10 Common Gym Exercises And How to Do Them Wrong

10 Common Gym Exercises And How to Do Them Wrong

If you're the kind of regular gym visitor who really likes hanging out in the gym, but would really rather not see any physique or strength increases, today you're in luck.

Training Advice: Poor Form, Short Cuts and Cheats SidebarWe spend A LOT of time in gyms and we see all kinds of people doing all kinds of wrong things, ensuring that their workout efforts are mostly in vain. And today we want to share some of their secrets.

Ready? Here we go.


1. Standing Barbell Curl:
Use your back and elbows to gain leverage.

Seriously, watch some guys do standing curls and you'd think they're dancing the limbo. They're cocking their hips forward to get the bar moving and then quickly shifting their elbows directly under the bar to gain even more leverage. It's like they're trying to pass beneath the bar rather than lift it. And their biceps are strictly along for the ride. This is a good way to get little benefit from the exercise and maybe throw out your back.

How to Do It Right: First of all (and this will be a recurring point), if you can't do the exercise correctly, you're trying to lift too much weight. Take some plates off the bar, Tarzan. Okay, now keep your hips stationary and your elbows firmly entrenched at your sides as you lift the bar. Make sure your back is straight. Lift the bar slowly. Picture a clock. If the bar starts at 9 o'clock, lift it to about 11 o'clock. You want to keep tension on the bicep. If you lift it all the way to 12 o'clock, you're resting at the top. Now lower the bar just as slowly. Don't lower it beyond 9 o'clock or the weight gets unsupported and you again risk injury.


2. Squats:
End your squat high then harness momentum by bouncing out of it.

Squats are the great equalizer. There's nothing as humbling as loading up the leg press machine with stacks of plates and then struggling with two 45-lb plates in the squat rack. Squats are also the source of great contention among gym rats. Many will tell you that parallel squats are bad for your knees, but we're here to tell you the opposite. If you end your squats too high (i.e. with your thighs not reaching parallel) the force of the barbell never transfers to your hips, meaning your knees are doing all the work.

How to Do It Right: No one is impressed by the number of plates on the bar if you're doing quarter reps. Control the weight, move slow and easy. Going to parallel is not only safer on your knee joints, it engages more muscle fibers in your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Reach the bottom, pause, and rise up slowly. Employing a bounce at the bottom for momentum will, again, risk injury to your knees and your back as well.


3. Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flye:
Tap the weights together at the top of each rep.

Satisfying, isn't it? That little ding as you bring the dumbbells together over your head? Maybe it's because each time you do it, you're resting. You're removing the stress from your pectorals, allowing your chest to rest at the top instead of getting a maximal contraction.

How to Do It Right: We're taught to quantify our workouts in terms of reps, but the real metric that matters is time under tension. With flyes, you need to raise the dumbbells to the equivalent of 11 o'clock and one o'clock, pause where you can still feel the effort in your pecs, and then lower them. Here again, don't overdo the depth on the negative end to a point where the weights are poorly supported, which opens the door to injury.


4. Bench Press:
Arch your back and move your legs a lot.

You would think, with all the attention people pay to bench presses, they'd do them with better form. But no, the mistakes are legion. As that last killer rep approaches, you see the butt rise up off the bench and the feet start moving. That guy's really working, right? Maybe, but none of that stuff is helping. In fact, he's wasting power and squandering leverage.

How to Do It Right: When you prepare to bench press, drive your feet into the ground just like you would before a squat or deadlift. Anchor your glutes to the bench. Keep them like that and you’ll tighten your lower body while boosting stability and strength. While we're on the subject, keep your elbows close to your ribs as you press the weight up. This reduces the pressure on your shoulders and puts the load on your chest and triceps.


