11 Small Workout Mistakes That Cause Major Injuries, & How To Avoid Them

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A lot of people join a gym this time of year with the hope of shedding some of their winter weight, toning up a little before the summer, or just releasing some stress. Gyms can be intimidating, with their giant weight sets and hundreds of confusing machines. If you're anything like me, you're too shy to ask anyone for help and, instead, secretly observe the other gym patrons, trying to learn how to use the equipment on your own. Not getting proper guidance, however, can put you at risk of making small workout mistakes that cause major injuries.

If you already have your gym membership, you've taken your first step to a healthier lifestyle. But, are you actually going? Moms tend to put their own health at the bottom of their priority list. They take care of everyone and are often too tired to care for themselves. But Dr. Kelly Ross, a ellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics, wants moms to know that it is not selfish to focus on self care. It's just the opposite, in fact. She wrote an article for the American Academy of Pediatrics where she stated that when moms stop caring for themselves, it impacts their ability to care for their children and doesn't allow them to fully enjoy motherhood.

Now that you've decided to get back to the gym, you have to make sure to workout safely. Romper recently chatted with some fitness experts about common mistakes that people make when working out, and their tips to prevent major injury.

Here are some of the small, but serious mistakes you should avoid when hitting the gym.

1You Skip The Warm Up

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One of the biggest mistakes that people make when going to the gym is jumping right into their exercise routine without warming up. In an interview with Romper, certified strength and conditioning coach Tilita Lutterloh warns that one of the worst things you can do is start a workout cold. "The body must gradually get prepared for exercise by gently increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles and joints," Lutterloh says. She adds that by targeting the specific areas that you will be working out in your warm up, you can potentially avoid injuries such as muscle strains and pulls.

Dr. Laura Mannering, a doctor of physical therapy from south Florida, agrees, telling Romper that warming up is important and doesn't have to be extensive. She recommends that before going for a run, you walk briskly for a few minutes. Before strength training with weights, perform the first set with about half of the desired load. "Movement helps joints get lubricated and muscles, tendons, and ligaments get elongated," Mannering says. "This in turn makes them prepared to withstand the workout ahead, leading to less chance of injuries such as muscle or ligament strains."

2You Copy Other Gym Patrons

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Many people who are just starting out at the gym make the mistake of watching other gym patrons and trying to mimic their routine. Lutterloh warns that choosing workouts without proper guidance can put you in danger of an injury, or at best, they can simply be the wrong workouts for your needs. With the help of a trainer, you can choose exercises carefully that are the right fit for your body and your goals.

3You Don't Have Proper Form

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Noam Tamir, the owner and founder of TS Fitness, tells Romper that people forget to keep their necks in spinal alignment when working out. Often, they crank up their necks to look at their form in mirror, put their necks into an extended position, or turn their heads to the side when doing exercises. This puts a lot of pressure directly on the cervical spine and if repeated, can cause pinched nerves and eventually lead to spinal disc issues.

Similarly, Lutterloh warns that many people round their backs while lifting instead of keeping a neutral spine. "Movement of the spine in any extreme direction such as hyperextension or hyperflexion of any region of the spine, especially the lumbar or cervical spine (lower back and neck), while under heavy load or high repetition, can compromise the integrity of the spine," she says. "This can cause any number of injuries from a simple tweak or strain to a herniated disc."

4You Try To Deadlift When You Can't Touch Your Toes

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According to Tamir, you shouldn't attempt to deadlift if you can't touch your toes. A deadlift is when a loaded barbell or bar is lifted off the ground to the hips, then lowered back to the ground. If you don't have the mobility or stability to touch your toes, it's likely that you will not be able to keep a good lower and/or upper back spinal alignment, and this can cause lower back injuries.

5You Don't Squat Properly

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Depending on your hip structure, Tamir says that you may have certain restrictions on squat depth. However, doing shallow squats tends to stress the knees, and if done repeatedly can cause knee injury.

