Are You Making These Common Mistakes In The Gym - Part 1?

Avoid looking like a rookie and improve your results by following these corrective techniques.
Note: This is part one, click here for part two.

Avoid looking like a rookie and improve your results by following these corrective techniques.

1.) Pull With Your Back, Not Your Arms

When performing pulling exercises such as those for upper/middle back like rows and lat-pulldowns, initiate the movement with your scapula instead of your biceps.

    It's a natural tendency to initiate these pulling movements with your arms (i.e. biceps), but this is incorrect form if your intention is to train your back. Start the movement by grasping the bar with your arms straight, torso vertical and upright, and your shoulder girdle (shoulder blades and shoulders) slightly rolled forward for rows or upward for lat-pulldown/ pull-ups.

    I prefer a thumb-over grip, which treats your hands like the hooks they are meant to be in these exercises and therefore places less effort on the forearms. (shown to right)

    Now for rows, initiate the movement by retracting your scapula (shoulder blades) backward toward your spinal column as if pinching your shoulder blades together.

    For lat-pulldowns or pull-ups it's the same concept except the angle of pull is different so your scapula will be pulled down and backward. Once your shoulder blades have solely initiated the movement, begin following through with your arms until the finish where you will squeeze your back for a moment or two. Your chest should remain high throughout the movement as well as maintaining the natural arch in your lower back.

    Once you master this movement it will be less awkward and will become one fluid, natural movement. You may have to drop the weight a bit at first but you will rewarded with a fantastic fatigue and pump in your back that will let you know you were not previously training effectively and the soreness in your back the following day should be unparalleled.

    Using this proper lifting technique should also reduce the amount of biceps fatigue you are normally accustomed to.

2.) Use Mass Building Exercises For Mass

If you're goal is simply to put on muscle mass then you shouldn't be messing around with isolation exercises or exercises that are better suited for adding definition.

    You're program should revolve around exercises that work multiple muscle groups and allow for heavy weights for maximal overload.

    Example: Instead of performing isolation or concentration exercises for the triceps like one arm cable pushdowns or cable rope pushdowns which are best suited for definition of a particular head of the triceps (depending upon how it's performed), you should be performing known mass builders for the triceps like the close grip bench press, dips, standard pushdowns, skullcrushers, etc.

    Skullcrushers are also known as lying french press, lying extention and many others.

    Mass building exercises stress multiple muscles, which allows for heavy weights and successfully overloads the involved muscles. In this instance, stick with the tried and true mass building exercises that are proven to add meat to the entire triceps muscle or that involves the chest as well.

    Spend your time and energy on the basics, not just for triceps, but for every muscle group if mass building is your goal.

3.) Get A Grip For A Big Chest & A Big Bench

If you're performing the barbell bench press for a big strong chest, make sure to use the optimal grip width.

    Most people grasp the bar too narrowly and force their elbows inward by their sides. To correct your form, simply lie on the bench and set an empty barbell on your chest at about your nipples or a little lower (or have someone help you). With the bar on your chest, grab the bar so that your elbows are in-line with shoulders and your forearms are perpendicular to the floor.

    What NOT To Do:

    Make a mental note of where your hands and fingers are positioned on the bar, which is usually in relation to the rings on the barbell.

    When you're ready to perform your set, place your hands in the appropriate place and go for it! If you've been using the same narrow grip for years, chances are you will not be able to lift as much weight at first. But it is not uncommon to feel the difference in your chest that this position change has after just one set.

    Keep in mind that flaring your elbows out so that they are in line with your shoulders may cause discomfort in some people with shoulder problems especially if you are bringing the bar down above your nipple line. Comfort and preventing injury to your joints should be priority number one, so simply move your elbows inward into a comfortable range in order to avoid the stress on your shoulder complex.

4.) Don't Fatigue Before You Get Started

It's a given that you should be properly warmed up before you begin working out, but some people make the mistake of warming up with too heavy of weights or with too many sets before they even get to their "working sets".

    When done this way, warm-up sets essentially become working sets as well. The point of warm-up sets are to prepare the muscles, body, and mind for the workload you are about to place on it and to prevent injury. The problem of doing too much before you get to your working sets is that by the time you do get to them you are beyond warmed up and your muscles have actually become fatigued, even if slightly so.

    Hence, if your muscles are fatigued, you will not be able to lift as much resistance as you could if they were completely fresh and you will not be producing optimal progressive overload on the muscles. Your results will therefore not be as good as they potentially could be.

    Instead, I recommend warming-up with very light weights, high reps (12-15), and using a slow and controlled pace in a comfortable full-range of motion for no more than 2 sets. Never go to failure or even close to failure on your warm-up sets - you just want to pump some blood into the involved muscles and get those ligaments and tendons ready.

    However, if you're using lower reps and real heavy weight (that typical of powerlifting or lifting for strength) on your working sets, you may need one more warm-up set called an "acclimation set". The acclimation set involves using relatively heavy weight and higher reps than you would for your working sets (8-10), which will force you to use some effort but will not bring you to fatigue.

    The purpose the acclimation set serves is bridge to gap between the very light resistance of your warm-up sets and the very heavy and strenuous resistance used in your working sets. This will prevent total shock or injury to your body when you do perform your first heavy working set.

    If you didn't use an acclimation set before an exercise such as a heavy barbell bench press, chances are that you might drop the weight on your chest as soon as you or your spotter unrack it. Or worse, you could injure or strain yourself.

    There is also no need to perform warm-up sets for anything other than your first exercise for a specific muscle or muscle group. The muscles are already thoroughly warmed up from the preceding exercise and any wasteful sets would only serve to fatigue your muscles rather than produce the progressive overload needed for strength and muscle gain.

    You should instead go straight into your working sets. Think of this new way of warming up as energy conservation so that you can lift bigger weights and produce better results.

5.) Perform Less Crunches For Better Results

Quality training is more important than quantity training for an impressive midsection.

    I frankly don't care how many hundreds or thousands of crunches a day somebody says they do. If done correctly one wouldn't need to be doing so many so often - unless wasting time or energy or "trying" to impress someone is the goal.

    As with anything worth doing you should be using the quality over quantity philosophy. Because the abdominals generally have more endurance-type fibers, they tend to respond better to higher repetitions.

    If you can do more than 20 to 25 repetitions of whatever movement you are performing than in my opinion you are either performing the movement incorrectly or the resistance used is not sufficient. Additionally, the abdominals are best trained and fatigued by keeping constant tension on them. This means that even when you return to the beginning position, your abdominals are still tensed and contracting isometrically (contraction without movement).

    The third major key to abdominal training is contracting your abdominals at the top of the movement as hard as you can for a moment or two (also an isometric contraction or what some people call a peak contraction.

    This is how to effectively and efficiently train the abdominal muscles. (notice the contraction in the photo shown to the right)

    Once you have trained them correctly, now you need to let them rest and recuperate just as you do for other muscle groups. When the abdominals are trained and fatigued correctly, you should not need to train them more than 2-3 times a week. You should experience muscular soreness the following day just as you would for any other productive weight training session. And with this next-day soreness you wouldn't be able to train your abdominals even if you wanted to.

    Furthermore it would be defeating the purpose because you would not be able to create progressive overload. Keep in mind that just like with other muscle groups, it may be beneficial to overtrain every so often.