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  • Top 10 exercise errors...Part 1

Top 10 exercise errors...Part 1


5 days a week, you’ll find me chugging away in the gym at some ungodly hour of the morning.  I’m definitely only there in body – my mind is still curled up asleep in bed – but nevertheless, I try.

And one way I entertain myself while I’m there is by watching the way other people are doing their exercises.  This provides hours of entertainment, because there are comparatively few people who do them correctly.  In my more cynical moments, I feel like walking round with a bunch of business cards and handing them out with a “here, you’re going to need this” warning (what can I say...I’m cranky in the morning!)

I decided, though, that a slightly more reasonable approach would be to help out by posting a few tips on how to avoid injury and get the most benefit from your workout.  So here’s a run-down of my top-10 exercises which are done incorrectly...and how to get them right!  The notable exception on this list is the dead-lift.  This is because it really deserves a whole article to itself, and while it is an excellent strength exercise for the lower back it is so difficult to do correctly that for most people it is not worth it.  If you are serious about your weights and training, and want to include dead-lifting, I strongly recommend you have a professional teach you how to do it properly and always have a spotter keeping an eye on your technique.

Biceps curl – the usual sin with weights is trying to lift too much too quickly, and the curl is no exception.  Keeping your elbows tucked against your waist, you should aim to move only your forearm, through your elbow joint.  Start with your arm slightly bent, a nice straight posture and unlocked knees.  Slowly raise the weight, so your elbow is bent to at least 90o but the rest of you doesn’t move.  I have watched many people who swing through their whole body to give the weight momentum as they lift it, actually requiring less effort from the biceps and therefore being less effective.  It also puts a lot of strain on the lower back when you swing like this.

Triceps Extensions – the counter-exercise to the biceps curl, this works the muscle at the back of the arms, popular for cutting back on the “bingo-wing” look.  There are loads of ways you can work this muscle, but there is one fault that is fairly common to all of them.  Not using your triceps to do the movement.  I have watched people use their upper back, abdominals and various other muscles instead, all through poor technique.  As a general rule, your upper arm should be almost motionless.  All of the action occurs as you straighten your arm at the elbow – any other movement in your whole body is just cheating! So hold those shoulders still, refuse to let your back curl over to give you a helping hand and watch the triceps muscle build.

 Bench/Chest press – another candidate for the too-much-weight competition.  Everyone seems to want to impress their mates with how much they can “bench”.  Usually, the technique starts to slide most when people are using dumbbells rather than a barbell – although good for making sure you are not using one side more than the other through the movement, there is a tendency to lose form as the weights are being lowered.  The biggest one I see, though, is recruitment.  This happens when the target muscle is simply unable to lift the weight, so other areas of the body start to help – in this case, low back, buttock and legs.  If your back is bent like a banana off the bench, you are going to hurt yourself.

 Side arm raises – this exercise is supposed to target the deltoid muscle, particularly the middle deltoid.  The idea is to stand upright with your arm by your side and a weight in your hand.  You then raise your arm out to the side, to about shoulder height, maintaining just a slight bend at the elbow.  It can be done one side at a time, or both arms together.  BUT there is a nice big muscle right there in your shoulders that just loves to take over this movement – the trapezius.  That muscle that goes rigid across the top of your shoulders whenever your tense.  The last thing this muscle generally needs is a workout, and especially when your aiming for your deltoid.  To avoid recruiting your traps, try to keep your shoulders pulled down and your neck relaxed as you slowly raise the weight.  It’s also easier to avoid recruiting when you do the exercise one side at a time.  Doing it on one side also allows you to just rest your free hand across the top of the active side’s shoulder, which will let you monitor whether the muscle under your hand is activating – it shouldn’t be.  Again, if you find you simply can’t lift the weight without using your trapezius muscle, drop the weight right back down to something that feels very light and increase the weight more gradually.

 Bent over row – a simple one to point out where the error comes.  The “bent” part of the title comes from your hips, not your upper back. Always keep your spine in neutral, so that it’s nice and straight with just the natural gentle curves it always has.  If you are curling over with your upper body, you’re doing it wrong. 

So that's all I'm going to cover this week...check out my next post for the next 5 guilty culprits!

And remember, no matter which exercise you are doing:  neutral spine, lighter is better, and control at all times!

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