Be on alert! There's an outbreak of bad form in gyms
nationwide. We throw the book at 12 of the worst offenses, and show you
how to clean up your own act for maximum gains.
Are you a law-abiding citizen when you train? Heck, most of us tend to
consider ourselves conscientious enough when it comes to exercise form.
You might even get a chuckle when you see others doing this or that
move incorrectly, thinking to yourself, "That poor sap, doesn't know
what he's doing." Sometimes, however, poor form isn't so obvious. And -
reality check - you're likely just as guilty as the next guy of doing
We covered 12 of the most common blunders
in part one of this story
and here, we reveal 12 more. The good news is, it's never too late to
turn away from a life of criminal exercise performance. Review these
common mistakes, admit your wrongdoing, and dedicate yourself to
walking the straight and narrow from now on with our expert advice.
1) Leg Extension
Allowing your knees to bend beyond 90 degrees in the bottom position
The leg extension seems simple enough: Sit down, place your legs behind
the ankle pads, and extend your knees. But there's a slight yet
critical error you can easily make, depending on the mechanics of the
particular machine you're using. Because your thighs are fixed in place
as you rep, shearing forces can build up in your knee joint '" these are
exacerbated when you bend your knee past 90 degrees (i.e. bring them
slightly up underneath you). To combat this, stop the descent when your
shins reach 90 or just before. Another tip: Don't extend explosively
upward into a knees-locked position at the top. A smooth and controlled
rep on the way up and on the way down will help keep your knees healthy
for the long term.
2) Lying Leg Curl
Lifting your hips off of the pad
This common problem is a result of using a flat-style leg-curl bench:
Lifting your hips off the pad as fatigue sets in puts your hamstrings
in a stronger biomechanical position, thus helping you complete more
reps. Unfortunately, it also puts your lower back at risk for strain.
Thus, the answer here is to use a lying leg curl machine with an angled
bench, which lifts your hips up while supporting your torso during the
exercise. If your gym only has the flat-style, you may want to consider
alternate hamstrings exercises, such as one-leg machine curls, seated
leg curls and Romanian or stiff-leg deadlifts.
3) Romanian Deadlift
Rounding your lower back in the bottom position
The Romanian deadlift is an incredibly valuable exercise in developing
complete hamstrings '" strong hams help stabilize the knee joint by
counterbalancing the powerful quadriceps muscles on the front of your
thigh. However, gym-goers the world over all too often break a critical
rule, allowing their back to round in the bottom position. Not only
does this place your lumbar region in a dangerous position ripe for
injury, it takes emphasis away from the muscle groups you're attempting
to target. Instead, stabilize your spine by tightening the surrounding
muscles, holding it in its natural arched position while performing the
movement from the hip joint. Also note, there's no need to stand on a
raised platform or a bench in an effort to extend your range of motion;
it doesn't make the exercise any more effective than bringing the bar
down to about mid-shin level.
4) Lat Pulldown
Leaning back excessively as you pull the bar down
When training the back, there are two essential planes of motion to
work in: Rowing-type movements, and pull-up/pulldown movements. Both
are vital for complete development, which makes this error a costly
one. During a pulldown, many have a tendency to lean back, which
essentially turns the pulldown into another row. Sure, it puts you in
an advantageous position as far as being able to lift more weight, but
you don't reap the benefits provided by the pulldown's upright angle of
attack. Instead, save the rowing for other exercises in your routine '"
for pulldowns, sit up in the seat and bring the bar down to your upper
chest, concentrating on the contraction of your lats and upper-back
5) Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Rocking your torso up and down as you rep
This wrong move is usually born out of a desire to lift too much
weight. The target of this exercise, the rear delts, are generally
small muscles, and aren't equipped for the heavy dumbbells you may be
otherwise used to heaving in your workouts. By incorporating a bounce
in each rep for momentum and recruiting the more powerful muscles of
your back, you can lift a lot more than you could if you controlled
each rep via a focused contraction of your rear deltoids. Drop the
weight and do it right, with no mo' and plenty of concentration, to
develop your rear delts to their full potential.
