Six Weightlifting Mistakes to Avoid

I talk about proper form and injury prevention so often that my Twitter friend Marquis even commented on this:

Marquis is right – I see proper form and injury prevention as the most important aspect of lifting weights. Injuries are extremely common and there are a lot of ways to get injured. Injuries also prevent us from doing what we love and from reaching our goals, which is frustrating and heartbreaking.

So it’s worth your time to become an expert at good form and listening to your body. Here are just a few things to know in your quest for weightlifting bliss:

  • Most injuries occur during rotational movements (the transverse plane), because this is the least-used plane of motion and we often don’t train in it. To avoid injury, use care when reaching or throwing out of your normal range of motion, including twisting motions. Work on neuromuscular control by training in this plane of motion (try exercises such as the cable wood chop or wood chop medicine ball throw). But please use proper form (of course).
  • Arching your lower back stresses your back. If you arch your back during squats or other movements, this may be both caused by muscle imbalances and may cause them. You may even walk around with an anterior pelvic tilt (arched low back) because you sit all day and your hip flexors are tight.Foam roll and stretch your hip flexors and your back frequently to prevent these muscles from taking over where they shouldn’t. And strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and core to support your low back.
  • Elevating/protracting your shoulders during exercises causes stress on your shoulders. Protracting means allowing them to rotate forward, or letting them round. Walking around with rounded shoulders because you sit at a computer all day can cause muscle imbalances. And muscle imbalances cause injury. Keep your shoulders back and down during all exercises, particularly most shoulder and back exercises. And work on your posture to avoid rounding your shoulders.
  • Letting your knees move inward or outward during exercises causes stress on your knees. Don’t let your knees move side to side when you’re squatting – train them to track with your feet and stay stable. Strengthen your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings with exercises such as leg extensions, wall sits, squats, and tube walking.
  • A head position that’s unnatural, strained, or too far forward is asking for trouble. For most any weightlifting exercise, you should keep your head in a neutral position. That means your face should follow your sternum; your neck should be in line with your spine.You need to think about where your head is and train your neck muscles and upper trapezius to be in the right place. The cost of not doing so is straining your neck, back, shoulders – and muscle imbalances. Remember: Muscle imbalances cause overcompensations, which can cause injuries.
  • Continuing to do something when it’s painful is all too common. We all know that “someone” who continued to exercise despite having annoying or even excruciating pain. We heard that person say they were waiting to see if it would get better. Then we watched that person go to the doctor well after they should have.Many times, the longer you wait, the more involved and expensive the treatment will be. Instead of anti-inflammatory medication it will be physical therapy. Instead of physical therapy it will be surgery. Just go.

I could add more, such as not resting enough (can you think of others?), but you get the idea. Preventing injury is the key to a long, happy fitness life. We know how badly you want to meet your goals or get to the gym. So please… pay attention.

This article originally appeared on

12 thoughts on “Six Weightlifting Mistakes to Avoid

  1. About 3 years ago a caught a rotator cuff injury (yes, I caught it). I can’t remember the precise instance – just know it started hurting. I’m pretty dang sure it was from lifting too much weight coupled with bad form at some point. Took me over a year to recover the cheap way (aka, without a doctor or PT), and even though I’m stronger and smarter now, I am sooo careful with that kinda stuff. I think rotator cuff strengthening should be part of everyone’s fitness plans. Maybe you could do a post on that. (hinty- hint)


    • @Ndem– Indeed, and I would add a cool down as well.

      @Josie– Catching rotator cuff injuries is so common. And it does take a long time to recover. It’s so easy to do lat pulldowns, for example, with your shoulders up and forward, and doing this alone can cause rotator cuffs to complain. I’m sooo glad you were able to fix it yourself. If you catch it in time, you really can do this! I gave you a heads up about my rotator cuff post and added a link to my post. Good idea! (

      @Lisa– Send me a video of yourself at a side view doing 10 or so squats 🙂


  2. Great tips! “neutral” head, “shoulders down and back”, mindful/cautious rotations, aligned knees, “neutral back” – LOVE THESE! It keeps us strong and healthy AND forces core engagement with every move IMO.

    do you know I love the cross body chop with the cable? or ball? or whatever? I do mine with a side lunge – is that how you do yours? In my opinion, one of the BEST full body, functional, compound moves there is.

    Sigh…. when my cold goes away, I’m gonna do some!


    • @Josie– Sure! I’m all about stretching so glad to hear that!

      @Jen– I’m guilty too. I only work each muscle group once a week though, so I’m getting away with lifting heavy most weeks 🙂


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