11 Common Exercise Mistakes (that drive me crazy)

11 Common Exercise Mistakes (that drive me crazy)

1.) When stretching, make sure you are warm first. Don’t come into the gym when you are cold, and go straight into a static stretch. Your muscles aren’t warmed up yet and you could pull something. Work up a light sweat first, either by doing some light cardio or just trying to ‘lubricate’ your joints up with arm swings or hip swings. You can do your nice long stretches that you are holding at the end of your work-out.

cardio pic r


2.) Hamstring stretch – Don’t stretch with a stretchy strap! Stretchy straps such as thera-bands and other elastic bands are used to provide resistance in order to strengthen your muscles, not stretch. If you are stretching with the help of a strap, that is fine, but make sure it’s not working against you. It should be a material that doesn’t stretch too easily like a towel, belt, or dog leash. That way when you pull on it, it doesn’t serve as a counter force, but rather an extension of your hand.

stretch pic 1 revised  WRONG- Don’t use stretchy strap to stretch

hss 2 r CORRECT – Use a towel or strap for stretching


3.) Upper trap stretch – When stretching your neck, side-bend away from the side of the neck you want to stretch– just make sure you keep that shoulder down. Otherwise, you are not effectively stretching your neck muscles. It may help to use a strap or towel to keep your shoulder down if you are having difficulty with this, or use a mirror for visual feedback.

UT stretch 2 revised WRONG -Opposing shoulder is elevated

UT stretch 1 revised CORRECT -Keep the shoulder down


4.) Gastroc stretching on a stretch board – I always notice people leaning forward from their hips. You will get a better stretch if you keep your body in a straight line, so you are just hinging from your ankles, not your hips. Think of your belt buckle coming forward as you stretch.

gastroc stretch 1 R WRONG – Don’t lean forward from the hips

gastroc stretch 2 R CORRECT – Hips stay in a straight line


5.) Squat -When performing a squat, there are several things to remember. 1.) I hate seeing someone squat with their knees coming past their toes –bad!! Make sure your knees stay over your foot/ankle when you squat down. 2.) Also make sure your knee is tracking over your feet. Don’t let your knees roll-in. When I see this, I know there is some hip/glut weakness going on. 3.) Make sure you are sticking your butt out when you squat down. I know if feels funny, but doing a squat correctly isn’t about feeling proper here, it’s about protecting your back. You should have a small arch in your low back. Stick your butt out like you are going to sit in a chair.

squat pic 1 revised     WRONG – Knees are tracking too far over toes

squat 2 w2  WRONG – Don’t let your knees fall in

squat 3 rCORRECT – Keep knees over toes/ Stick your butt out


6.) Ankle thera-band exercise – When performing a thera-band exercise for your ankle, especially when you are moving in ankle inversion/everison (toes in and toes out), make sure just your knee isn’t moving. I often see people moving their knee and rotating their whole lower leg in and out, but it’s important to isolate the ankle movement.

ankle pic 1 revised   WRONG – The knee is rolling in

ankle pic 2 revised  CORRECT – Keep your knee straight


7.) Pelvic tilts – Often a difficult exercise to understand if you are not used to engaging your deep abdominal muscles. I instruct people to think of pulling their belly button in and pressing their low back into the floor. Remember to breathe! I always teach this by telling patients to exhale as you go into your pelvic tilt. You are less likely to hold your breath this way. Also, make sure your ribcage is dropped down, sometimes people like to splay their ribcage out.

Same thing applies when doing a plank–which you should be performing your pelvic tilt in. I thought it would be easier to see this with a plank than simply a pelvic tilt.

plank 2 r WRONG -Hips up in the air

plank 1 r CORRECT -Pelvic tilt engaged


8.) Tabletop Abdominal Exercise – Any time you are performing an exercise on your back with your legs at 90/90 or tabletop position, in order to effectively work your deep abdominals, make sure your knees aren’t pulled too closely into your chest. When your knees are too far into your chest, your abdominals are not engaged.

tabletop position 2 revised WRONG -Knees are drawn too far in toward chest

tabletop position 1 revised CORRECT – Hips are at a 90* angle; abdominals on!


9.) Heel raises – Make sure your weight is between your big toe and the second toe and your ankles are straight. I often see people shifting their weight to the little toes and this makes the outside of  your ankles stressed.

heel rise 2 r WRONG -Ankles rolled outwards

heel raise 1R CORRECT – Ankles stay in a straight line


10.) Lat Pull Down or any shoulder exercise – The first step should be to make sure you shoulders are down and scapulas engaged. If not, you are not effectively working your shoulder stabilizers. When working on good posture or any shoulder pain or injury, this step is really important. Make sure your shoulder blades are set in place first –you will feel this in your upper back!

lat pull down 2 WRONG – shoulder are up, back is not engaged

lat pull down 1 revised CORRECT -scapulas are set and shoulders are down


11.) Straight leg raise – As the name indicates, keep the working knee straight. This is true whether you are performing this exercise to the front, side, or back.

A common mistake I always notice when doing your straight leg raises to the side, (or as I call them, my Jane Fonda exercise) make sure you are not flexing in the hip. Your leg will be further behind you then you think. It should form a straight line all the way down your leg. Otherwise you are overworking your psoas (hip flexor) and tensor fasciae latae (the muscle part of your IT-band). Instead, you should be targeting your gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.

slr 2 r WRONG – Hip is flexed

SLR 1 r CORRECT – Hip is in neutral


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Jessica is a licensed physical therapist currently living and working in NY.

4 thoughts on “11 Common Exercise Mistakes (that drive me crazy)”

  1. Jessica, I’m glad you gave examples to properly stretch with. The band once snapped at me and broke in half! Scary! I won’t be doing that anymore!

    Question, when we do the tabletop abdominal exercise, can you recommend a few steps further once we’ve achieved a good starting tabletop position, for instance, toe touches to the floor or crunches while maintains bent legs?

    1. Good addition Erika! Another reason not to stretch with a band is it could be dangerous! Yes, so to progress the tabletop position, you could do toe taps one leg at a time, go into ‘dying bug’ where you alternate straightening one leg and the opposite arm at the same time, or even extending both knees at the same time–as long as you maintain your pelvic tilt.

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