The problem is, by breaking proper form, the only person you're robbing is yourself '" you're not getting the utmost benefits out of each rep, and thus each workout is less productive than it can be.
The good news is, it's never too late to turn away from a life of lifting transgressions. Here, we'll identify the most common form errors on popular exercises, tell you why they're detrimental, and render the verdict on how to fix them to maximize your mass-building results. Ready to lock up new muscle gains?
1) Barbell Squat
Crime: Stopping before your thighs reach a point parallel with the floor
It's a hard pill for some to swallow '" you're able to load enough plates on a leg press to stock an Italian kitchen cabinet, yet on the squat, just a few 45s a side leaves you weak kneed. To compensate, those who can't stand the thought of lifting lighter have adopted a shorter range of motion, and thus are able to move more weight than if they used the correct thighs-parallel-to-the-floor position. While the totals may look more impressive in your logbook, incomplete reps will cheat you out of benefits. In fact, going to parallel is not only safer on your knee joints, it engages more muscle fibers in your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes than quarter reps ever could. Don't worry about poundage '" go light and get the form down, and once you do, the impressive weights will follow naturally over time.
2) Leg Press
Crime: Letting your lower back lift off the pad at the bottom of the repetition
Bringing your knees down to your chest on the leg press can constitute a nice, full-range-of-motion repetition. But there's a catch '" if you're not limber enough, your glutes and lower back will curl off the seat, instantly putting plenty of undue strain on that very fragile area of your body. The hundreds of pounds of weight bearing down on you can tweak your lower back, and before you know it, you have serious pain to contend with. On the leg press, always keep your glutes firmly against the pad, stopping each rep at the point right before they would begin to lift off. If you work on your flexibility over time, you'll be able to do a nice, deep rep, without compromising your lower back '" a win-win situation on leg day.
Crime: Letting the knee of your front leg extend past your toes in the bottom position
When stepping down into a lunge, a lot of people make this sometimes hard-to-detect yet critical error. By letting their front knee track out past their toes, they put it under shearing forces and strain. To rectify this, make sure you step out deeply enough and that you keep your hips shifted back (as leaning forward will force that knee out). At the bottom of a lunge, your front knee should be in a 90-degree angle, and your back knee should be elevated an inch or two off of the floor. Also keep in mind, this is a mistake you don't want to make on squats '" shift your hips back and make sure your knees don't extend past your toes on the descent.
4) Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Crime: Relying on your biceps to lift most of the load
5) Seated Cable Row
Crime: Leaning excessively forward and backward
This crime is so common you'll catch otherwise competent certified personal trainers teaching it incorrectly. During a seated cable row, you'll see people leaning as far forward as they can, then leaning excessively back the other way as they pull the handle toward their abdomen. What results is an inefficient lower-back exercise in place of a movement to hit the intended body part, the upper back. To fix this, you want to control the movement, staying upright throughout. As you bring the handle toward you, flex your upper back (which will pull back your shoulders, as described in #4). As you lower the weight, don't allow your upper body to follow the handle forward, just let your shoulder blades shift outward and your elbows straighten. You should feel the difference immediately, and see the difference in the coming weeks in the form of new muscle mass.
6) Back Extension
Crime: Hyperextending your back at the top of the rep
This exercise was often referred to as "hyperextensions" for years '" no wonder so many gym goers still do it wrong, excessively overarching their back at the top. Instead of benefiting the lower back muscles, this extra extension only serves to put undue pressure on your spinal cord. To perform the extension right, you should stop the rep when your body reaches a flat "plank" position, squeeze your lower back, and then lower your upper body back to the start.
Crime: Rolling your shoulders
8) Seated Barbell Press
Crime: Sliding forward so your back isn't in contact with the pad
Those who have stronger pectorals that tend to overpower their delts often resort to this trick '" a slight shift forward of your glutes and lower back makes the military press a bit more like an incline press, thus recruiting more upper pecs. Two problems result, however: Your lower back is put at risk for strain, and you lessen the overall work done by your shoulders, thus always relegating them to be weaker link in your upper body. Stay attuned to doing the press correctly, and sitting upright throughout.
9) Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Crime: Bringing the dumbbells all the way down in front of your hips at the bottom
Lateral raises are meant to work what is a relatively small area '" the middle deltoid head. In general, you don't have enough muscle there to lift a lot of weight. So if you are hoisting 45-pound dumbbells and beyond and you're not built to the gills with muscle mass, chances are you're cheating on your raises. To test yourself, try this: Hold a dumbbell about six inches away from your side, and then, without swaying or moving your body to help, lift the dumbbell out and up, only using your deltoid muscle to power the move. How much weight could you handle? The same as you use normally? Bringing the dumbbells all the way down to your sides between each repetition allows your muscles to rest at the bottom. If you go the extra step of bringing the dumbbells down in front of your hips until they touch one another, you are essentially extending the range of motion down in this "dead zone" where the middle delt isn't activated, and you're probably even shifting your hips forward on the ascent to add some momentum to your raise. From now on, get more out of your laterals by choosing a more realistic weight and bringing the dumbbells down to your sides '" but not quite all the way down.
10) Barbell Bench Press
Crime: Arching your lower back off of the bench
11) Standing Barbell Curl
Crime: Leaning back and shifting your elbows directly underneath the bar on the ascent
12) Standing Calf Raise
Crime: Keeping your knees bent during the repetition
While on most exercises, you'd never get the advice to completely lock out your joint, on standing calf raises, you do in fact want to do exactly that. Keeping your knees absolutely straight targets the meaty gastrocnemius muscle on the back of your lower leg. Bend your knees and you're calling on the much smaller soleus (the same muscle you're hitting on seated calf raises). One caveat: Straight does not mean hyperextending at the knee, so be careful to not go to that extreme.
|Update: Crimes Against Growth Part II|