7 Upper-Body Exercises You May Be Doing Wrong — and What to do Instead

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When you swap your barbell curl for a biceps curl, focus on keeping your elbows tight to your sides.
Image Credit: LaylaBird/E+/GettyImages

Like diamonds and dark chocolate, time is precious — it's something you don't want to waste. And if you're devoting an entire hour of your day to exercise, you want to make the most of your workout.


But if you're doing your exercises with poor form, you probably aren't making the most of your training time. Learn which exercises you may be doing wrong and which moves may be more time-efficient instead.

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Exercises for Your Shoulders

1. Lateral Raise

Lateral raises aren't a bad exercise per se, but they do increase your risk of shoulder impingement, especially if you lack mobility in your shoulders, according to K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, author of ​Fitness Hacks for Over 50.

Instead:​ Swap this move with a shoulder scaption, Fetters says. This exercise will work the same muscles, while protecting your rotator cuff.

2. Behind-the-Neck Shoulder Press

Pressing weights behind your head puts extra tension on your neck and shoulders, increasing your risk of injury, Fetters says. Plus, this move requires quite a bit mobility to perform properly, which many people don't have.


Instead:​ There's very little difference between a behind-the-neck shoulder press and standard shoulder press. Fetters suggests you opt for the safer option and stick with a standard shoulder press.

Learn which shoulder exercises you may be doing wrong— and which moves to try instead.

Exercises for Your Chest

1. Dumbbell Chest Fly

Especially if you use weights that are too heavy, the dumbbell chest fly is pretty easy to mess up. And if you don't create a wide enough arc with the weights, you won't get the full benefits of the exercise, says Prince Brathwaite, owner of Trooper Fitness in New York City.


Instead:​ A resistance band chest fly will fire up your pecs, while ensuring the entire muscle group is activated during the rest of your workout.

2. Classic Push-Up

When you perform a push-up with your elbows out too wide or higher than your shoulder joint, you put a lot of strain on your upper body, Brathwaite says.



Jutting your head forward is another common error Brathwaite sees. This restricts your ability to drop chest-to-flloor, which is the correct form for the exercise.

Instead:​ If you struggle with your push-up form, you can try a bench press instead. But make sure to get your form down before you add weight.

Learn which chest exercises you may be doing wrong— and which moves to try instead.

Exercises for Your Biceps

1. Barbell Biceps Curl

Using the momentum of the barbell is one common mistake Samuel Chan, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York, sees. This causes the elbows to shift away from your sides, making this move way less effective.


Failing to use a full range of motion with the barbell is another frequent error. "The end ranges of any motion are typically the weakest, so don't simply work mid-range and perform half curls," says Chan.

Instead:​ A standing dumbbell curl will work your biceps while reducing the chance of making some of the more common errors.

Learn which biceps exercises you may be doing wrong— and which moves to try instead.

Exercises for Your Triceps

1. Triceps Dip

One of the riskiest triceps exercises is definitely the dip, according to Kat Wiersum, interval instructor at Studio Three in Chicago. Most people don't have the shoulder mobility necessary to d the move properly, putting their joint in a compromised position.


Instead:​ A triceps push-up is the way to go, Wiersum says. When you do this move, stay lifted and avoid collapsing into your chest.

2. Overhead Triceps Press

Pressing a dumbbell above and behind your head can be an injury risk to your neck and shoulders, Caleb Backe, CPT, fitness expert for Maple Holistics, says. Choosing a weight that's too heavy for your fitness level will make this exercise especially tricky, too.

Instead:​ Go with a triceps push-up, Backe says. Focus on your form and keep control as you perform this alternative.

Learn which triceps exercises you may be doing wrong— and which moves to try instead.