The 6 Most Dangerous Workout Moves

Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul

1. The Jump Where You Land Like a Girl

The move: Box jumps (hopping up and down with both feet on platforms of various heights)

The risk: These trendy CrossFit moves (now coming to a gym near you) can be a great way to build power, says Vonda Wright, MD, a Pittsburgh-based orthopedic surgeon who specializes in injury prevention and mobility. However, they're notorious for causing injuries to the knee or Achilles tendon. Landing properly requires excellent form, and that can be tough to maintain when you're doing several in a row, says Wright. Most men land with their butt sticking out and their knees facing forward and deeply bent, which absorbs impact. But, Wright says, women tend to land with their legs straighter and their knees closer together, which can be hard on the joints (it could even cause a ruptured ACL).

The fix: Wright says to start with standing broad jumps until you perfect your form and are able to land without wobbling. Increase the height very gradually, and consider stepping down to the ground instead of jumping.

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2. The Hand Position You Learned to Do Wrong in Grade School

The move: Bench presses

The risk: These strengthen the shoulders, arms and chest, but Wright says she often sees people positioning their hands too far apart on the bar. The reason, she says, is that many of us started doing push-ups in PE class (usually for the President's Physical Fitness Challenge) with an exaggerated wide grip, and we've continued to use this position when doing upper-body work. This choice puts more emphasis on the chest and shoulders, and while it may be fine for a couple of push-ups, Wright says that wide-grip bench presses put stress on the soft tissue of the front shoulder and can cause a tear in your rotator cuff.

The fix: When doing bench presses, Wright says, your hands should be directly over your shoulders. Tell your workout partner (you always have a spotter for these, right?) to keep an eye on your arms: Elbows should be pulled down to your ribcage and not sticking out like chicken wings.

3. The Dance Move That Can Get a Little Too Dramatic

The move: Drop to one knee (a sudden fall from standing to kneeling, popular in contemporary dance fitness classes)

The risk: The cartilage around the knee is extremely pressure-sensitive, explains Wright. "If a 130-pound person comes down like dead weight directly on the knee, the pressure can permanently damage the kneecap."

The fix: Professional dancers know how to fall in a controlled way so that their knees don't even touch the ground. "If the right knee is coming down, most of the weight should be on your left quad and hamstring," says Simone De La Rue, a professional-dancer-turned-fitness-expert and creator of Body By Simone. "Use your core to keep your balance." If you don't have the core and quad strength to prevent your knee from slamming down, De La Rue says to only bend into a high lunge instead of a squat. "Create the drama by throwing your arms and head down."

4. The Ab Exercise That Can Be a Real Pain

The move: Bending sideways with dumbbells

The risk: Wright often sees people head straight for the 10- or 15-pound weights when doing this move for the first time. Unless your obliques are already strong, she says, you're likely to compensate by hyperextending your back (and the lower back tends to be one of the most injury-prone parts of the body).

The fix: Wright has patients put their hands on their hips and tells them to tense up like they're about to get a punch in the gut. Now that you can feel the muscles you're trying to work, lean to one side without leaning forward or backward. "Focus on isolating and working these muscles with just your body weight for resistance," she says. There are also plenty of other ways to work your obliques without weights.

5. The Common Exercise That Defeats Even Military Troops

The move: Power cleans (bodybuilder barbell lifts)

The risk: These are pretty standard in boot-camp classes, but they're very technical and require the precision (if not the strength) of an Olympic weight lifter. The military recently noted a surprising number of injuries from power cleans in CrossFit, Gym Jones Insanity and P90X sessions, resulting in lost duty time, medical treatment and rehab.

The fix: Try power cleans only under the supervision of a professional trainer or coach, who can scrutinize your form and help you select the appropriate weight. Instead, you can work your legs and hips with basic squats while holding a barbell across your shoulders, says Shirley Archer, a certified fitness expert and the author of Weight Training for Dummies. To work the upper body, she says that a stationary overhead press, in which you lift the bar from the shoulders to the ceiling, is safer than lifting it from the floor to the chest and then to the ceiling. (But that move also has risks--see below.)

6. The Lift That Throws People Off

The move: Overhead lifts

The risk: Anytime you lift a heavy weight over your head, you risk hurting your back, says Stephania Bell, a physical therapist and ESPN sports injury analyst. A common mistake is changing posture and arching the back to gain momentum. "If you're swaying back and forth, the weight is too heavy," Bell says.

The fix: Tighten your abs to control your posture, says Bell, and engage your leg muscles as well as your arms and core. Keep in mind that most injuries happen when the body is tired. That's why you might want to think twice before doing weight moves in an indoor cycling class, where balance and form are key. "Even lifting light weights while riding can put your lower back at risk," says Josh Taylor, an international master Spinning instructor. He suggests pushing yourself to the max during your cardio routine and saving the weights until you get off the bike.

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