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Three Exercises You're Probably Doing Wrong

Box Jump

Getting a workout in is half the battle. But to make sure you get the best results, you've got to do exercises with proper form. Doing things wrong not only slows your progress, it can lead to injury. Here are three of the more common exercises I see people doing wrong, and how to do them correctly.

Box Jumps

Box jumps have become enormously popular since CrossFit started including them so often in their "Workouts of the Day." Here's how they work.

Start with your feet just a little wider than hip-width apart. Point your toes forward, bend at the knee and lower your butt, pushing back as if you're about to sit down on a chair. Your arms should be hanging by your hips with your palms facing back.

Swing your arms up overhead as you stand up, rising up on your toes and jumping straight up off the floor onto a stool or box. If you're doing them properly, when you land on the box your hips are back and your weight is behind your heels. What happens next is where the trouble starts.

Do NOT jump back off the box! In order to stay balanced, most people who jump backward off the box will land on their toes, with their weight forward. In a typical round of box jumps, you're expected to do at least 20, or as many as you can complete in a minute. Every time you jump back off the box you're stretching your Achilles tendon and risking a tear.

The goal of exercise is to get stronger, not end up in surgery. Instead of JUMPING back, STEP back down. You won't be able to do as many in a minute, but you'll still get a good workout and it's far safer.

Box Jump Variation

For those of you not comfortable with jumping up on a box, you can do the same movement without the jump. It's called a total-body extension. When you swing your arms forward, rise up on your toes and then immediately return to the start position. Your feet never leave the ground.

Seated Rows

Seated rows have been around for decades, but many people who do them engage the wrong muscles. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people move like they're on a rowing machine, swinging their body wildly back and forth.

There are two big problems with that. Instead of keeping your lower back rigid and protected, you're moving it while you exercise and risking injury. Leaning back also shortens the range of motion for your arms, which makes it easier to move the weight.

Start by thinking about what muscles the exercise is intended to strengthen. It's primarily an upper back exercise, with your legs and arms used to stabilize your body.

Sit up straight, with your mid-section tilted slightly back. Your arms start out in front of you holding the band or cable. Keep your back and mid-section locked in place, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the band or cable right into your belly-button. Then slowly release and return to the starting position. Keep your shoulders down (don't shrug) and your torso rigid.

Seated Rows

Seated Row Alternative

An alternative to the barbell row is an inverted row with a TRX or suspension trainer. You grab hold of the handles and keep your body in a plank position. Lean back until your arms are extended, then carefully pull yourself back up again. If you want to make it more difficult, walk closer to the anchor. To make it easier, walk farther away from the anchor.

Mountain Climber Mountain Climber

The mountain climber is designed to target and strengthen your core. Unfortunately many instructors use it as a conditioning drill, while challenging you to perform as many reps as possible in a limited amount of time. Doing mountain climbers quickly is extremely difficult. If you don't maintain proper form, you can easily strain your spine and put yourself at risk of back injury.

The key is to slow it down. Start with your body positioned like you're about to do a pushup, with your body rigid and your arms straight. Tighten your core and keep it that way for the entire exercise.

Lift one foot off the ground and move that knee as close to your chest as possible. Touch the floor with your foot and return it to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg. Go back and forth between legs until you can eventually do 30 reps total. Keep your body in a plank position and try to minimize rotation of your lower back. Don't move fast, concentrate on moving correctly.

Mountain Climber Variation

A variation to try is the cross-body mountain climber. Virtually the same movement, but instead of bringing your knee up to your chest, you raise your right knee to your left elbow and then your left knee to your right elbow.

Exercising is about getting and staying in shape. Follow proper form and you'll get there faster, with less risk of injury.

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4/6/2014