Exercising the wrong way can put a person out of commission for a long time. Here are tips from Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopedic spine surgeon, on doing popular exercises the right way.
Elliptical machine: This is a popular machine because it's easy to read while working out. But that can cause problems. Concentrating on a book can take concentration away from form. And to read, some people jut their chins forward into a "swan" position that can cause pinched nerves in the neck. It's also not a good idea to lean forward on the machine and rest weight on the handrails — tempting, especially as you get tired. Aim for an upright position, Melamed said.
Bench presses: Melamed said people tend to arch their back on weight benches, more so as they tire or as they increase the weight. That can lead to a torn annulus, the tissue that protects the disks in the spine. One way to prevent that is to raise the legs into tabletop position, keeping your back flat on the bench. Improper weightlifting can cause sciatic pain, bulging disks and ligament sprains, he said. He recommended doing weight work at the end of a workout, when you are somewhat tired and likely to use lighter weights. "It's about having good form, and also you are warmed up so you're less likely to get hurt."
Kettle bells: These metal weights with handles have become popular in gyms, and they provide a great workout — used properly. Melamed said he sees patients who get hurt when they swing the kettle bell too forcefully or too high, or when they try to hold too much weight too far away from their torsos. Again, the risk is torn tissue around the disks, as well as torn muscles and herniated disks. Some common exercises require jumping with the kettle bell. It's important to land on the balls of the feet — "like a cat" — and with the knees behind the toes to avoid knee injuries such as tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), he said. Try to make the jumps the same each time, and engage the abdomen and buttock muscles, he said.
Los Angeles Times