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7 Egregious Acts of Exercise

Seven moves you’re probably doing wrong — and the easy ways to fix them.

Every day in the gym you see some yahoo doing an exercise in a crazy manner. Don’t see anyone flailing about? Then you might be that yahoo. These seven popular exercises are ones you might actually be doing biomechanically wrong every day, minimizing their effectiveness, putting you at risk for injury and setting yourself up to be the next Fail.com superstar.

Use these smart tweaks and simple modifications to fix your broke-ass form — improving results across the board while avoiding humiliation on social media.

Forward Lunge

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Supposed target: Total Leg

Most people perform lunges with their torso upright, completely vertical to the floor. And yes, that execution makes biomechanical sense if you’re focusing mostly on your quads, but if you’re shooting for total leg exhaustion — not so much.

Fix it: Performing lunges with a forward trunk lean increases the recruitment of the hip extensors (i.e., glutes and hamstrings) relative to a more upright posture, reducing the demand on the quads and making the lunge a more total-leg exercise.

Forward Lunge

Stand upright with your feet together holding a set of dumbbells at your sides. Take a long step forward and bend both knees to lower into a deep lunge, simultaneously leaning forward from your hips with a straight back so your torso makes a 45-degree angle. Push off your front foot and return to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

Hanging Knee Raise

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Supposed target: Abs

Most people usually start this move with their legs fully extended, then bend their knees and lift their legs to hip height for the move itself. This execution uses your abs a little bit — mostly for stability — but when done this way it is primarily a hip flexion exercise.

Fix it: The primary function of your abdominal muscles is to flex your spine; so, in order to make this move ab-centric, you have to begin at the end — starting with your knees lifted then using your abs to raise them higher.

Hanging Knee Raise

Hang from a pull-up bar with your legs extended. Then draw your knees up into your abdomen; this is your start position. Now, use your abs and curl your tailbone and hips up as high as you can, pausing a moment before lowering to the start — knees lifted.

Shoulder Internal/External Rotation

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Supposed target: Rotator Cuffs

 Warming up your rotator cuffs is rote before pressing or overhead movements. However, many people do internal and external rotations while standing upright with their arms out like a scarecrow, elbows bent 90 degrees. Performed this way, the move is loaded vertically by gravity, but since your rotator cuff muscles are designed to move horizontally and rotationally, you are really only loading your biceps — the muscles that hold a weight up against gravity — in this position.

Fix it: To sufficiently load the rotators while standing, you have to create a horizontal load vector (i.e., a line of resistance that runs parallel to the floor) as you rotate your arm. Alternately, you can use gravity to create a similar load vector by performing rotations while lying on your side.

Standing Internal/external rotation with resistance band

Set a resistance band or cable pulley to elbow height and stand sideways to the station. Grip the handle with your outside hand, palm facing inward, elbow bent 90 degrees. Begin with your arm across your belly, then keep your upper arm pinned to your side and your forearm parallel to the floor as you open your arm to pull the handle across your body as far as you can. Return slowly to the start.

Side-Lying Internal/External Rotation

Lie on your side with your hips and legs stacked and hold a small dumbbell in your top hand, arm bent 90 degrees. Using your upper arm as a hinge, rotate your arm to lift the weight up as far as you can, then slowly lower to the start.

Stability Ball Crunch

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Supposed target: Core (rectus abdominis)

If your stability ball is rolling around underneath you while you’re “crunching” on top, your knees are getting a good bending and extending workout, but your abs are totally taking a nap. The whole idea behind the ball is to control its instability with the strength of your abs and core, so if the ball is moving, you’re not doing it properly.

Fix it: When doing a stability ball crunch, the only thing moving should be your spine flexing and extending in a controlled fashion over the top of the ball, while the ball itself remains stationary.

Stability Ball Crunch

Lie on top of a stability ball and lift your hips to align with your knees, legs bent 90 degrees, feet beyond hip width and flat on the floor. Allow your spine to round down over the top of the ball and extend your arms over your shoulders, perpendicular to the floor. Exhale and curl your head, shoulders and upper back off the ball, reaching your fingers straight up toward the ceiling while keeping your hips and the ball motionless. Lower slowly and repeat.

Biceps Curl

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Supposed target: Biceps

Many people push their elbows forward as they curl a weight up, so at the top their elbows wind up underneath their hands. However, once your hands are stacked directly over your elbows, there’s no longer any mechanical tension on your biceps, thus making this exercise less effective.

Fix it: To maintain tension on the biceps throughout the entire repetition, keep your upper arm in line with your torso, perpendicular to the floor. 

Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl

Hold dumbbells with an underhand, shoulder-width grip and pin your elbows and upper arms to your sides. Keep them here as you curl the weight up toward your shoulders as high as you can. Pause, then lower slowly to the start.

Side Bend

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Supposed target: Obliques

Those ’80s-style side bends done with a weight in each hand should have gone extinct alongside thong leotards, yet they persist. However, done this way, the weight of one dumbbell offsets the weight of the other, rendering the move pretty ineffective at loading the lateral core muscles of the torso.

Fix it: You can still go the dumbbell route and do side bends with a single heavy dumbbell instead of two, but your best option is to use a cable or band, which provides tension throughout the entire range of motion, effectively loading the lateral musculature.

Side Bend With Resistance Band

Attach a resistance band to the bottom of a squat rack or set a cable pulley to the lowest setting and stand sideways to the rack. Hold the handle with your inside hand and step away to create some tension in the band. Keep your hips square as you slowly incline your torso toward the machine, then reverse and pull the band as you bend to the other side. Return slowly to the start to make use of the negative as well.