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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

We help you correct the 10 most common causes of aches and strains

BicepCurls

POORLY PERFORMED MOVES can result in aches, pains and strains. To get toned without feeling sore, check your technique and follow our simple exercise fixes.

1 TAKE THE STRAIN – BICEP CURL USING WEIGHTS

Works The upper arms
The mistake Trying to lift too heavy a weight, which takes the focus from the biceps and on to the shoulders.
Get it right ‘For general strength training, pick a weight with which you feel comfortable performing 15–25 reps fully and slowly without losing control,’ says personal trainer Ruth Stone. ‘The last few reps should feel like real work, but shouldn’t be so tough that you compromise posture or technique. Make sure your back is stable and your shoulders are relaxed. Always confine the movement to the elbows and make sure you go from full extension to full flex every time. Also, avoid pushing your elbows in at the waist – this will transfer the weight from the arms to the torso.’

bent-over-rows

2 STRAIGHTEN THE SPINE – BENT OVER ROW, USING WEIGHTS

Works The biceps and all the major muscles of the upper back
The mistake Hunching your back forward while straining against too heavy a weight.
Get it right ‘Keeping the long line of the spine is imperative here, and engaging the stomach muscles, as you do for the plank, helps you do this,’ says Ruth. ‘The chest should be “open” throughout – visualise your shoulder blades as two pages of a book closing towards the spine to achieve what’s needed.’

plank

3 KEEP YOUR WHOLE BODY IN LINE – THE PLANK

Works Muscles through the body, especially abdominal and back muscles
The mistake Letting your body sag, which puts stress on the lower back.
Get it right ‘The body needs to be kept straight, with taught abdominal muscles and glutes,’ says Ruth. ‘If you can do this in front of a mirror, it helps. You want to avoid a banana-shape body – there should be a straight line running from your shoulders, through your hips, to the knees and on to the ankles. I always advise participants to visualise themselves in swimwear and someone taking a picture of them. Invariably, they engage their core and can achieve better posture and endurance as a result.’

squats

4 TAKE A BROADER STANCE – SQUAT

Works Leg muscles, including, quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs) and glutes (buttocks)
The mistake Poor posture puts too much strain on the lower back and not enough emphasis on the legs.
Get it right ‘Ensure your heels remain rooted and your spine keeps its length,’ says Ruth. ‘The bend should come from the knees and there should be a natural flex of the hips to keep you balanced as you squat. If you’re new to squats, I’d advise keeping your legs wider apart to begin with, gradually working towards hip distance between the feet as your technique improves.’

lat-pull-down

5 PULL IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION – LAT PULL-DOWN

Works The muscles in your back and upper arms
The mistake Pulling the bar behind the neck, which puts a heavy load on your spine instead of working your muscles.
Get it right ‘The bar should be pulled to the front of the body and level with the chin,’ says Ruth. ‘And try to keep your head up. Be careful with your weight selection and ensure you have as much control on the way up as you do on the way down. Aim for slow, continuous movement to initiate greater control and better results.’

Take your time. Learning correct techniques will help you get results faster

chest-press

6 KEEP IT CLOSE TO YOUR CHEST – CHEST PRESS

Works Pectoral chest muscles
The mistake Failing to keep the shoulders back, and squeezing the chest muscles together when bringing the weights in.
Get it right ‘Imagine your shoulder blades are the hinge and your arms the doors. So the hinges stay still in space while the door moves. If you squeeze the shoulders you’re narrowing the door frame, which is what you want to avoid,’ says Ruth. ‘Concentrate on keeping your shoulders back, while resisting the temptation to punch out with your arms – ensure you really push from your pecs. Also, keep your elbow joints soft when the arms are long because if you lock them, the load will leave the muscle and go to the joint.’

lunge

7 GET THE ANGLE RIGHT – LUNGE

Works All the major muscles in your lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes
The mistake Putting your knee over your toe, with the pressure on the ball of your foot, which will make you unbalanced and prone to injury.
Get it right ‘As with the plank, a mirror is sanity, not vanity,’ says Ruth. ‘It’s best to start in the low position to get your footing right: both knees should be at a 90° angle, with the front one positioned over the heel and the back one under the hip. As you advance the exercise, you can work smarter by peeling the toes of the front foot off the floor.’

crunches

8 SLOWLY DOES IT – CRUNCH

Works The abs
The mistake Straining with your neck as you curl up.
Get it right ‘Speed is more important than range here, so keep it slow and low to avoid putting strain on your neck,’ says Ruth. ‘Watch out for rounding the shoulders and keep your elbows level with your ears (don’t bring them forward). Try to exhale through the mouth as you lift and inhale through the nose as you lower. Also, be wary of any lightness or lifting in the legs – this is an indication your hips are assisting.’

leg-press

9 DON’T GO TOO FAR – LEG PRESS

Works Leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes)
The mistake Setting the seat in the wrong position, so you go ‘too deep’, with the danger of putting too much stress on the lower back and locking your legs as you come back up.
Get it right ‘Bending to a 90° angle at the knee is adequate here – you should keep the knees aligned with the heels,’ says Ruth. ‘If you’re guilty of locking your knees when your legs are extended, try slowing the movement down and stopping with the legs just shy of full extension.’

leg-lifts

10 FOCUS ON THE RIGHT MUSCLES – LEG LIFT

Works Muscles in the hips
The mistake Thinking you’re working your abs when you’re meant to be working your hip flexors.
Get it right ‘This one is not so much about technique as muscle focus,’ says Ruth. ‘If you want to strengthen the hips, stick with it, but if you’re looking to work out your core (abdominal area), try leg extensions instead. Lie on the floor with your feet up and knees bent at 90°, then progress to extending your legs away from you and bringing them back to the start position.’