Have you ever been doing an exercise and wondered if you’re doing it right? Either you don’t feel the burn at all, or you’re feeling it in the wrong places, like your lower back or neck? Poor form could be creeping in and either reducing the effectiveness of the exercise, or even worse causing potential for injury.
Daniel Reilly, personal trainer and lead tutor at The Training Room personal trainer academy, has identified five common gym errors and explains how to correct them. “These moves are at the heart of most people’s gym programmes but are commonly done wrongly or poorly,” says Dan. “Sometimes it’s as simple as reducing the weight or checking your posture in the mirror in order to perfect the move. Once you have good technique you can increase the weight and resistance,” he explains.
The Common Error: Under-execution of the range of movement of the back squat, normally due to excessive weight loaded on the bar and lifting with the back muscles, not with the legs (quads/hamstrings/glutes)
The Risk: Serious injury to spine and spinal muscles
The Correction: Keep your head up and squeeze your shoulder blades together and engage a neutral spine (natural arch in the spine). Squat down to 90 degrees* keeping your knees back (avoid them going over your toes). Feel the weight pushing through your leg muscles and not your spine. If you can’t execute this technique, lighten the weight on your bar.
The Common Error: having bent wrists and/or taking your hands higher than your elbows
The Risk: Excessive strain on the wrists can cause discomfort. If you lift your hands higher than your elbows – or your arms higher than your shoulders – you are lifting with the forearms and biceps and not engaging the medial deltoid (side shoulder muscle) that you’re aiming to develop.
The Correction: Keep your knuckles in line with your forearms. Have a slight flexion in your elbows and don’t lock them out. Think about lifting the arm as a whole and focus on the movement coming from the shoulder.
The Common Error: letting your knees come over your toes when performing the exercise
The Risk: Serious injury to the knee joint and tendons
The Correction: Imagine the lunge as a four-part movement. 1) Step forward; 2) Drop down (not forwards) into the lunge; 3) Rise back up pushing through your front foot; 4) Return to your start position. Focusing on the four stages will help you engage your leg and glute muscles effectively.
The Common Error: Lifting with the back muscle instead of the legs
The Risk: Serious back injury
The Correction: Keep your head up and engage a neutral spine. Lower from your hips and as you straighten up, focus on pushing through your legs and stabilising your hips. Ensure your spine is neutral throughout: it should not bend. You should feel the exercise working down the back of your legs – not your back.
THE SIT UP/CRUNCH
The Common Error: Coming all the way up to the knees
The Risk: Rising too high won’t engage the abdominal muscle as the hip flexors are doing all the work. You can actually create a rounded abdominal area by repeatedly performing this exercise wrongly!
The Correction: Engage the abdominal muscle first. Lift your shoulders off the floor while contracting (squeezing) the abdominal muscle; hold it for a second or two and then return to the start position maintaining the tension in your abs. Your hips should remain still and your lower back pushed into the mat throughout the movement.
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* The level of descent in a squat must not only take into consideration the muscles you want to work on, but also your anatomy. If you have long legs, particularly your thighs, it can be quite dangerous for your back if you squat very low as you are forced to lean too far forward making your lumbar (lower back) muscles unstable. This is especially the case in people with a short torso compared to their leg length. Check with your Sports Therapist or Physio if you are unsure. If you feel any back pain whilst squatting you may want to consider alternative training methods such as the leg press.
CC Image “Deadlift” courtesy of Adrian Valenzuela on Flickr.