By MH Staff - Posted on 10th January 2014
In the gym, how you do it can be more important than what you do. Boost your progress by fine-tuning your form.
MOST COMMON MISTAKES: Positioning the bar too high on the back, almost on the neck • Feet too close together • Hips not pushed back. Perfect It Like This: Position your feet a little wider than your hips and turned slightly outwards (10-15 degrees) to ensure that during flexion the knees stay in line with the feet. Focus on putting firm pressure through your heels into the ground; poor pressure will cause the body to move forwards and not in a vertical plane up and down. Now place the bar over your trapezius muscle, across the back of your shoulders, and not over your neck (find the prominent bony process of the shoulder blade – about the length of your extended hand). Make sure you have a wide grip on the bar, so your elbows are flexed between 70 and 90 degrees. Keep the descent well controlled. It should take you longer than four seconds to get down but rise quickly. The gold standard for the flexed position is that your ankles and knees stay aligned, keeping your calves and shins vertical and your glutes and hamstrings are active. Your back must be straight. Keeping your head up and looking straight ahead will aid this. Inhale before pushing up as air-filled lungs are a great stabiliser for the spine. TOP TIP: Deep knee bending with a heavy load risks knee cartilage injury. The trick is to keep your heels flat and thighs parallel to the floor.
2 Bench Press
MOST COMMON MISTAKES: No spotter • Lifting too heavy too soon • Not using the bench for proper support • Hips lower than knees. Perfect It Like This: It’s called a “bench” press for a reason. Lie flat on the bench with your body neutral and relaxed. Keep your back flat at all times to ensure that it remains fully supported. Often when guys try to lift too heavy, they lift their lower backs off the bench – this is risky! Place your feet on the floor, ensuring that your heels are pushed firmly to the ground. Never place your feet on the bench, as you’ll have no stability and if one arm struggles to push you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up on the floor with the weights on top of you. Position your hands so that halfway through the descent your elbows are flexed 90 degrees. Inhale as you lower the weight and exhale when pushing up, driving your heels into the floor. Set the pace with your breathing. Benching is not a sprint. Just touch your chest, before pushing back up – avoid bouncing off it. TOP TIP: Always have a spotter. If your gym buddy couldn’t make it, use the seated chest machine.
MOST COMMON MISTAKES: Dropping the head forward • Hyperextending the neck and trying to look up • Dropping (or arching) of the lower back • Bum in the air. Perfect It Like This: First of all, don’t try to do too many. Posture can be compromised when this happens and it’s far better to do 20 good push-ups than 50 bad ones. When lying on the floor your body position should be the same as standing at arm’s length in front of a wall and looking straight at the wall. The best hand position is slightly wider than shoulder-width. Imagine a line from your ears through your shoulders to the hips, knees and ankles. Keep your abs activated as you push up and drop down with your arms at 90 degrees. Make sure your chin touches the floor first. Always keep your elbows tucked agaisnt your ribs. TOP TIP: Take it to the next level by involving the shoulder stabilisers. Position yourself at 45 degrees, with your hands on a stability ball (slightly wider than shoulder-width) and fingers pointing downwards to the floor.
4 Dead Lift
MOST COMMON MISTAKES: Feet too close together with toes pointing too far out or in • Knees too far forward • Knees and hips not flexed enough • Shoulders dropped forward • Head down. Perfect It Like This: Place your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips. Get a solid foundation by making sure your heels are planted firmly on the floor with your feet flat so that you’re able to lift your toes. Squat down to grab the bar by keeping your back straight and bending your knees past 90 degrees. If you don’t go low enough your butt will be too high, and if you lift from that position you’ll overextend your back muscles (they should act as stabilisers during the movement to prevent bending forward and arching backwards). But don’t let your knees go over your feet – you should always be able to draw a straight line from the front of the knee downwards to touch your feet. Take hold of the bar outside of your knees. Keep your focus in front of you, not on the bar; if you look down your butt will come up first. Keep your shoulders back, locked and activated. If they roll forwards, you’ll round your back, leading to poor stability. As with the squat, make sure you have filled your lungs to give added support to your spine. Push your head up towards the ceiling to lead the rest of your body. Exhale once in the standing position. Get the weight back down quickly, as a slow movement risks forward dropping of shoulders and bending of the spine. TOP TIP: Technique training is a slow process. Do four reps with light weights and perform each individually. Once you’ve done a rep, stand back, regain focus, bend down, settle and stabilise. This is not a fitness or endurance exercise but aimed at building strength in a large number of muscles.
5 Rowing Machine
MOST COMMON MISTAKES: Keeping your back straight, upright and inactive • Lazy legs • Getting the ‘1:2:3 – 3:2:1’ coordination of legs, trunk and arms wrong. Perfect It Like This: The rowing stroke is around 50% leg and hip drive, 30% trunk extension and 20% arm and shoulder work. This means around 80% of the power is generated from the coordinated work of knees, hips and lower back. Slide forwards to a knee flex of 90 degrees. Reach forwards, extending your arms straight ahead. Bend your back slightly forwards, with your head equally bent. By keeping your back upright you cause the hips to slide too far forwards with the knees forcefully flexing almost fully (the same as standing and doing 100 full squats as quickly as possible). This crunch is the start position or bottom of the stroke. The stroke should now follow – legs, trunk, arms. When pushing backwards with your legs, extend the spine and push your shoulders back – focus on pushing your shoulder blades together – while pulling straight to the sternum. Breathe in with the stroke and exhale as you go back to the start position. This should happen in reverse order – arms, trunk, then legs. TOP TIP: This is a cardio-vascular exercise with one of the highest energy expenditures and fat burning per minute ratios. Doing it incorrectly is a waste of time and a recipe for tennis elbow. Row 500 metres as fast as you can with the correct technique, rest and repeat for a total of four sets (two kilometres).