There’s no shame in doing something wrong. There is, however, a lot to be embarrassed about when you don’t learn from mistakes. Here are the most common moves you’re doing wrong in the gym and how to do them properly.
Nutrition is everything when it comes to changing your body. But, so is properly doing an exercise. People often criticize and shame those that are making an honest attempt to do compound lifts. However, the ones doing the criticizing usually perform the movements wrong. Your training will have many faults in it if you have poor form and technique. If you want to prevent this from happening to you, then you came to the right place. The movements discussed can usually carry over to other exercises as well.
Don’t Chase The Pump
“Don’t chase the pump” is gym slang for you lifting too much weight for that exercise, and now your form looks terrible and those around you may get hurt. This is the polite way of stating it. If you really want to boost your strength and power, then you need to have the patience to get to the heavier weights.
For example, a man walks up next to you with 70-pound dumbbells in his hands and starts to do biceps curls. He’s throwing the weight up as fast as possible while leaning his upper body way too far back to support each lift. This is accomplishing nothing for his biceps and is probably doing more for his lower back that’s going to be sore the next morning.
As if it isn’t bad enough when a person bypasses the concentric contraction, they definitely get no benefits from the eccentric contraction either. Both contractions are completely demolished because too much weight was being used.
Who cares how much you can lift?
You Need To Have Concentric Contractions
To get the maximum benefits from each move, you have to understand contractions. Both the concentric contraction and eccentric contraction are vital to increasing strength, power, muscle growth and increased testosterone production. Yes, a lot of compound movements have been proven to boost the release of free testosterone. Squats, deadlifts, and cleans are just a few.
Concentric contractions are when the muscles are actively shortening against resistance. They are known as being positive. This type of contraction used to be thought of as being the most important one, but research over the past decades has shown that negative training actually increases muscle strength better than positive training.
Think about it. Once you overcome the momentum needed to start the movement, you basically have to squeeze your muscle(s) or slow down the movement significantly just to give it contractions throughout the concentric phase (not all exercises, but a lot of them). We know most people don’t do this though. Instead people like to push through the momentum during the concentric contraction and then quickly let the weight go back to the starting position. That essentially misses the entire eccentric contraction.
You Also Need Eccentric Contractions
Eccentric contractions are when your muscle(s) actively lengthen against resistance. This is negative, but not in a bad way. During the eccentric phase your muscles are lengthening against gravity, and to keep the weight from dropping as nature intended, you are contracting your muscle(s) to stop the descent.
This is the perfect time for strength increases, but also a dangerous part. Don’t overcompensate the eccentric contraction unless you’re advanced in exercise training. Allow it to move with gravity, but keep in control and put on the brakes slightly as the weight makes its way down.
Yes, there are also isometric and passive contractions as well. However, these two contractions are not going to play a role in the movements in this article. Let’s focus on the 10 moves you’re doing wrong, and get you started on correctly performing them.
Note: Anytime you see the words “fully extend,” “straighten out,” “locked” and “lockout your arms or legs,” it means leave a slight bend in your elbows or knees. This prevents injuries from occurring and keeps the contraction against your muscles.
Dips can be either for focusing on your triceps or pectorals (chest). The resistance used can be bodyweight or with weights by use of a weight belt with a chain attached. There is the choice of clasping a dumbbell between your feet, but that’s not recommended for safety purposes. People often perform these wrong for a few different reasons. It’s either because their hands are placed improperly, they lean more towards one side than the other or because their dip is out of whack.
Stand between both bars. Place your hands on the bar directly at your sides and jump up. Adjust your grip making sure both hands are directly across from each other. Cross your feet behind you. This will naturally lean your body forward slightly. Dip by bending at your elbows. Lower your body until your shoulders pass your elbows. Imagine driving your hands down to bend the bar to create contraction for the lift. Keep the ascent steady to benefit from the eccentric contraction. Lock your elbows and you’ve completed a rep.
#2 Barbell Curls
Barbell curls are the notorious exercise for causing lower back pain and shoulder pain.
The reason is because many improperly do them and add in an upper body swing to assist with the concentric contraction. If you have to do this, then lower the weight by 10 pounds or more depending on what rep you had to do it at.
But it helps get the last two reps in?
This doesn’t matter because you just did the exercise wrong. Even without the last two reps, you benefit more failing on the concentric phase if you pushed your biceps to their maximum output.
Grasp the barbell in hand with palms facing up (supinated grip) and arms extended. Adjust your grip to where your hands are shoulder-width apart and elbows tucked in. Keeping your wrists slightly bent, contract your biceps and curl the weight up. Keep your elbows tucked in close and upper arms and shoulders still. Curl until the weight reaches shoulder height. Allow the weight to descend steadily while keeping complete control. Stop once your arms are fully extended.
#3 Standing Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
This is another isolation exercise that gets completely butchered. Shoulder injuries occur a lot from the overhead triceps extension, and another thing that happens often is falling backwards or even blacking out. The blackout part is from locking your knees preventing proper oxygen-rich blood flow to your brain.
Grasp the dumbbell in both hands and stand with your body erect and feet split apart. Place the dumbbell on the leg lunging forward. You want your feet placement split to keep balance. Have one foot placed forward and one foot backwards. Pull your elbows in towards your head. Your arms should be vertical with the floor and your elbows facing forward. Maintain this position throughout the movement.