5. Dumbbell Lateral Raise:
Swing the dumbbells all the way down in front of your hips and rock them back up.

Lateral raises are meant to work a relatively small area, the middle deltoid head. So if you're hoisting 45-pound dumbbells, chances are you're cheating on your raises. Bringing the dumbbells all the way down to your sides between each repetition allows your muscles to rest at the bottom. If you bring the dumbbells down in front of your hips until they touch one another, you're extending further into the range where the middle delt isn't activated, and you're probably shifting your hips forward on the ascent to add some momentum to your raise.

How to Do It Right: First of all, choose a more realistic weight and bring the dumbbells down to your sides. Hold them about six inches away from your sides, 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. Bring the weights slowly and deliberately back down to your hips.


6. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row:
Bring the dumbbell up by simply bending your elbow.

Terrific! You've turned a shoulder exercise into a bicep exercise. Think about the action of your back muscles during a row. If they're stationary, if you can't feel tension in them, you're not working them. If you're bringing the dumbbell up to your flank by simply bending your elbow, you're basically calling on your biceps to do the majority of the work. Now, think about what happens to your back muscles when you shift your shoulders back and shoulder blades inward. That contraction is what you want.

How to Do It Right: To engage your back in the exercise, you need to make sure your shoulder is moving along with your elbows. Establish this mind-muscle connection by visualizing your back muscles engaging on each repetition of a row, gliding inward toward your spine. Imagine you're trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades. Once you start doing rows correctly, you'll soon be increasing the weight you can handle, while increasing the size of your lats and rhomboids.


7. Seated Cable Row:
Lean forward and backward through each rep.

You watch some people do cable rows and it looks like they're rowing sprints for Yale varsity crew. They're leaning as far forward as they can, then leaning excessively back the other way as they pull the handle toward their abdomen. You're not trying to beat Princeton. You're not trying to work your lower back and legs, either. The point of the seated cable row is to build strength and size in your upper back.

How to Do It Right: To activate your upper back, 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 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 tension in your lats, your rhomboids and to a lesser extent in your lower trapezius.


8. Dumbbell Lunge:
Get your knee way out past your toes in the bottom position.

You know you're working hard if you're getting super deep into each lunge and pushing your knee way out ahead of you. Right? Well, no. Actually you're taking too short a step forward into your lunge and then compensating by listing forward in an unsupported position. Along the way, you're subjecting your front knee to needless shearing forces and strain. Lunges are an excellent body-weight bearing exercise that emphasizes balance and posture, but not so much if you're in an ungainly position that you keep falling out of.

How to Do It Right: Make sure you step out deeply enough and that you keep your hips shifted back. 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. You should feel this in your quads, hamstrings and glutes.


9. Triceps Cable Press-Down:
Lean over the bar as you push it down.

Triceps cable press-downs are not a bodyweight bearing exercise. This is one we see all the time. People ambitiously popping the pin in under a huge stack of plates and then bearing down on the handle with all their weight. If you're leaning forward and shifting your shoulders over the handle as you finish each repetition, you're not letting your triceps take on the bulk of the workload.

How to Do It Right: This is one exercise in which having access to a mirror really helps. You may think you're keeping your elbows motionless, but chances are they're revolving in little circles as you try to gain leverage. Lock your elbows in place at your sides and try to keep your spine as vertical as possible to isolate the tension on your tri's.


10. Seated Barbell Press:
Slide forward so your lower back isn't in contact with the pad.

This is a very common cheat. The seated barbell vertical press (or military press) is a high-volume exercise that isolates a small muscle group. Your delts. By sliding your lower back away from the pad behind you, you're trying to get leverage over the weight by engaging your upper pecs, essentially turning a vertical seated press into an incline press. Whenever you see some guy doing vertical presses with super-heavy dumbbells, this cheat is probably in play.

How to Do It Right: Simple. Use lighter weights and keep your back pressed tight to the vertical seatback behind you. You'll start building those bowling ball delts you're seeking and your lower back -- no longer unsupported and subject to the risk of strain -- will thank you.

The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.