Regular exercise is key to maintaining your independence as you age, study after study has shown. “Everyone physically declines with age, but exercise is the best fountain of youth there is,” says Miriam C. Morey, Ph.D., co-director of the Older Americans Independence Center at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.
But watch your form, especially at age 50 and up. Sloppy style could be harmful or even turn your fitness sessions into a waste of time. Here are three common exercise mistakes and how you can easily fix them.
1. The straight-knee lift
A common scenario: You’re taking a strength-training class or using free weights at the gym. To pick up barbells or a body bar, you bend at your waist or back and risk straining your back.
Form fix: Make your legs do some of the work instead. Go ahead and bend forward at your waist, but bend your knees slightly when lifting weights or picking up heavy objects in general.
2. The knee-deep lunge
Lunges can strengthen your quadriceps (front of your thighs) and your rear end. Getting down so low, though, that your knee (and your body weight) extends past your toes can overstretch this delicate joint.
That increases the risk of injury, says Kenneth Manning, an exercise physiologist with the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center VA Medical Center at Duke University School of Medicine.
Form fix: Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Step one leg backward until the thigh on your forward leg is parallel to the ground, with knees aligned with your toes. Your back knee should be close to the floor. Push off with your front leg and drive your heel into the ground to return to the starting position. Repeat on the other leg.
3. The pointy plank
Holding a standard plank is a great way to strengthen your core—if your torso is straight with your head in line with your spine. But many make the mistake of lifting their rear ends. “That does nothing for your core,” Morey says.
Form fix: Don’t push your plank. Hold it only as long as you can maintain proper form, even if it’s only for 10 seconds. Then lower your body back down to the floor and repeat. Gradually work your way up to holding your plank for a minute or so.