Interested in lifting more weight and preventing injuries in the gym? Use correct form. Lifting with great technique isn't just something that looks nice; it actually puts your body in good biomechanical positions to move heavy things efficiently, reduces unnecessary stress on fragile areas like your back and neck, and teaches good movement patterns outside of the gym. You likely already know the basics to good technique-you know what a lunge or a dumbbell row is supposed to look like. But there are still mistakes even veterans make that can hurt joints and overemphasize the wrong muscles.
Here are five popular exercises that people still mess up and how to do them right.
Barbell Bench Press
Want to set a new record on the bench press without blowing out your shoulders? First, avoid flaring your elbows when you bench. Having your elbows point 90 degrees out to the sides (i.e. perpendicular to your torso) strains your shoulder joints. It also makes the exercise harder because it lengthens the bar path. Instead, keep your elbows at a 45 degrees angle from your torso and touch the bar on your sternum.
Second, don't ignore your leg drive: Too often, people will bench with their feet loose on the floor, tapping or waving around. That kills power and strength because it ruins your stability. Instead, before you press, drive your heels through the ground, tense your entire lower body, and squeeze your glutes-you'll feel far more stable than before and therefore stronger when you push.
No one ever taught us to run-we just do it without thinking. Yet there's an optimal technique to running, and most people ain't doing it.
First, most people land on their heels, which causes shin splints, knee pain, and ankles issues. Instead, land on the balls of your feet-like when jumping rope-and run as quietly as you can. (In fact, if you run barefoot through grass, you'll notice your body instantly switches to the balls of your feet.) You'll better absorb the shock from the ground and prevent overuse injuries.
Second, most people have a slow cadence, which refers to how often their foot hits the ground every second. The result is shitty technique with excessively long strides-this stresses your joints because each gait cycle will require more force to propel and stop you. One study even found that faster step rates reduces hip, knee, and ankle stress. The rule of thumb is 180 steps per minute or three steps per second. If that's faster than what you're used to, shorten your stride, land on the balls of your feet, and match that pace.
Faster step rates reduce hip, knee, and ankle stress.
Have you ever watched box jump videos on YouTube? I'll save you time-don't. Most show someone jumping and immediately pulling their feet high enough to clear a shaky, 40-inch pile of weight plates. That's cheating: They aren't measuring how high they can actually jump; they're just showing how well they tuck their legs. And because they land in a poor position, they never improve how their bodies absorb force-which, if done correctly, would decrease injuries and help generate more force.
The box jump is meant to improve jumping ability and landing mechanics. That's why you have to land in the same position from which you jumped-partial knee bend, partial hip hinge, and a forward lean. Second, land softly and step off the box carefully. Jumping back off a 35-inch box to the floor defeats the purpose of a box jump; you jump onto the box to minimize landing stress.
You (probably) know what a good pushup looks like, but there's something you might not be doing to fully complete the move. When most people push their bodies up from the ground, they get to the top and keep their shoulder blades squeezed together. Instead, make sure to complete those last three inches by pushing your arms through the ground and rounding out your shoulders. This activates shoulder-stabilizing muscles and engrains healthy shoulder movement as the shoulder blades wrap around the ribcage, which they rarely get to do. Here's an example of those last three inches should look like:
Squats and Deadlifts
If you've been around the gym, you already know you need to squat to parallel and deadlift with your back flat. (At least, I hope you already know that.) But people often go too far in the other extreme-you'll see someone squatting or deadlifting with an exaggerated lower-back arch. It seems safer than the alternative (i.e. a rounded back), but you put too much stress on your joints and spinal erectors.
Instead, keep your ribcage down (like after a hard sigh), keep your lower back neutral, and don't crank your pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt (which would look like Donald Duck). Additionally, what happens at your lumbar spine is what happens at your cervical spine (your neck). That's why people often arch their neck backward to keep their eyes level to the ground. Don't. Make sure to keep your neck neutral when you squat and deadlift-you should be looking at a spot on the ground a few feet in front of you.
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and founder of groombuilder.com.
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