Exhale and contract your triceps to extend your arms up. Stop once your forearms are vertically the same with your upper arms. Steadily lower the weight back down following the same path you used going up. Stop the movement before you get too far down to keep better contraction.
#4 Barbell Bent Over Rows
A lot of people believe they’re performing this exercise correctly, but the truth is that this movement has everything to do with the emphasis of the bent stance. You want to always pull the weight from the floor to your lower chest with a neutral back (straight). If you keep the barbell suspended in the air with your upper body at a 45-degree angle, then you are performing Yates rows. These two exercises are similar, but also different.
Have the barbell on the floor in front of you with weights secured. Take a medium stance, toes pointed out and mid-foot under the bar. Bend at your hips, don’t touch the bar with your shins and grasp with palms facing down (pronated grip). Hands should be wider than a deadlift grip, but narrower than a bench press grip. Keep your back straight by lifting your chest and keeping your shoulders loose. Pull the bar from the ground to your lower chest. Allow the weight to steadily descend and then rest it on the floor.
#5 Standing Barbell Overhead Press
The standing overhead press is potentially dangerous to perform without a spotter if you’re using heavy weights. However, if you have proper form, then you have better control of the movement and this should prevent falling with the weight. It’s recommended that a rack cage with safety bars be used if no spotter is present. Place safety bars about a foot below your shoulders.
Place the barbell rack setting at shoulder height with the weights safely secured. Your feet should be slightly split-stance. Grasp with a neutral width pronated grip. Your wrists should be straight and forearms should be vertical. You need to lift your chest high by creating an arch in your upper back. Place chin-to-chest and press the weight up as straight as possible. You should be close to the bar until it bypasses forehead height, which is when you push your torso forward. Lock arms out and keep your body erect. Steadily allow the weight to descend.
#6 Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs
Shrugs seem like a pretty easy movement to do, but any exercise can be performed improperly. The simplest of movements are often the ones incorrectly used. The primary reason shrugs don’t do much for some is because they’re not standing with their back straight. Another reason is the dumbbells might be hitting against their sides during movement.
Grasp the dumbbells and allow them to rest at your sides naturally. Your palms should be facing in (neutral grip). Place your feet hip-width apart and back straight. Make sure your knees have a slight bend in them. Keeping your arms straight, begin to pull your shoulders up towards your ears. Pause for a second to squeeze your muscles and then lower the weight steadily.
#7 Conventional Deadlifts
This exercise is also called normal deadlifts and American deadlifts. A conventional deadlift is when you pull the weight directly from the floor each rep. If you don’t pull from the floor and stop below your knees it’s called a Romanian deadlift. The two types of deadlifts offer different benefits.
You should place the bar with weights on the floor and then step up to the bar. Place your mid-foot under the bar hip-width apart, with your toes facing slightly outwards. Bend down and grasp the bar with a mixed-grip or pronated grip. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart and arms outside your leg vertically up. Keep your back straight and chest out with your chin forward.
Pull the weight up keeping your arms vertical and fully extended. Don’t roll your shoulders back or drop your hips to do the movement. Stop once your body is fully erect with arms and legs extended. Lower the weight and rest the equipment on the floor for next rep.
#8 Flat Bench Barbell Chest Press
The barbell chest press is one of the most difficult exercises to do for a lot of people. It’s understandable as a lot of it has to do with the length of a person’s arms and how strong their elbow and shoulder joints are. If your chest isn’t getting too much contraction, then your triceps are getting the workout. Try spreading your grip wider.
Lie flat on your back with your eyes below the bar and feet planted firmly on the floor. Lift your chest and pinch your shoulder blades back. Grasp the bar with a pronated grip and your pinky fingers wrapping the smooth rings. This may change due to arm length. Your wrists should be straight and the bar in the palms of your hands.
Straighten your arms to unrack the bar. Steady the sway until your arms are vertical with the floor. Lower the bar to the middle of your chest while keeping your forearms straight. The amount your elbows go past the bench differs for each person. Press the weight back up until your arms have straightened out above your shoulders.
#9 Dumbbell Lunges
Dumbbell lunges are great for increasing your squat potential by activating your hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves. However, they are easily performed poorly because overall balance is thrown off. Another reason they’re done wrong is because the steps forward are too short or too long.
Grasp the dumbbells in each hand with a neutral grip and your arms at your sides. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, chest out and chin forward. Take a step forward, firmly plant your foot and then lunge forward bending at your hips. Continue until your upper leg is parallel with the floor and knees not going past your toes. Use your heel of the forward foot to push and step back into starting position. From there you can use the same foot forward or alternate after each complete movement.
What’s an improperly performed exercise list without squats? This exercise is butchered as badly as the conventional deadlift. People are prone to injury with this exercise and often fall back during the squatting motion. Remember to have safety bars in place if no spotter is present.
Approach the bar that should be positioned just below your shoulders. Grasp the bar tightly with a medium grip. Duck down and place your upper back against the bar. Push your chest out and lift the bar off the rack taking a step back. Adjust your feet to being shoulder-width or slightly more apart. Bend at your knees and drop your hips in. Squat all the way down to the point of bypassing where a chair would be for sitting. Activate your leg muscles and tighten your abs to drive your hips out and push your upper back up.
These 10 movements are often performed wrong and could cause serious injuries. Simply train with proper form and understand the different contractions if you truly want to get the most out of your workouts.
By Brian Pankau, CPT