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Maybe it’s our desire to impress women, or our egos, or our competitive nature, but most guys use heavier loads than they need to at the gym.
And overreaching is the most common culprit behind horrendous form and ensuing injuries, says Harold Gibbons, a trainer at Mark Fisher Fitness in New York City, and the New York State Director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
But there are a handful of exercises where you probably have the opposite problem. Exercises in which you commonly sell yourself short and use too light a weight. “Sometimes using a weight heavier than you might think actually helps you use better form and makes each rep more effective,” says Gibbons.
Below are three such exercises. Go ahead—load up.
The kettlebell swing is a ballistic, hip-based movement. You push your hips back, swinging the bell back between your legs. Then you explosively thrust your hips forward, launching the bell up to shoulder height.
The move is all hips and glutes, says Gibbons. “But if you use a too light of a kettlebell, it’s far too easy to use your arms and shoulders to move the bell in front of you,” he says. “That effectively turns the move into a not-very-effective shoulder exercise.” Instead, the load should be heavy enough that you can’t perform a front raise with it. For most fit guys, a good weight to swing is a 24 kilogram kettlebell. As your strength increases, so should the weight of the bell.
The inverted row is a killer back exercise. Not only does it work the horizontal pull—which is a fundamental human movement—but it’s also safe on your spine. The problem is that most fit guys can crank out a ton of reps of the inverted row, and bodyweight alone often isn’t enough to get your back as strong as you want.
Make it harder. If you can do eight or more reps of the bodyweight version, consider doing the exercise with a sandbag across your chest, or while wearing a weight vest, says Gibbons. You’ll not only make the move more of a strength-builder, but doing fewer reps makes it less likely that you’ll lapse into poor form.
Most activities outside the gym are done on just one leg, says Gibbons. But when you get to the gym, you tend to do everything on two feet.
That’s why many trainers, including Gibbons, favor single-leg exercises like the rear-foot-elevated split squat over ever-popular barbell squats and deadlifts.
“But I often find that most guys think that because they’re using just one leg, they should go much, much lighter,” says Gibbons. “You should go light when you’re just getting used to the movement, but afterwards, go as heavy as possible. You can often lift way more weight with one leg than you think.”
As always, don’t sacrifice form for pounds. Gibbons says easing into heavier weights is more effective anyway. Plus, as you add more weight over time, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come—and how strong your stems have the ability to be. A good goal is to aim for is to use a load equal to your bodyweight for the rear-foot-elevated split squat.