Can different exercise technique lead to injury?

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Do you find yourself overthinking how you move in your day-to-day life? Maybe when you go to pick up something off the ground or when you’re doing an exercise in the gym. If you are concerned about performing an exercise incorrectly and hurting yourself, then you’re not alone. A common misconception is that if we don’t execute an exercise or movement with the right technique that it’s unsafe and can cause injury.

Despite many claims, there is very little evidence that tells us what movements, tasks, or activities are bad, dangerous, harmful, or dysfunctional. As clinicians, we do not have x-ray vision, and research shows that we have poor accuracy when it comes to visually assessing movement and injury risk during deadlifts and squats (Falk etal. 2021). So, when it comes to observing and assessing someone’s movement quality, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This simply means that whilst an exercise can look ugly and feel awkward for one person, it can look and feel great to another, and vice versa. So rather than worrying about if you’re doing an exercise with the right technique, just ask yourself, does it feel comfortable, natural, and efficient to you.

Human movement is highly complex and variable due to many factors. It can be influenced by numerous things, such as, but not limited to:

1.    Individual factors – the person's age, anatomy, gender, skill level, psychological factors etc.

Because of variations in human anatomy from person to person, we cannot all move the same. For example, the length of someone’s femur and hip joint geometry will affect how an individual squats (Kristiansen et al. 2019).

2.    The task – the load, intensity, speed, and complexity of the task.

Our movement is largely affected by the task being done. For example, how an individual bends over to pick up a pair of shoes from the floor will be and should be completely different from how they bend over to pick up a 150kg barbell from the floor. To move the exact same way regardless of the task is inefficient and unnecessary.

You do not need to brace your abdominal muscles and focus on keeping your spine and pelvis in neutral to pick up a pair of shoes. If you haven’t read our blog on lifting with a flexed spine, please check it out here.

3.    The environment – where are they completing the task, e.g., is it observed, competitive, surface type, weather conditions, lighting etc.

Environmental constraints to movement typically include features external to the performer. An important factor in understanding is the ‘observer effect’ which is the fact that having someone simply observe you move will affect how you move. For example, how an AFL footballer lands from a box whilst being observed in a gym will look completely different to how they land from a marking contest in a competitive match with opponents.


Exercise technique and injury risk

All injuries occurred during exercise are multifactorial and not solely due to the type of exercise or technique. Injury occurs when external forces placed upon our body’s tissues exceed the load capacity of those tissues. Just like human movement, how and why injuries occur is complex and variable, which involves many internal and external factors that predispose someone to injury (Bahr et al. 2005). These include many examples already listed above (the individual, task, and environment). To say that a certain exercise technique or movement will cause an injury is only focusing on one of many potential factors.

When might exercise technique be important?

This is not to say that exercise technique is never important or needed. It will, of course, depend on the individual, the task, and the environment as outlined above. In some situations and circumstances, it can be helpful to be coached and advised on how to move ‘efficiently’ during some exercises with very high loads or speeds. If the task to be done is at a maximum level of intensity and needs to be done as fast as possible, then there is going to be a method you will need to use to perform that task.

Technique is far more relevant for increasing performance than it is for reducing the risk of injury. For example, if someone was competing in a powerlifting event and attempted a max effort deadlift, then being coached through certain strategies and techniques can help them more effectively complete that lift.

If you would like some more information or assistance on how to best exercise for your individual needs, our allied health team is here to help, click the book now button at the top of the page!


  • Bahr R,Krosshaug T Understanding injury mechanisms: a key component of preventing injuries in sport British Journal of Sports Medicine 2005;39:324-329.
  • Falk J,Aasa U, Berglund L. How accurate are visual assessments by physical therapists of lumbo-pelvic movements during the squat and deadlift? Phys Ther Sport. 2021Jul;50:195-200. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2021.05.011. Epub 2021 Jun 1. PMID:34098325.
  • Kristiansen,M., Rasmussen, G. H., Sloth, M. E., & Voigt, M. (2019). Inter-and intra-individual variability in the kinematics of the back squat. Human movement science, 67, 102510.
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