In my last article I highlighted several exercises where proper form and technique are crucial in order to prevent potentially serious injuries. In this piece I will again talk about form, but more so in relation to optimizing muscle targeting. I have chosen the seven exercises that I have seen “abused” by gym-goers most often in all my years of pumping iron. I feel this is an extremely important topic because so often people blame lack of results on poor genetics when it is actually the result of incorrect exercise performance.
Click ahead for the 7 popular moves where form is frequently flawed, and results are lost.
Common Mistakes: Starting with DB’s in front of thighs; Initiating movement by leaning forward; Incorrect hand position at top.
Doing it Right: Stand up straight and hold a pair of DB’s at the sides of your thighs. Without using any swing or momentum, lift the weights straight out to the sides with a very slight bend at the elbow. Raise arms to the point that they are parallel with the floor. Make sure to hold the contraction at the top for one second while keeping your palms in a flat to the floor position (or very slightly tilted forward).
Target: WG to hit Mid-Back Musculature; CG to hit Lats
Common Mistakes: Using jerking motion to get weight moving; Leaning back too far at bottom; Failure to hold contraction; Failure to stretch at top.
Doing it Right: Whether using a wide or close grip, make sure to begin the exercise in the fully stretched position. Start sitting up straight and initiate the movement without momentum. As you pull the bar begin to slightly arch the lower back while retracting the shoulder blades and raising the rib cage up. At the bottom of the range of motion you should lean back just slightly and hold the contraction for one second. Slowly return to the full stretch position.
Common Mistakes: Swinging the weight; Leaning back; Bending the wrists back; Lifting elbows too far up/forward.
Doing it Right: Stand and take about a shoulder width grip on the BB (grip can vary a bit to hit inner or outer biceps heads harder). While keeping the elbows at the sides and wrists locked straight, curl the BB to the top with no momentum and no backward lean. Squeeze the biceps for a moment, and slowly lower the bar back to the start position.
Common Mistakes: Using momentum to complete concentric contraction; No control over negative contraction; Failure to squeeze at the top of the movement; Engagement of lower back.
Doing it Right: Lay down in machine and securely grasp handles at sides to stabilize torso. Make sure pads are in comfortable position on your lower calves and that it allows for full range of motion while remaining in place. Use only hamstring power to lift the weight and think of these muscles just as you would your biceps. Curl until the pads contact the back of your legs or at least until you feel a full, tight contraction. Make sure torso does not lift up and that the lower back does not engage at any point. Lower slowly and under control to the fully stretched position.
Target: WG to hit Mid-Back Musculature; CG to hit Lats
Common Mistakes: Leaning too far forward at beginning of rep and too far back at conclusion; Lack of focus on both the stretch and contraction of back muscles; Use of momentum for the sake of moving heavier weights.
Doing it Right: While sitting and holding the appropriate bar (for which area of the back you are targeting), begin while at full stretch. The stretch should be accomplished by “releasing” the shoulders, so the lats are being pulled forcefully by the resistance. You should only be leaning forward slightly, and not enough to engage the lower back. Using back, biceps and brachialis strength pull the bar towards your abdominals, somewhere between the belly button and low chest. At the top of the movement you should be sitting straight with a slight arch in the lower back, shoulder blades squeezed together and the rib cage held out. Hold the contraction for a second or two before slowly returning to the start position.
Common Mistakes: Use of too much weight to perform with proper range of motion; Short, quick, and choppy reps; Head in wrong position; Retraction of shoulder blades at top of movement.
Doing it Right: Grab a loaded BB with a shoulder width grip and lift off safety pins. Standing straight, with the head pointed down, pick a spot on the floor in front of you to focus on. Keeping the arms almost completely straight use only the upper trapezius muscles to shrug the bar straight up. Lift as high as possible, as if trying to get shoulders all the way up to the ears. At the top of the rep, hold and squeeze for a moment and then slowly lower the bar to a point where the traps are fully stretched before proceeding to the next rep.
Common Mistakes: Not keeping elbows at sides throughout set; Pressing the weight down with chest and shoulders rather than tris; Failure to squeeze at bottom.
Doing it Right: Whether this movement is performed with a V or straight bar or rope the key is keeping the elbows locked securely into your sides throughout the entire range of motion. Start by leaning very slightly forward, tuck the elbows and slowly push to full contraction. Squeeze the triceps hard at the bottom and then return to the starting position under full control. Allow the forearms to contact the biceps so that the tris are at full stretch before each repetition.