Virtual workouts have become increasingly popular due to Covid-19 restrictions. Online sessions allow you to bring your workout with you wherever you are, a convenience hitting the gym can't offer. However, without an in-person trainer or fitness instructor by your side, it can be easy to misinterpret the proper form for a new move.
In many group classes or workouts, the instructor keeps his or her eye on you and yells out corrections or modifications. Or maybe you're used to fitness equipment, like an elliptical or an ab machine, that keeps your form somewhat honest.
When it comes to virtual workouts, though, all you've got is you and your body without much to keep you in check. To enhance success in the world of virtual fitness, there are a few factors to take into consideration. First, make sure you are immersed in the workout. Those who exercise with a virtual coach are more motivated and present throughout their workout than those who work out on their own, studies have shown.
Dedication to improving yourself also helps. Intrinsic motivation, which involves doing something without knowledge of a reward, improves performance and efficiency levels, according to research. If you remain motivated throughout the virtual workout, you'll be more likely to double-check each move for accuracy.
Even so, there are some common exercises that can all too easily be done with incorrect form and lead to unnecessary pain, improper muscle build and even injury. So what are some key mistakes to look out for? Read on to find out.
What to avoid: Maintaining proper form while in lunge position can be tricky. Many people don't realize that they aren't creating a full 90-degree angle with their legs. It's also common to lean forward while lunging, allowing your knee to surpass your forward-facing foot.
Get it right: To avoid these common mistakes, look at your form in a full-length mirror and make sure you are creating as close to a 90-degree angle as possible while keeping your knee aligned with your foot.
What to avoid: This move seems simple -- and it is -- but it's more about form than the amount of weight being lifted. So many of my clients do them incorrectly without realizing. When performing this move without a trainer critiquing your form, it's easy to slouch your back backward while lifting. Some people will move their hips, bringing the weights all the way up to touch their shoulders and allowing their elbows to leave their sides.
Get it right: This move is much simpler than that. If you're doing a bicep curl correctly, only your hands and forearms should be in motion. First, stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart while you look straight ahead. Hold your dumbbells straight down, near your thighs. While keeping your elbows at your sides, lift the weights with just your forearms. Make sure to tighten your biceps and feel the burn. Finally, release and repeat.
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What to avoid: Doing planks is a common exercise, but it's hard to master, especially without a trainer telling you to lift your core or adjust your arm position. Because planks require self-discipline while alone, they frequently aren't performed correctly, which could hurt your progress. I see a lot of people slouching their stomachs or arching their backs, which could ultimately lead to injury.
Get it right: The mistakes I see the most, however, are easy to fix. First, make sure you're horizontally in the air with the length of your body lifted off the floor. Press your hands or forearms into the floor as you raise your body using your toes. With your heels in the air, squeeze your core and glutes for the most effective burn. Keep the shoulders over the wrists, and pull the navel in toward the spine to keep the back flat.
What to avoid: When performing a jump squat, many people don't fully start from a squatting position. Instead, they tend to use just their ankles to jump up. People also tend to land with their legs straight or on the flats of their feet. This can cause injury and even instant pain upon landing.
Get it right: Instead, lower down into the squat position with your hips and knees pushed back and then land with a soft bend in your knees.
The new year is a perfect time to start prioritizing your health, and virtual workouts are a great way to start. With the challenge of not having an in-person trainer, however, be mindful to adhere to proper form and vigilant about tackling mistakes as they arise. Next time you're performing your virtual workout, keep these tips in mind. If you remain motivated to improve, you'll find yourself becoming more aware of your own mistakes.
Stephanie Mansour, host of "Step It Up With Steph" on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.
How to avoid 5 common mistakes when working out at home
“What we observed over the quarantine period is that a lot of people resort to randomized programs — stuff they see on social media or stuff their friends are doing — that they simply aren’t ready for,” said Clifton Hempstead, personal trainer and co-founder of Anthos Training Clubs.
Hempstead said a lot of these programs are high-intensity and designed to make you feel exhausted. Instead, he said you should seek out a program that is working toward a goal, with exercises you’re capable of doing.
“A lot of people shouldn’t be jumping around and moving side-to-side,” Hempstead said. “They’re doing all these exercises that they haven’t developed the prerequisites for.”
Training beyond your limits can result in injury, he said: “You might develop tendinitis in the knees; you might hurt an ankle,” he said. “Those (high-intensity) workouts are meant to beat you up, and that’s fine every once in a while, but to do that constantly ... can be a recipe to hurt yourself.”
Alysha Bazan, trainer and fitness director at CrossTown Fitness, said weightlifting is one of the most common exercises she sees performed incorrectly — especially deadlifts, in which people will sometimes round their back while lifting.
“Take your time and don’t rush through the movement. Make sure that you’re stabilizing your core,” she said. “Make sure you’re doing the form properly without the weights first before loading it up.”
Home exercisers may not know how to plan a workout either, Bazan said: “Like, not knowing the proper exercises to pair together, especially if they’re loading up the weight, or how many reps and how many sets that they’re doing.”
Bazan said you can lift safely at home, and it might not require as much equipment as you think. “It seems like a lot of people have like one or two pieces of equipment at home — which is great and you can do a lot of things with the one piece of equipment,” Bazan said. “Especially if people have one dumbbell or one kettlebell, you can do a lot of single-sided exercises.”
Watch your form
A lot of home workout programs that don’t require equipment include exercises such as planks, squats, push-ups and sit-ups. But having bad form can lead to injury, said Alex Nsiah-Kumi, trainer and owner of Paramount Personal Training.
When doing squats or lunges, your knees and toes should be going the same direction. “So that, long term, your knees don’t start bothering you,” he said. “Rep after rep, doing it wrong adds up.”
Planking can be hard on your lower back if you’re not doing it right, Nsiah-Kumi said. “Make sure it’s not going into your lower back at all. It should be more of a core thing. There should be no lower back tightness or pain.”
If you can’t perform an exercise, find a variation that scales it back to a point where you can have less pain, he said.
Yoga is best done in the presence of an instructor, said part-time Chicago yoga instructor Whitney Katz. But that’s not always possible, even in in-person classes, she said: “Not being watched properly by a teacher has hurt me more than it’s helped me.”
Katz recommends making live, virtual classes part of your at-home yoga practice, especially if you’re a beginner. Even over the internet, having an instructor watching can help you tune the poses to your body.
“There’s not an ABC of bodies,” she said. “We all have different anatomy, and what might feel great for one body might feel horrible for another.”
But if you’d rather learn yoga through YouTube videos, Katz said it’s important to take it slow. “’Beginner’ doesn’t always mean gentle,” she said. “You can get into some pretty complicated things in a beginning class.”
Katz said many video classes don’t offer modifications of poses that might make them work for different bodies.
“If something doesn’t feel right, and you’re taking a prerecorded class, back off,” she said. “Don’t go as far.”
Listen to your body
“You certainly are at risk for injury any time you exercise,” said personal trainer Shane Schroeder. “You want to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to start an exercise program.”
Schroeder also recommends getting a trainer who can help you virtually. His service, Train With Shane, delivers his programs to clients through an app and he follows up with weekly coaching calls. People who use a free online program for fitness should do so with caution, he said.
“Listen to your body,” Schroeder said. If the pain goes beyond normal muscle burn or fatigue into joint pain, you might be injuring yourself. “Let your body be your guide.”