Mistakes you’re making in your at-home workout and what to do instead
We are all working out from home for the foreseeable, until our beloved gyms are allowed to reopen. And many now say that living room workouts will continue to feature, at least partially, in their exercise regimes long after lockdown ends.
But the biggest downside of doing it all at home is the lack of a qualified instructor to correct your form and ensure you’re doing things safely, which could, at best, lead to less effective workouts, at worst, potential injury.
Time to nail the basics. So we asked some of our favourite London fitness trainers about the most common mistakes they see in the studio and exactly how to avoid them.
Skipping the warm-up
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!” says Maiken Skoie Brustad (@ptmaiken), who trains at Blok, Third Space and Rumble Gym. “A big mistake many people make these days, especially while training from home, is skipping the warm-up and cool-down process. They either don’t do it or they don’t think it’s important when bodyweight training. Paying attention to a warm up is extremely important before any type of training. Always include a 3-5 minute mobility session and 1-2 minutes to get the heart rate up.”
Fiit trainer Charlotte Holmes meanwhile recommends glute activation, specifically, before a workout: “Our glutes (butt muscles) are lazy but they’re a big useful muscle group too so learning how to fire them up and use them to help facilitate other muscles through movement as much as possible is a good thing to learn.”
Charlotte’s top glute activation exercises are:
Bridge – lying on your back, bend knees and place feet flat on the floor in front of sit bones. Inhale, press down into heels and lift hips up to the sky. Exhale to release back down to the ground. Repeat for three to four breaths
Skydiver – come to lie on your front, take your feet hip-distance apart and your elbows wide. Make a cushion for your forehead with your hands. bend your knees and draw your heels to touch, flexing your ankles. Lift your heels to the sky, floating your knees from the ground.
Failing to engage your core
Heloise Nangle, COO and trainer at Core Collective (@heloisenangle), says: “Ab ‘experts’ have been circulating Instagram since the dawn of time, and they regularly do more damage than good. People end up carrying out the exercises improperly – I often find that core movements are practised without actual engagement of the correct muscles in question.
“Let’s take the hollow body hold – the ultimate ab exercise in my opinion! Throughout the movement your lower back needs to be compressed into the floor and hips tucked under. As soon as your lower back starts to form a slight arch, or there is space between your lower back and the floor, you have lost that engagement and the exercise renders redundant. You won’t be working your abs – just straining your back.
“Take it slowly and build up your positioning. It’s easy to make this movement easier or harder simply by raising or lowering the positioning of your legs and start by just aiming for 20 secs at a time. You’ll know when you hit that biting point as you’ll get that lower abdominal ab shake!
“The same principle applies to the deadbug – as you lower each leg in turn that back needs to stay glued to the floor. And remember it’s not about speed – you can get far more out of an exercise by performing it with control and with the correct mind/ muscle engagement,” Heloise adds.
Using random objects to train with
Bradley Simmonds, who is hosting daily live HIIT and strength workouts on his Instagram account @bradleysimmonds for which thousands tune in each day, advises being cautious about introducing random household objects into your workout, for resistance, for example.
“I’ve seen lots of people at the minute using objects which are quite awkward, a hoover for a weight, for example, or a broom for a pull up bar, objects that are not balanced or stable and can cause injuries if used in a workout. I’d be wary of this and definitely invest in proper equipment if you can.
“Stick to the basics and follow people on Instagram who you can trust for workout inspiration who will properly talk you through the correct form of each move.”
High bums in plank
Krissy Cela, founder of the Tone & Sculpt app, says: “The exercise I most commonly see going wrong is the plank – it looks simple, but believe me, it’s a challenge to perfect and the correct form can do wonders for your body and exercise routine.
“The plank is a full-body exercise that should work your entire core, including your back, but people often mistakenly either stick their bum in the air or let their hips sink – both can cause back pain – and drop their heads to look straight down almost at their toes, hunching their shoulders up towards their ears which puts a lot of pressure on your neck and can also cause pain.”
