10 Common Exercise Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)


With fitness centers temporarily closed in the Milwaukee area, many of us are coping by exercising on our own at home. Bodyweight exercises are great because they don’t require any equipment. However, without mirrors to check your form or a personal trainer helping you out, it’s easy to make mistakes. We’ve highlighted 10 common exercise mistakes and ways you can fix them.

10 Common Exercise Mistakes

1. Plank

When doing a plank, the key is to form a straight line from shoulders to heels. The most common mistakes are raising your hips too high or letting them sag too low. If your hips are too low, this will cause your lower back to collapse. You want to make sure your shoulders, hips, and heels are all in alignment, and keep your core nice and tight.

2. Sit-Ups

The most common mistake when performing sit-ups is pulling on your neck. The objective of sit-ups is to strengthen your core, so focus on what your abdominals, obliques, and lower back are doing. Another mistake would be lifting your chin too high, which also puts strain on your neck. Look straight ahead and let your core do the work. Lastly, be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor.

3. Glute Bridge

Spend many hours sitting at your desk? The glute bridge is a great way to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, resulting in better posture. To perform a proper glute bridge, lie down with bent knees and feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your hips off the floor so your knees, hips, and shoulders are aligned. Squeeze your glutes and draw in your abs.

You want to avoid flaring your chest or lifting your hips too high, thus arching your back. Make sure you drive through your heel in order to keep the pressure evenly distributed in your feet (i.e. don’t push off of your toes).

4. Squats

Squats develop strong legs by working your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. They also bring the core into play. Most want to start a squat by bending their knees. What you want to do instead is start by pushing your hips back. Think of sitting on a chair. Shift your weight to your heels as you push your butt back.

Also, keep both feet about shoulder-width apart – either parallel or pointing slightly outwards. You want to avoid letting your knees cave inward as you move down into the squat position. Push your knees out so they are in line with the direction your toes are pointing. The whole time you want to maintain a neutral spine and don’t allow your back to arch.

5. Push-Ups

Push-ups seem so basic and simple, but many actually make mistakes when doing them. Common exercise mistakes when doing push-ups include flaring elbows, improper body alignment, and incomplete reps. To avoid flaring elbows, hand position is crucial. Start with your hands about shoulder-width apart or just slightly wider. Positioning your hands too wide will cause your elbows to flare outward. You want to make sure your elbows are at about a 45-degree angle from your body, not a T-shape.

Another thing you want to keep in mind is to move your whole body up and down together. If your upper body comes up first, your midsection will sag and increase risk of a back injury. Maintain alignment from head to toe and keep that core tight like you would during a plank. Lastly, make sure you lower yourself all the way down. Don’t cheat on reps! Your chest should touch the ground.

6. Triceps Dips

Triceps dips isolate the triceps and shoulders. They’re perfect for at-home workouts because they can be done on any sturdy chair, couch, or even a coffee table. There’s a few simple things to keep in mind for correct form. You want to avoid flaring your elbows outwards. Make sure to keep them in line with your shoulders and keep your shoulder blades together. Also, make sure your back doesn’t collapse and don’t shrug your shoulders forward. Keep your chest open and your shoulders back.

7. Forward Lunges

Lunges are fairly simple to do. When you move down into lunge position, your front knee should form a 90-degree angle. A common mistake of this exercise is that the front knee goes too far forward, which can cause injury. Also, don’t allow your upper body to lean forward. Your torso should remain vertical throughout the entire exercise. To help maintain a vertical position, hold your chest up and look straight ahead.

8. Side Lunges

Similar to the forward lunge mentioned above, a common mistake of the side lunge is overextension. Again, be sure that your bent knee is above your toes. Pay attention to what your feet are doing as well. Don’t allow the toes of your bent leg to point outward. Make sure they point forward as you move into your lunge. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Sometimes the extended leg’s foot has a tendency to lift off the floor and your ankle can buckle (ouch!)

9. Donkey Kicks

The donkey kick exercise is a great warmup for your glutes and hip flexors. You’ll start on all fours with your palms on the floor under your shoulders. Your lower back should be flat and your hips should be in a neutral position in order to isolate the glutes. You’ll kick one leg at a time back with your knee still bent. Don’t extend too far, as this will cause your back to overarch. The range of motion doesn’t need to be large. As you extend, keep your foot parallel to the planted leg and avoid turning it inward or outward.

10. Mountain Climbers

There’s a few things that are commonly done incorrectly for the mountain climber exercise. Let’s start with the starting position. You’ll start by getting into a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Your head, back, hips, knees, and feet should all be aligned as if you were doing a plank. Some people have a tendency to arch their back or stick their butt up in the air.

The next step would be to bend your knee and drive it towards your chest. During this movement, don’t let your toes touch the ground as this can cause you to “bounce” up off the floor. So drive your knee to your chest or touch them to your elbows but keep your feet off the floor. Also, keep your hips and back stable. Some people tend to sway to the side when they lift their leg up.

General Tips

There are a few things to keep in mind that apply to just about any exercise you’re doing. Make sure you don’t hold your breath. Breathe through each rep. Also, maintain control through both the concentric and eccentric phases of muscle contraction. Find a rhythm that allows you to maintain control. If you decide to add weights, use an appropriate amount for your ability.

Download our visual guide to help you with your at-home workouts!

Download Bodyweight Exercise Visual Guide