6) Upright Row
Placing your hands too close together on the bar
It's hard to say where this bad habit, passed from generation to
generation, originally came from, but upright rows should not be done
with the hands side by side on the bar. This way-too-close grip doesn't
provide an ounce of benefit, and worse yet, it compromises your wrist
joints on the ascent. Place your hands at or just inside shoulder-width
apart, and lead with your elbows as you lift the barbell up along your
body toward your upper chest; your delts (and your wrists) will thank
7) Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flye
Letting the weights collide at the top of the rep
You may think you're working intensely if you powerfully contract your
pecs to bring the dumbbells up in an arc over your chest, where they
meet with a clang at the top. In fact, that impact immediately removes
stress from your pectorals, essentially allowing your chest to rest at
the top instead of getting a maximal contraction. For flyes (as for
most exercises) control is the name of the game. Lift in a deliberate
manner, either squeezing the dumbbells together forcefully at the top '"
without letting them crash together, of course '" or stopping an inch
short of touching as you give your pecs a strong squeeze before
starting the descent.
8) Alternate Dumbbell Curl
Leaning your body to each side as you bring the corresponding dumbbell up
A lot of people could be cited for this particular transgression.
Incorporating a swaying movement to help bring each dumbbell up doesn't
necessarily feed the biceps, but it sure feeds the ego, as the momentum
helps move a heavier dumbbell. Throw in an extra tweak at the apex
(where you shift your elbow directly under the handle, essentially
allowing the biceps to rest at the top), and you get an exercise that's
not doing you a whole heck of a lot of good. Instead, keep your body
still as you bend at the elbow, forcing your biceps to do the work.
Sure, the dumbbells you can use will probably be lighter, but aren't
bigger biceps more valuable than bigger weights?
9) Triceps Cable Pressdown
Leaning over the bar as you push it down
The pressdown is yet another victim of a widespread transgression, the
chronic use of too much weight during arm training. If you drop the pin
deep down on the weight stack, then proceed to lean forward, shifting
your shoulders over the handle as you finish each repetition, you're
guilty of not letting your triceps take on the bulk of the workload.
Pressdowns should only involve movement at your elbows, nowhere else.
Lock your elbows at your sides '" envision a steel rod running through
your body holding them in place if it helps '" and remain upright as you
push the handle down.
10) Dumbbell Kickback
Bringing your arm too far forward, then using momentum to lift the weight
This slip-up is so common, you'll often spot it in otherwise
respectable magazines and training textbooks. For this exercise, you
bend at the hips, place your non-working hand on a bench or fixed
object for support and, with your other upper arm in tight at your
flank, you extend your elbow to lift a dumbbell back and up in an arc.
The problem arises on the way down, where the working arm crosses past
a 90-degree angle before beginning the next rep. Instead, to keep the
triceps under constant tension, stop the descent just before your elbow
reaches 90 degrees and begin the next rep '" this eliminates the
momentum generated by bringing the dumbbell too far forward, and
doesn't allow the triceps to fully relax at the bottom.
11) Hanging Leg Raise
Repping in a way that causes your body to swing
To perform hanging leg raises, you either hold a pull-up bar or set
your elbows on the pads of an upright leg-raise bench and bring your
legs up in front of you, forming a 90-degree angle with your body. The
exercise uses the weight of your legs and gravity to put your abs
through their paces, and can be extremely effective '" unless you swing
your legs so hard that your body sways to and fro. It's much better to
follow the letter of the law, and perform the move slowly and under
control, forcing your abs to handle the workload. Count 3-4 seconds as
you bring your legs up and slightly curl your lower back, pause while
contracting your core strongly at the top, then lower your legs back to
12) Decline-Bench Crunch
Not "curling" your upper body off the pad (i.e. remaining flat-backed on the ascent)
What would you rather sport at the beach: A stellar set of hip flexors,
or a killer six-pack? You may covet the latter, but you are probably
doing your decline-bench crunches in benefit of the former. To flex
your abdominal wall, you need to shorten your abs, and thus your lower
back correspondingly must curl. If, on the other hand, your back
remains flat as you do decline crunches, your hip flexor muscles are
driving the movement. On any abdominal exercise (including hanging leg
raises mentioned above), make sure the distance between your ribcage
and pelvis is shortening '" if even only a few inches '" on each rep.
That way, you'll be sure to squeeze results out of every set.
Did you miss part I?
Crimes Against Growth