It’s common knowledge that proper lifting technique will enable you to target the muscles you want to work and reduce your risk of injury. For example, swinging a biceps curl with the help of your back and legs will do little to develop the arms, and bouncing a barbell off your chest in a bench press will thrash your rotator cuff. However, there are many popular exercises that are often performed incorrectly but the trainee (and often their personal trainer) doesn’t realize they are being performed incorrectly. Here are seven of them:
1. Leg Curl. The most common problem with legs curls is using too much weight in the exercise so that they do not work the muscles through a full range of motion. As such, they do not achieve a full contraction of the hamstrings. You should also frequently vary your foot position, such as by pointing them inward and outward, as this creates different lines of pull and thus more completely works the hamstrings.
2. Split Squat. The major mistake made when performing a split squat is moving the hips straight down. What you want to do to get the most range of motion during the exercise is to let the hips travel forward and down so that the knee extends over the toes. In effect, you want your legs to work more as an escalator, not an elevator.
3. Seated Row. Two of the most common errors that occur when performing seated rows are rounding your upper back at the start and leaning back as you pull the cable handles towards you. Keep your torso upright and your head in line with your spine throughout the entire exercise to experience pain-free gains in strength and muscle developments.
4. Calf Raise. In an attempt to use more weight, many individuals do not perform calf raises throughout a full range of motion. Performing the exercise in this manner reduces the effectiveness of this exercise. When performing calf raises, you want to get a full stretch in the bottom position and come up as high as possible on your toes in the top position.
5. Lateral Raise. There are two common errors with lateral raises, one that affects how the muscles are targeted and another that increases the risk of injury. The first one is allowing the weights to come forward as you lift the dumbbells – you should lift them directly out to your sides. This diverts the emphasis away from the medial deltoid and more towards the anterior deltoid. The second is lifting the dumbbells so that your knuckles are above the level of your ears, as this method may contribute to shoulder impingement.
6. Reverse Hyper. When using traditional reverse hyper machines that have a chest pad that is parallel to the floor, you should lift the legs slightly below parallel. Lifting the legs higher than this hyperextends the spine and as such can place a high level of stress on the L3 to L5 vertebrae. Also, because the erector spinae contains of both high-threshold motor units and low-threshold motor units, you should perform protocols using both higher reps and lower reps.
7. Step-up. When performing step-ups, it’s important that the front leg does all the work – often trainees push off with the back leg, which reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. Keep the rear leg straight and lift the toes (dorsiflex) to prevent you from pushing off.
Many of these corrections are subtle, but ensuring that you have perfect form in any weight training exercise you perform will help you stay injury-free and achieve your personal standard of physical perfection.