You’re Doing It Wrong

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As a strength coach, I love anything that works out as many muscle groups simultaneously while kicking your heart into high gear. TRX Suspension Training, Bodyweight, HIIT Tabata, Olympic Lifting; anything that works you efficiently.

What I absolutely cannot stand is watching people do it wrong. Bad form. Lazy form. We all do it. All of us. Even me. We learned it from someone, or somewhere. Maybe it was the interwebs. Maybe it was a piss poor trainer with the proper “certifications” (I’m talking to you GoodLife), maybe we just never knew better.

The point is, when you have improper form, you increase the risk of damaging yourself, perhaps permanently. The youngsters out there will scoff, but mark my words; it will catch up with you so learn proper form now.

TRICEP BENCH DIPS

We’ve all done this one. We’ve put our hands up on a bench, elbows bent, with our feet either on the floor, or another bench, or a swiss ball, or whatever. Then we dip down, working those triceps! I mean we’ve been told that large volume arms come from working the tricep hard because it’s much bigger than the bicep! That part is true.

The part we’re not paying attention to is those small little shoulder rotator cuff muscles. They can’t handle your heavy ass at that angle. You are putting a tremendous strain on your shoulders, and I know from first hand experience, a torn shoulder rotator cuff is no fun at all.

The Fix: The alternative to this is called plank-to-triceps extension. Start to get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Without allowing your lower back posture to change, contract your triceps, press your palms into the floor, and lift your elbows off the floor until your arms are completely straight. You should now be in a pushup position. Slowly lower to the start position. Do 15 to 20 repetitions with perfect form.

MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS

“Faster! C’mon faster!” your trainer yells at you as you can’t breathe and can hardly keep up with the demanding pace.  The mountain climber is a stability exercise that trains your entire core, including your abdominal, lower-back, and hip muscles. Sadly most bootcamp instructors treat the mountain climber as a conditioning drill, directing their clients to crank out reps as fast as possible. I hate to break it to you, but only exceptional athletes can do that while maintaining perfect form. For the average gym goer, a fast pace usually leads to sloppy form, including piked hips and rounded lower backs. These mistakes can compress your spinal discs and increase your risk of back injury. That, and you’re not really working your core at that point so why bother?

The Fix: To get the full core-hammering effect of the mountain climber, perform each rep slowly and deliberately until you can master the exercise. Here’s how it’s done: Start in a pushup position with your arms completely straight. Brace your abs, and hold them that way for the entire movement. Without changing your lower-back posture, lift your right foot off the floor and raise your knee as close to your chest as you can. Touch the floor with your right foot, and then return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg. Alternate back and forth for 30 reps total.

If you perform a cross-body mountain climber, raise your right knee toward your left elbow, lower, and then raise your left knee to your right elbow. Minimize the rotation in your lower back as you alternate back and forth.

The key here is to keep your ass down, maintaining the plank. So many people neglect to realize that most biomechanical forms repeat themselves.

PRISONER SQUAT

If you don’t have any equipment, you can’t work the muscles in your back effectively. But the prisoner squat is a simple way to make a lower-body move work double duty as a back-building exercise. Instead of holding your arms out in front of your body, place your fingers on the back of your head (as if you had just been arrested). I witness most guys using”lazy hands,” however. After only one or two reps, their elbows creep toward their face and their hands cover their ears. When this happens, you can forget about working your back. Keep your elbows back but do not put any tension on the neck at all. This also applies to situps as an FYI.

The Fix: In this squat variation, your arms should be working just as hard as your legs. After you place your fingers on the back of your head, stick your chest out and pull your elbows and shoulders back. Contract your back muscles hard and hold them that way for the entire movement. Every time you return to standing, squeeze your shoulder blades together again to create maximum tension. If you do this, you’ll burn more calories and correct poor posture. Good posture means the bigger appearance of shoulders and chest. It also portrays confidence.