Lutterloh often sees knees collapsing inwardly during squats. This can be the result of hips being tight, weak glute muscles, or a weakness in muscles around the ankles and feet. "Knee valgus collapse wreaks havoc on the knee joint," she says. "It is linked to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, patella-femoral pain syndrome, meniscal tears, illiotibial band (ITB) syndrome, and knee osteoarthritis."

6You Run Heavily

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A common mistake Lutterloh sees is people who land heavily while they run, which can be the result of weak muscles or improper technique. Heavy impact on the ground or treadmill can lead to cartilage damage in the knees, shin splints, and degenerative disc issues in the spine.

7You Don't Balance Spine Movements

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Mannering says that during a workout, you tend to move extremity joints such as your elbow or knee through a full range of motion — meaning all the way bent to all the way straight. Few people, however, move their spine through its range. When working out, you tend to perform activities that flex your spine forward, but neglect to extend your spine backward. Adding extension exercises, such as a cobra or upward dog pose, helps to prevent spine and disc-related injuries. Because people bend forward several thousand times per day and often sit with slouched postures, Mannering recommends doubling up on spine extension exercises.

8You Change Shoe Specifications Abruptly

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Getting new workout shoes is not a problem, but Mannering warns that changing your shoe specifications without modifying your workout can be. Knowing the specifications of your shoes is important, especially the drop of the shoe. This is the difference in height (typically in millimeters) from the heel to the toe. The drop is not apparent just from visual inspection, so you'll have to look it up.

The way your body moves and how your muscles work is influenced by how your feet hit the ground. A change of even a few millimeters can lead to injury such as tendinopathy, if the shoe transition is not done gradually. Mannering suggests that, if you do change your shoe specs, you alternate your new shoes with your old shoes for a few days or scale back the intensity of your workout until your body is accustomed to its new posture.

Lutterloh suggests that you have a proper shoe fitting in accordance with the way your feet are shaped. She warns that many shoe shoppers are lured in by buzzwords such as "arch support," "overpronation," "stability," and "cushioning," but may not understand what those words mean in relation to their feet. "A former client of mine broke a bone in her foot because her doctor told her she needed a shoe with good arch support. My client is flat footed," Lutterloh recounts. "Because this shoe had a firm built-in arch, it constantly pushed up into her flat foot while she was running, eventually putting so much pressure on the bone that it snapped."

9You Don't Wear The Right Attire

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It's important to make sure that your gym attire is appropriate to your workout. Lutterloh sees many runners wearing flared bottom workout pants. "These are for yoga or grocery shopping, not for running," she warns. "The flared bottom gets in the way of the foot when the leg swings forward. So, tripping and falling is a huge risk if you wear these when running."

10You Neglect The Core

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Core strength. Core stability. Core engagement. You hear about your core all of the time when you're working out, and Lutterloh agrees that strengthening it is quite important. Most people believe the core to be the abdominals, but it is much more than that. The core consists of the abdominals, the lower back, and the hips — it's essentially the center of your body. Lutterloh says that all of your power, breath work, and vital organs are in your core, and to support internal health as well as major strength movements, you can't neglect this area of the body.

So, how do you engage the core? According to Shape magazine, you should imagine bracing your stomach muscles as if you're going to bounce a coin off your abs, making sure that they should feel rooted and secure. Roll your shoulders and chest open, gently tuck your pelvis and fire your glute muscles. You should feel the lower part of your abs engage to support your lower spine.

11You Do Too Much, Too Soon

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You can be highly motivated and healthy, but if you try to work out super hard when you're just starting out, you can put yourself at risk. Lutterloh recommends working with your trainer to design a program that gradually progresses, adds variety, and yet still challenges you. She notes that progress can be modified in a number of ways, not just by increasing weights. You can also increase reps, decrease rest time, increase sets, and increase range of motion. Just make sure you only change one variable at a time. Chronic fatigue, chronic soreness, and joint pain are all signs that you might be doing too much too soon.