EVERYBODY SEEMS TO get hurt these days. Whether it’s your buddy who crushed his shoulder doing CrossFit or your brother who blew out his back shooting for a deadlift PR, the pursuit of high performance, greater strength, and bigger muscles has a long list of casualties. As a result, there’s a significant corner of the fitness industry dedicated to so-called “corrective exercise,” teaching you to use foam rollers, mobility warmups, core training, and a bunch of other approaches to rebuild your body—which are all good ideas. But we believe prevention is the best medicine, and you can avoid damage before it’s done by following these principles for safe, long-term training.

1. Keep your lower back flat

Your lumbar spine isn’t designed to bend. You must learn to keep your lower back neutral (so it looks flat, not rounded over or excessively arched) on any deadlift, press, or squat movement, or you can end up with terrible and persistent lower-back pain.

The biggest challenge in maintaining a neutral spine comes from the fact that you can’t see it when you’re lifting, so you aren’t able to correct yourself on the spot. Get a coach or training partner to give you the necessary feedback. If those aren’t options, videotape yourself. At least you can check the footage afterward to see what your spine did during the set, and you can make notes to correct your form the next time.