PUSHUP

The pushup can be a near perfect exercise yet nearly 100% of us do it wrong. Seriously. Quit doing pushups the same way you were taught as a youngster (think: flared elbows). That version will eventually cause immense pain in your shoulder joint and rotator cuff. Refer back to the triceps dip on a bench for the many reasons you don’t want to injure your rotator cuff.

The Fix: Keep your elbows at a maximum 45 degree angle from your body when you’re in the bottom position. This slight change in position will dramatically reduce the stress on your shoulders. However, just as with the barbell bench press or the dumbbell chest press, bringing your elbows closer to your body slightly reduces the amount of work your pecs have to do.

To make your chest work harder, use this high intensity technique. Perform as many pushups as you can, and then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat once more. Finally, finish with one last round of pushups to failure. The result: a pumped-up chest and healthy shoulders.

You could also do a rest-pause set. Start in the top, high plank, position. Lower yourself to the bottom position. Hold it for there 10 seconds. Now go back to the top. Do a set like that and you’ll see incredible strength gains in no time.

BOX JUMPS

Thanks to Crossfit, everyone loves box jumps. Nowadays, men pound out rep after rep during their workouts. While the plyometric exercise improves your vertical jump and lower body power, it can also lead to injury when not done properly. When you jump straight up off the floor, you typically land with hips pushed back and your weight behind your heels. But when you jump backward off a box, you tend to land with your weight forward for balance. The problem: This stretches your Achilles tendon. Do this over and over again, and you have a good chance to join Dan Marino and Kobe Bryant in the torn Achilles hall of fame.

The Fix: Instead of jumping backward off the box, simply step down. Sure, you’ll do less reps in the same amount of time, but they will be higher quality and much safer. It’s never about the numbers.

You can also try total body extensions. Do this: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes forward. Push your hips back as if you’re about to sit in a chair, and lower your body. Let your arms hang by your hips with your palms facing behind you. In one swift motion, swing your arms straight overhead, and explosively stand up by thrusting your hips forward and rising up on your toes. Immediately return to the start position. Continue to do as many reps as possible for one minute.

BONUS EXERCISE

I know that some of you may be reading this and thinking “Who does bodyweight exercise anyway?” Well, I do for one. Yes, the gym is great. Yes, heavy weights are fantastic, but here’s a fact: You can do everything you do with weights with bodyweight. Oh, and bodyweight exercises don’t require a gym membership.

Don’t believe me? Fine. Proof or STFU. Try this.

Set two boxes or benches or chairs shoulder width apart and parallel to each other. Sit between them with one hand on each. Straighten your arms and lower your shoulders so your butt comes off the floor. Lift and extend your legs straight out in front of you. Hold for one minute. Oh, and keep your back straight as you do this.

Did your body just say, “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me”? I thought as much.

Start simple: Straighten your arms, depress your shoulders – pull them down toward the floor, away from your ears – and hold that position with your knees bent and toes on the floor.

When a 30 second hold becomes easy, lift one foot off the floor, keeping both knees bent, and hold for up to 15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

When that’s easy, lift one leg straight out while keeping the other knee bent, hold for 15 seconds, and repeat to the other side.

Got it? You’re ready for the L sit: legs straight out in front, back flat, arms straight, shoulders down.

Now you have a body that will perform better in just about anything you do. Yes, even that.

You’re welcome.

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2 responses to “You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. You forgot only one thing, which I only know because a physical therapist rode me hard about it: If you don’t have good posture, it’s extra strain on your rotator cuffs. Your shoulder blades should be practically together during any chest or tricep exercise. If you roll your shoulder forward to get more distance on a press, or more height on a push-up, or more power on a pushdown, you’re doing it wrong.

    I look forward to the day when I no longer have tendonitis in my shoulder. The PT is working, at least, and at least I didn’t tear anything. But I can’t deny that since I’ve paid extra attention to keeping my shoulders back, my tendonitis has receded somewhat.

    • Absolutely right. Great posture exercise is:

      Heels to wall, ass to wall, back, shoulders to wall, head to wall. Elbows at sides, to wall, arms straight.

      Slowly raise arms like a Snow Angel, maintaining contact with all parts to wall.

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