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Do It Right: Basic Exercises
Workout tips from certified personal trainer Stacy Berman
According to Stacy Berman, a certified personal trainer based in New York City and founder of Stacy’s Boot Camp, “When people attempt weight lifting and exercising on their own, they are at great risk for injury, which can set them back even further than where they started.”
Almost everyone knows that lifting a heavy object without bending at the knees strains the lower back or that running on an uneven surface can cause sore knees and hips, notes Berman. What most people don’t know is that even slight changes in posture and incorrect technique while performing weight-lifting movements can cause serious injuries. Here, Berman lists the top five exercises that people do not perform correctly when working out and explains how to correct your technique to avoid getting hurt.
Sit-ups: The sit-up is not only bad for the neck, but it isn’t very effective at toning the midsection, either. Many people lock their hands behind their heads and strain their necks while sitting up, causing a torque in the spine that ultimately leads to neck and back pain.
Do it right: “For a safe and effective stomach workout, do abdominal crunches instead of sit-ups,” Berman explains. “Lie on your back and position your legs with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Then, with your hands either behind your head or crossed over your chest, lift your entire torso from the belly button up to about a 45-degree angle, taking care to keep your spine aligned and your back flat against the floor.” Berman also notes that slower is better. Slowly lift and lower your torso for a better overall ab workout and less strain on your neck and back.
Squats: When done correctly, squats can be a great strength-building and toning exercise for the lower body. However, Berman says, many people overdo it when it comes to weight, which can lead to injury. “Doing a squat exercise with a barbell across your back puts you in a position to lift a great amount of weight, and many people—men especially—are prone to add too much weight too soon, causing them to default into improper position just to lift the weight.”
Do it right: Starting at a low weight is key for squats, notes Berman, because you can focus solely on your form. The proper positioning for a squat should be as follows: Stand straight with a plain barbell (no added weight) across the back of your shoulders and your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lower your body as if you are going to sit in a chair. Keep your knees in a straight line as you lower yourself and stop as your thighs create a 90-degree angle with your lower legs. Your knees should stay in line with the rest of your legs (do not let them buckle in or out) and should not at any point bend too far forward as to cover your toes. (Always keep your toes in sight to make sure your are...
Working out on weight machines? Some experts say that staying home from the gym may be better for your health.
“Life isn’t like climbing a ladder. Life is actually more like climbing a rock wall because every time you rock climb, you go up a different way,” says certified personal trainer Tony Horton, creator of P90X Extreme Home Fitness.
Horton, who has trained clients at every level, including celebrities such as Sean Connery, Rob Lowe, Tom Petty, and Shirley MacLaine, says his approach to optimal fitness has changed dramatically in recent years. His regimen includes “synergistic” movements that employ stepping, squatting, pushing, pulling, and jumping. It’s more like how you experienced activity as a kid when you ran, kicked a ball, and swung from the monkey bars.
The Way You Move
“Weight machines work isolated parts,” says Horton. “For example, when you sit on a leg extension machine, you extend your leg from the floor to out in front of you, lifting a weight and working the quadriceps.”
But that isn’t how muscles work in real life. “If you’re using weight machines, you’re not using all of those small stabilizing muscles that are so important,” says Timothy E. Hewett, PhD, director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Developing that musculature and functional posture is critical to true fitness and avoiding injury.”
In addition to the underdevelopment of stabilizer muscles, overtraining one side of the body and undertraining the opposing muscle groups is a classic problem associated with weight machine use. The result is an unbalanced body, and unbalanced muscles don’t help you accomplish everyday tasks.
“I was at the airport watching people with their luggage,” says Horton. “Most of them were grunting and groaning, obviously compromised and setting themselves up for injury, and they really didn’t have the strength to move their bags.”
Exercise that empowers you in real life is real fitness. Being able to get on a weight machine and leg press like Pat Robertson isn’t true strength. But being able to get through the airport, play games with children, and have enough stamina to clean your house is. Many researchers, trainers, and surgeons have concluded that weight machines don’t strengthen the body properly and can lead to serious injuries. That’s why most professional athletes no longer use nautilus machines. Horton was recently invited to visit the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL team can certainly afford the sleekest, newest machines, but its conditioning coach had the guys doing Horton’s functional fitness program instead.
Functional workouts bring faster results. “One functional move can work the entire body from the rib cage down your glutes, your hamstrings, your calves, and your quadriceps, instead of one or two muscle...
New Flavors for Your Fitness Routine
"Just like tasty recipes, spice is nice. Spicing up your fitness routine keeps you interested, works muscles in a fresh way, and helps to nourish a good attitude by providing some variety,” says Deanna Boneck, a personal trainer based in Springfield, Missouri. “One of the main reasons people quit working out is because they get bored. The secret to staying in the game is to spice things up, [and] you can't become stronger by doing the same routine.”