23rd October 2018
How are your workouts going these days? Do you take a step back occasionally to monitor your progress and fix any problems you might be having? Depending on your goals and experience, any issues you encounter might be different than those of other people. Nevertheless, mistakes can crop up in anybody’s routine, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.
The errors we’ll discuss below might seem basic, and they are. Which is why they are so common. Reasons for their prevalence can vary, sometimes it is just beginner’s naivety, sometimes they result from trying to lift more than usual, other times it is through complacency and getting lackadaisical with a movement.
Every once in a while it is worth focusing on the fundamentals to make sure your form is up to scratch. Good form prevents injuries and promotes muscle growth, so from time to time make sure to check that you aren’t making one of these mistakes.
The exercise: Push-ups
The mistake: Letting your hips sag
If you’ve ever seen a film or cartoon where a bunch of kids are made to do countless push-ups by a military-esque P.E. teacher, you’ll inevitably notice the scrawny kids pushing through with their hips. Aside from looking like you want to make the floor your wife, doing push-ups in this way takes all the emphasis out of your arms and chest. It is far better to do ten push-ups with perfect form than twenty maggot-hole press-ups (this is what we called them back in school, but you may have a different colourful term for them).
You can fix this mistake by imagining a straight line running through your body from your head to your heels, then ensuring that your hips keep to this line throughout your set.
The exercise: Bench press
The mistake: Bouncing the bar off your chest
Not only does this defeat the object by taking some of the effort out of the lift, but you can genuinely hurt your self by bouncing the barbell off of your chest at the bottom of a bench press. Using your chest to create momentum to springboard the weight back into the air might mean you can force out a couple more extra reps, but those reps might not be as beneficial as less reps performed correctly.
Instead of slamming the weight down and back up off of your chest, lower the bar under control and let it lightly rest at your chest for a second before pressing back up. Remember, it’s a bench press, not bench bounce.
The exercise: Squat
The mistake: Not going low enough
Whether you are doing bodyweight squats, using the Smith machine, or free weight squatting, the same rules apply. Especially this one: unless you’re injured, go past parallel! You don’t even necessarily have to go past it, but at least make sure your thighs reach the point where they are parallel to the floor. If you can’t manage that then you are using too much weight and will likely injure yourself.
To reach an adequate depth during a squat, your upper thigh should pass below your knee joint. If it helps, place a box (that’s slightly below knee height) behind you when you squat, so your glutes lightly brush it before you drive back up. Make sure you don’t use the box to force momentum though.
The exercise: Pull-ups
The mistake: Not going through the full range of motion
To be honest, not going through the full range of motion is a common mistake for most exercises, but it is especially poignant with pull-ups. As pull-ups predominantly work your back muscles you need to make sure you put them through their paces fully. If you aren’t lowering down all the way to a full hang then your back muscles – particularly your lats – don’t engage properly and the exercise can be a waste of time.
Start off your pull-ups by hanging with straight arms, pull up until your chin passes the bar, and lower back to a dead-hang. Also, refrain from swinging your legs to create momentum; this takes even more emphasis off of your back.
The exercise: Lunge
The mistake: Leaning forward
Even though you are lunging forward in this movement, your upper body needs to remain upright. When people struggle with lunging there is an urge to lean forward at the hips to compensate for the imbalance, but this is what your abs are for – let them do their job. You’ll know if you are leaning too far forward if your front heel starts to rise off the ground.
Stand up as straight and tall as you can before starting your lunge. Keep your back like this throughout. Step forward with one leg until the back knee almost touches (but never quite reaches) the ground. Then drive through the heel to return to your starting position. Your posture should be the same as at the beginning of the movement.
The exercise: Crunches
The mistake: Only using one angle
You are probably already aware that endless crunches aren’t the optimal way to achieve a six-pack and they won’t burn the fat that is resting on top. They do work your core though, and can help your abs pop if you have low body fat. But you need to do them right. The usual way of performing crunches or sit-ups is the standard up-down motion, but your abdominals are more complicated than this. It requires twists, rotations, and motion from various angles, to involve all of the core muscles.
There are myriad ways to hit your abs from different angles: bicycle crunches, Russian twists, windshield wipers… You just need to find the exercises that are right for your routine and add them in at the end of the workout. You can’t expect a six-pack if you just rely on crunches.
Spot check your form every now and again to keep all the basics nailed down. Better still, ask a friend or PT to watch you for a set or two and highlight any flaws in your performance; they are more likely to notice any little tweaks you need to make and you are free to focus purely on your reps.
These are by no means the only mistakes that you can expect to see in the gym, but they are pretty common ones. What are the mistakes that you see all too often, and what advice would you give people to fix them? Comment below.