“Everyone makes mistakes” is an often used — and, quite frankly, elementary — excuse employed to provoke sympathy in someone you’ve wronged. However, should this mistake occur at the gym, especially when heavy equipment’s involved, you could be looking at a lot more damage than losing your Real Housewives couch mate to an argument. While everyone indeed makes mistakes in a general sense, many are occurring where it’s imperative they don’t. “I would say over 60 per cent of average gym-goers don’t perform exercises properly,” Stefan Overgaard, owner, founder, and head trainer at SXS Fitness in Toronto, relays. “On top of that, nearly 75 per cent of people don’t work out effectively.” Meaning to a lesser — but no less detrimental — degree, few people complete proper workouts to meet their fitness goals. So what’s going wrong? “Generally speaking, many women lift too little weight,” Overgaard cites, adding that men make the opposite mistake, and tend to lift far heavier than they should, sacrificing form. “Certainly, there’s no risk in lifting a lighter weight, but when someone uses less load, there often isn’t enough impact on the muscles to elicit significant gains.” This is primarily because of the misconception that women will “bulk up” if they lift heavy weights. “This theory couldn’t be further from the truth,” Overgaard insists. “It’s extremely difficult for women to bulk up from increased muscle mass by lifting heavier weights simply because they don’t produce nearly the same amount of testosterone as men; but, of course, there are exceptions.” At the same time, it’s important one doesn’t lift too heavy and risk hurting themselves — there’s a fine line between an effective workout and a dangerous one. So to ensure your workout delivers impact, not injury, Overgaard explains how to perform several valuable and effective exercises while listing common mistakes, and how they can be fixed.
What goes wrong: Leading by “bowing” forward instead of hinging back at the hip.
How to fix it: Practise in front of a wall with a dowel or light bar. Start about six inches from the wall, facing away, and try to touch the wall with your butt without bending your knees or leaning into it.
How to do it: Begin in an athletic stance with your feet hip-width apart and your legs slightly bent. Have the barbell rest evenly on your shoulders with your hands firmly gripping the bar, and your elbows pointing straight down. Keeping your legs straight (but not locked), push your hips back, allowing your upper torso to come forward, feeling a stretch in your hamstrings while keeping your core engaged and your back flat. Once you reach the limit of your hamstrings’ range of motion, or your legs are parallel to the ground (do not go below), push up from the heels, and bring your hips back up to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
Tip: Squeeze your back to create some tension on the bar and to help keep your upper torso as solid as possible.
Lateral Dumbbell Raise
What goes wrong: The movement can be too abrupt and erratic for some. This can influence one to swing the weights instead of lift them, which is ineffective and can cause injury.
How to fix it: Have lighter weights on hand so if you cannot finish the set without using extra momentum, you can drop down to the lighter weight mid-set.
How to do it: Standing in an athletic stance (feet flat on the ground, legs slightly bent), hold the dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Set a proper posture by keeping your shoulders back and your chest up. Keeping your arms slightly bent, smoothly raise the dumbbells from your sides up to shoulder level. Pause, and slowly return to the starting position.
Tip: Squeeze your shoulder blades together while doing the movement.
Incline Chest Flye
What goes wrong: Going too deep in the movement. Generally speaking, more range of motion is better, but in this case it can cause undue stress to the shoulder joint, which can lead to injury.
How to fix it: Never let your hands drop below the shoulder joint from the beginning to the end of the move. If they do go lower than the shoulder joint, drop down to a lighter weight.
How to do it: Sit down on a bench that’s roughly at a 30-degree incline, and hold your dumbbells with your arms straight up and parallel, with your palms facing each other. Your arms should be straight when you begin, but not locked. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, lower the dumbbells in a wide arc out to the sides of your body and open up the chest until the dumbbells are about level with your shoulders. Pause and slowly return to the start in a “hugging” motion, bringing your arms back to the parallel (or starting) position.
Tip: Lead the movement by contracting the pecs and squeezing them together at the top of each rep.
Bulgarian Split Squat
What goes wrong: Too much weight is placed on the elevated leg, causing additional pressure and discomfort on that ankle or foot.
How to fix it: Shift most of your weight on the front foot, almost lifting the back foot off of the bench as you come up — just don’t let the heel of the front foot come off the ground! If your front foot does happen to lift, try to position your foot farther away from the bench and sink straight down instead of shifting forward.
How to do it: Standing in front of a bench holding dumbbells at your sides, reach one leg back and place the top of that foot on the edge of the bench. Position your front foot so your heel is lined with the front of your hip. Maintaining shoulders back and level, sink straight down into a split squat until your hips are at the same level as your front knee (or slightly below). Drive up from the heel of your front leg until you’re back to the starting position. Keep your front knee lined up with your big toe, and don’t let it cave in.
Tip: If balance is an issue, stare at an item roughly 4 to 6 feet in front of you instead of looking directly at the mirror.
Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension
What goes wrong: Elbows flare out (or wobble) attempting to lift weight that’s not manageable. This is very common, since this exercise recruits muscles that aren’t often impacted.
How to fix it: Pull your elbows in slightly as you go through the extension. The elbows will naturally flare out as the exercise gets more difficult, so if you still can’t keep your arms parallel, simply try using lighter weights, even switching out mid-set if necessary.
How to do it: Lying flat on a bench, facing up (in the supine position), hold the dumbbells with your arms straight up and perpendicular to the body so that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are perfectly algined. Keeping your upper arms (shoulder to elbow) pointing straight up and parallel, bend your elbows so the dumbbells come down toward your shoulders. Smoothly extend (straighten) your arms back to the starting position so that your arms are completely straight and perpendicular to your body.
Tip: Keep your shoulders away from your ears and keep your neck long. To do this, engage through your lats and serratus anterior (your back) to hold your shoulder girdle stable. This position will provide more isolated movement in the triceps
What goes wrong: The upper body rocks back and forth as overcompensation in order to get the weight up. This offloads tension from the biceps to other areas of the body — including the back, which can lead to injury.
How to fix it: Do the exercise with your back pressed up against a wall and/or use a lighter weight.
How to do it: In an athletic stance (feet flat on the ground, legs slightly bent), keep the barbell in front of your hips, holding the bar with an underhand grip (supinated). Your arms should be straight but not locked, your shoulders back, and your chest up. Keeping your elbows back, curl the barbell up toward the shoulders, moving only from the elbows and squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement. Slowly go back to the starting position.
Tip: Never fully extend the arms when you complete the lowering part of the movement, and keep your arms slightly bent so the biceps are under tension
What goes wrong: As the exercise becomes more difficult, one may pull his or her head forward as a means of overcompensation. What this actually does is place unnecessary strain on the neck.
How to fix it: Don’t interlock your fingers behind your head. Pull your chin in so that the back of the neck stays long as you come up in the movement.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees over your hips and bent at a 90-degree angle. Place your hands behind your ears with your elbows out to the sides. Pull your belly button toward your spine and keep your shoulders down from your ears as though you’re trying to elongate your neck. Extend your right foot away from your body (the closer it goes to the floor the harder this will be), then twist from your right lower ribcage toward your left hip (so you engage your oblique muscles); your right elbow and left knee will move toward each other. Next, switch sides and extend the left foot away while the left elbow moves toward the right knee.
Tip: Try your best to keep your elbows back at all times and lead with your lower ribcage toward your hip instead of trying to simply touch your elbow to your knee. This way, you’ll get a more complete range of motion.