Saturday, January 20, 2007

Common Mistakes

Although the mistakes I see weekly at the gym are too numerous to list, there are a handful that beg to be addressed.

1. Lat pulldowns. This is an exercise meant to target the latissimus dorsi, thus the upright position. However, more often than not people lean back as they pull down on the handle, turning this into part lower back exercise and part cable row. Not only is this body english bad form, but it shifts the focus from the lats towards the rhomboids, trapezius and teres major. Simply put, when you lean back you might as well be doing a seated cable row.

2. Biceps curls. This rather simple exercise is one most affected by body english and poor form. Rather than contract the biceps muscles in a controlled manner, people will rock their bodies and rotate their shoulders. I like to call this snow shovelling, because that is the motion it resembles. There is nothing wrong with cheating the last rep or two up, but if you have to sway your body and move your shoulders throughout the set, you need to lower the weight.

3. Squats. One of the most difficult exercises, and most beneficial. However, bad form can result in injuries to knees and lower backs. Too often I see people overloading a barbell and then going down about 2 inches. I'm not sure what muscles they're trying to stimulate, other than their egos. However, it is important to note that not everyone has the bodytype to go "deep in the hole." I do not go ass to the floor, because my bodytype is not conducive to such depth. I like to stay at parallel, which for me is safest for my knees and back. It is important that your legs are, in general, shoulder width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. You must maintain the natural curve in your back and keep your core muscles tight as you descend. Be careful not to let your knees travel too far over your toes, as this jeopardizes the knee. Also, do not lean so far forward that your first movement up is to straighten your back, turning this into some sort of good morning-squat hybrid.

4. Weight belts. Unless you have an existing back problem, you should not wear a belt except for on your heaviest sets of certain exercises (ie, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows). There simply is no need to strap on a belt for curls or bench pressing (unless you're a power lifter). By overusing a belt you actually weaken your core muscles as they become accustomed to the exogenous support. In addition, you're missing out on opportunities to train your core. I never use a belt, even on my heaviest squats and deadlifts (405 pounds). By losing the belt, my abs have gotten plenty stronger and I experience less back pain than ever. (Also, if I ever see another person wearing a belt while doing crunches I am going to scream.)


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