4 Exercises You’re Doing Wrong at the Gym

Philly trainer Brian Maher is sharing the cold, hard truth. Gym rats, listen up!

As a person whose career is built on correcting exercise form, it’s hard for me to go to the gym and not notice a few (or few dozen) people doing common exercises incorrectly. Using incorrect form wastes time and energy, and can drastically increase your chances of injury.  I usually notice one of three culprits: you’re not concentrating, you’re using too much weight, or you have no idea how to do the exercise correctly to begin with.

Allow me to take this opportunity to clear a few things up. Here are four moves I see people do wrong all the time, plus tips for how to make sure you’re doing ’em right.


What’s wrong: When done correctly, the lunge can be a great exercise to work your quads, hamstrings and glutes. When performed incorrectly, it can be a painful exercise that’s doing more harm than good. What most gym-goers get wrong is the size of the step on the lunge. Their step is way too short and they lean forward, causing their knee to go over the toes. This can cause a tremendous amount of pain in the knee.

How to fix it: Always keep your knees behind your toes when doing any leg-bending exercise and avoid leaning forward. Start with a light weight until you get the form down perfectly, then increase as needed.


What’s wrong: The push-up is the probably the most well-known resistance-training exercise on earth. Everyone can identify it by name and almost everyone knows how many they can do. But that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it right. When done correctly, the push up works wonders on the chest, triceps and shoulders; done incorrectly, it can cause shoulder pain. The biggest mistakes are usually sagging hips, which takes resistance off the arms and compromises the position of the spine, and hands positioned too far forward, putting strain on the shoulder joint and decreasing your range of motion.

How to fix it: When doing a regular push-up, it’s very important to keep your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles; if you’re doing a modified version, keep your body in a straight line from your head to knees. Focusing on staying straight will keep your hips from sagging. Your hands should be even with your chest and aligned with your shoulders.


What’s wrong: Same deal as with push-ups: everyone knows this move, but few do it correctly. We’ve all seen the infomercials for ab products that show people attempting to do crunches while having pain in the neck and back. It’s not the crunches’ fault—it’s the cruncher. The biggest mistake you can make here is bending the neck and pulling the it upward.

How to fix it: When lying on the ground, pick a spot on the ceiling directly above you. With your neck straight and in a neutral position, keep your eyes on the spot and contract your abs to lift your back and shoulders off the ground. Now you’ll start to feel it in the abs and not in the neck and back.

Bench Press

What’s wrong: I noted earlier that some exercises are done incorrectly due too much weight—the bench press is definitely one of them. The biggest mistake I see is people using too much weight and slamming the barbell against their chest. While it may be impressive to have those big 45-pound plates on the bar, you’re not doing much to improve the strength in your chest, triceps or shoulders. Just like with every exercise, lowering the weight (negative or eccentric movement) is just as important as pushing it (positive or concentric movement). You might not realize it, but it takes muscle to be able to slowly control the weight on the way back down. By slamming the bar against your chest, you’re only getting half the benefit from this exercise.

How to fix it: Try putting your ego aside (there, I said it) and decreasing the weight. With less weight on the bar, lower the weight slowly and deliberately.

>> What about you? Do you see any exercises performed incorrectly at the gym that just make you cringe? Share in the comments.


Brian Maher is a personal trainer in Center City Philadelphia who specializes in weight loss and nutritional counseling.  He is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a company offering convenient in-home personal training packages to busy individuals looking to improve their fitness levels. To learn more about Brian and his services, visit www.phillypersonaltraining.com.