“The correct way is to make sure you brace your core, ensure your head, neck and back are all in alignment with each other, forming a straight line. Roll your shoulder blades back as if you are rolling them into their ‘back pockets’ to release any pressure from your neck,” Cela explains.
High elbows in a press up
Fiit Trainer Lawrence Price says he sees one mistake in particular when it comes to the press up: “The most common mistake I observe is the positioning of the elbows. This may not seem like an important issue, as training the pecs and triceps is the goal, but the role of the lats (the large muscles of the back) plays a lead role in stabilising the shoulder joint, improving the efficiency of the press and reducing chances of injury. If the lats are not engaged and the elbows are allowed to flap high up in line with the shoulders there is potential for a strain to occur.
“Instead keep your elbows close to the ribs at a 45* angle by engaging the lats.”
Arching your back in a squat
The squat is another exercise commonly done incorrectly, according to Maiken. “If you do the squat correctly it can help you a long way in your home workout routine. In the photo above you can see that I’m looking down and pushing my knees over my toes which adds stress on the joints. I’m also arching my back.
“Instead, hinge down from your hips, like you have a chair behind you. Look straight ahead and keep your back straight with your knees also straight above the toes. It’s the same form for squat jumps, sit back with your bum and land with both feet shoulder width apart.”
Overloading the lunge
“A simple mistake when performing a lunge is to allow the load of the movement to drift forward into the ball of the foot in the leading leg – overloading the front knee,” says Lawrence. “This can cause aggravation around the front of the knee as well as weakening the overall movement by reducing the function of the glutes. If you already have tight quads (they tend to work a lot) then this will only serve to exacerbate the issue.”
“It ‘s far better to allow the load to sit in the midfoot in order to better preserve the leading knee whilst driving off with more muscle recruitment coming from the hip (glutes). This will provide you with more strength/power as well as be better for knee health in general. Secondly, this mistake is often combined with too much ‘lean back’ causing extension and compression issues in the lower back as the subject tries their best to stay upright…but overcompensates and leans back too much. Instead try to position the centre of mass over the leading hip, where the position of strength is, this will require a slight forward lean instead.
Overdoing it on burpees
“Working out is not all about burpees!” says Core Collective’s Heloise. “HIIT won’t necessarily get you the results you’re looking for. In fact, correct time under tension and real control of the muscle groups is far more important, and can garner far better results than hammering yourself constantly through plyometrics (lots of jumping).
“You will strengthen and sculpt your body more from slowing down the movements and focusing on activating the muscle groups correctly. This in turn leads to better performance when also lifting weights – the muscles fire up in the correct way, instead of imbalances being hidden until an injury occurs.
“Raising your heart rate is of course important, but you can also do that through a short, sharp ‘burn’ at the beginning or end of your workout. I’m certainly not against jump lunges/burpees/tuck jumps, but it is important not to just focus on this aspect. I like to add them in as a finisher at the end of my session and keep the main body of the workout as a time to work on my strength and movement patterns through control and that time under tension.”
Five movements to try that give bang for their buck:
1. Tempo press up – count to 3 or 4 on the way down and then explode back up. Wrap those elbows in.
2. Sumo squat to narrow squat with triple pulse at the bottom of each position – hitting those inner thighs, quads and glutes – the burn is real.
3. Single leg deadlift – epic for balance/ control of the muscle groups, activating glutes and working hamstrings.
4. Crab single leg hip thrust – so important to open up those shoulders if you sit at a desk all day and then go and just perform a load of press ups – you will end up with rounded shoulders and poor posture.
5. Lateral bear crawl with shoulder tap – core, shoulders and your balance get a great workout here. Keep hips tucked under.
Skipping rest days
Finally, Fiit trainer Charlotte Holmes says: “All this working out people seem to be doing online creates panic and we suddenly think if we’re not also doing a HIIT session a day then we’re not doing enough. We don’t take enough time out to let our body rest and recover, which eventually leads to injury through poor form, lack of stability in joints due to tight muscles. So rest more, have a day off where you do very little other than perhaps some mobilisation or a walk. Add some yoga into your weekly (or daily) schedule if you can and your mobility and mental health will come on leaps and bounds.”