Whether you’re trying to gain size, strength or both there are a few tried and true exercises that will get you there. Any coach worth his or her salt will tell you to stick to the basics, big compound lifts that put the muscle through its full range of motion while allowing you to move maximal weight. The problem is, for most gym goers, they’re choosing the right exercise but they’re making some mistakes which can not only hinder their progress but ultimately lead them down a path to injury.
First up is the squat. Referred to as the ‘King of All Exercises’ the squat is a fixture in almost every program. Yet, walk into any gym in the world and you’ll see people performing it wrong. One mistake that almost always slips under the radar is that little hip tuck that happens at the end of the movement. Athletes have the best intentions when making this mistake; they think they’re getting greater activation in their glutes. The reality however is that you’re creating unneeded sheering force on your spine while getting very little, if any actual benefit. This is a common error on the deadlift as well. You’ll often see people throw their hips forward going into posterior pelvic tilt in an attempt to exaggerate lock out. Ditch the hip tuck from both of these movements and you’ll be glad you did when you avoid a potential injury down the road.
Next up is the barbell row. Perhaps one of the greatest back thickening exercises around, the row is a staple move that everyone should be doing. The mistake happening a lot with the row is improper hand placement. It’s not uncommon to see athletes gripping the bar way too wide. Not only does this put the shoulder into internal rotation but it also inhibits the ability to abduct into your sides for maximal lat activation. By simply moving your hands closer together you’ll be able to not only stay tighter, but also get much stronger contractions and recruitment from the muscles you’re trying to train.
When it comes to elbow placement the overhead press is another exercise that finds the devil in the details. Most people by now know that the behind the neck press isn’t a very safe exercise to perform. Moving the barbell to the front of their body is a good first step, but that’s not the only difference between the Overhead Press and the Behind the Neck Press. You also have to adjust your elbow positioning otherwise you’re moving out of the scapular plane and putting yourself at risk of getting shoulder dysfunction. By narrowing the grip you are not only able to stay in the scapular plane but you’re also able to maintain overall tightness plugging up strength leaks and allowing you to lift more weight.
While we’re on the topic of shoulders I would be remiss if I didn’t add the error I see happening with the lateral raise. As great as the overhead press is, you’re never going to get those delts to really pop out of the sides of your shirt without giving the medial head some direct attention. When it comes to hitting the medial head of the delt, the first, second and third best exercise is the dumbbell lateral raise.
While there are a million variations of this great exercise the error pops up in almost all of them. It has nothing to do with what implement you use or even how much you swing the weight…but don’t swing the weight! The mistake made on the lateral raise goes straight to hand positioning. We’ve all been taught to ‘poor out the pitcher of water’ when doing lateral raises. That is, start with the thumbs up and then lower them at the top of the movement.
The problem is, that motion does nothing to stimulate the medial delts and serves almost no purpose but to put your shoulder into impingement. Instead of doing this the old school way, do your shoulders a favor and point your thumbs up. Not only will you receive the same benefits but you’ll also keep your shoulders safe and functioning properly. Shoulders take a beating in the iron game, there’s no reason to go out of your way to beat them up even more!
As we come to a close on our list of the 7 mistakes made on common exercises we narrow in on the triceps. One of my favorite exercises for hitting the triceps is the lying triceps extension. This also happens to be the one that people mess up the most. The error in this movement comes right out of the gate at the starting position. Typically people will begin with their arms perpendicular to the floor which is the perfect angle for gravity to pass right through and put almost 0 stress on the muscle. You’ve probably noticed when you perform this exercise that you’re able to stay at the top position with almost not effort… that’s why!
The fix here is simple enough but once you apply it, you’ll never feel the same about this exercise. By moving your arms slightly close towards the floor you are able to start the movement with the triceps in a fully contracted position with all the weight (courtesy of our friend gravity) applying force on the intended target.. your triceps! From there perform the movement as you normally do but make sure to keep your arms at their new angle and not move them parallel to the force of gravity…. not unless you’re looking for some rest!
Last up is one of the single best exercises fro training the core. The ab wheel. Sure, it started off ‘As seen on TV’ but the ab wheel is one implement that the TV salesman got right! Anyone that’s been training for any length of time has been told to keep their back flat. It’s a cue you’ll hear a lot when training and it’s generally a good rule of thumb. When it comes to the ab wheel however, that is the exact opposite of what you want to do. Keeping your back flat on the ab wheel turns the movement into a bastardized hip hinge… not what we want to be doing here.
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