Injure You

Updated: Feb. 02, 2017

Getting in a workout is great, but the last thing you want to do is get injured in the process. Pay attention to these moves that could really hurt you if done incorrectly.


Overhead Press

In overhead presses, many people tend to hunch their shoulders up to their ears, which increases tension and can lead to neck and shoulder injuries. “Shoulder injuries are the most common bugaboo in the gym,” says Patrick Henigan, a certified personal trainer and owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. “The shoulder joint is an incredibly complex ball and socket, which hosts multiple muscles and ligaments—a lot can go wrong.” When doing an overhead press, make sure you’re focusing on pulling your shoulders down away from your ears, or opt to do some push-ups—a safer alternative—instead. “It still works the front head of your deltoid muscles, but the range of motion is much more familiar to most trainees and provides a safer environment for the scapula to move,” says Henigan.


Bicep Curl

“The only reason the bicep curl is dangerous is the human ego,” says Henigan. “People go way too heavy on the bicep curl, forcing their shoulder to internally rotate at the bottom of the movement and pull their scapula towards their ears.” To ensure you don’t get injured while still working your arms, substitute a row for a curl. “You’ll still force your biceps to work, but it will be in a much safer range of motion that actually forces more muscles to work harder,” says Henigan. (Find out how to turn household chores into more of a workout.)



People love squats because you can do them anywhere and everywhere—but you’ll want to do them right, or you can risk tendinitis, ligament strains, meniscus tears, and even cartilage deterioration. “In doing squats, the legs should be parallel (or maybe a very slight external turnout of the feet) and knees should track directly over the toes as you lower, but not extend farther out than your toes,” says Jana Sanford, a certified personal trainer. “If the knees are passing the toes or collapsing inward or outward, excessive stress is placed on key tendons and ligaments in the knee.” To help you practice proper form, you can do a squat against a wall, which can help ensure your knees don’t go over your toes and that your upper body doesn’t go too far forward. Find out how to transform your body with squat exercises.



Straight leg dead lifts

“Straight leg dead lifts can cause undue pressure on the lumbar discs in the low back and lead to injury,” says David Hanawalt, DPT, CMPT. “To make this safer, stick to a light weight, maintain a small arch in the low back, and use your butt and legs to take some stress off your back.” An alternative, safer move are prone leg lifts, which involve lying flat on your stomach and lifting and lowering one leg at a time off the ground. (Check out these exercises that can make back pain better.)



Crunches are usually the go-to exercise when it comes to crafting abs, but you’ll want to make sure you’re careful when doing this particular move. “Crunches can cause over-flattening of the back,” says Hanawalt. “You can overwork your neck, increase tension, and develop poor posture.” Exercise moves like planks, bent knee fall outs, and other ab exercises that don’t involve crunches can be safer options, as they also engage the lower abdominal muscles.



“Burpees are a great all-body exercise that combine planks, push ups, and plyometric jumps,” says Sanford. But many people let their hips drop once they hit the plank component, which hyperextends the low back. “That repeated hyperextension of the low back is highly likely to result in low back pain during and after the workout,” says Sanford. “It is better to err on the side of lifting the hips into a slight downward dog rather than dropping the hips and arching the low back.”


Side bends with a weight

“This popular abdominal move can cause a host of problems,” says Jay Cardiello, a Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member. “One in particular is that the individual is likely to hyperextend their back.” To avoid any injury, you can switch to a similar exercise that can work out your sides without throwing out your back. Get into a basic plank position and lift one foot off the floor. Hold for up to 10 seconds. “This unstable exercise will activate your entire core, when done in a safe manner,” says Cardiello. Check out more exercises to help you lose your love handles.



Lunges are great lower body strengtheners, but they commonly cause knee and low back injuries as well as occasional ankle injuries, if someone is performing moving lunges. “The biggest thing to remember when performing a lunge is to not allow your knee to go forwards over your toe,” says Katie Henry, MD, PT. “You should always be able to look down and see your toes. It is also helpful to do lunges in front of a mirror to make sure that your knees are pointing forwards during the entire movement. You can do this by engaging your glute muscles as well as your abs.” To engage those glute muscles even more, check out these butt exercises that really work.



You can effectively work out your core in even just 30 seconds doing a plank, but if you’re not paying attention, you can put yourself at risk for lower back, shoulder, neck, and hip injuries. This is because many people forget to engage their legs and shoulders while holding the plank position. “It is really helpful to engage your legs by thinking of straightening your legs as much as possible while in a plank,” says Henry. “For your arms, think about evenly pushing your elbows and forearms into the ground while you engage your core. This, in addition to breathing, will help you maintain a straight line while in a plank and prevent injury.”