I’ve been going to gym regularly for a few years now and I think I’ve learnt some useful tips along the way. For this article, I thought I’d mention a mistake I often see others do in the gym and help you avoid it.

Actually it is not really a mistake, it’s more a lack of efficacy in movement – moving in a way less than ideal for getting the results hoped to be obtained.

The correct term is ‘sub-optimal’

At best, people doing this are putting in more hours and effort than needed because of this sub-optimal behaviour. At worst, they are tempting injury by putting stresses on body parts where they really shouldn’t be.

My point is to focus on each repetition of every exercise so as to only move those body parts that are meant to move in that exercise.

A bicep curl requires movement at the elbow – and nowhere else. A chest fly requires movement only at the shoulder joint as the wrists come together.

Equally this applies to compound exercises – a chest press really requires movement at two joints – the shoulder as the upper arms come together, and elbow (as the tricep extends) only. I’ve seen chest presses with substantial amounts of back arching, the edges of the upper back coming forward away from the pad or bench, and even the legs shooting up wildly to assist.

All of these unnecessary movements deflect focus from the muscle or muscles intended to be trained.

Why do we do this?

Well, the other body movements provide assistance and the body thinks it is helping you – deep down, the body simply knows you want to move that load from point A to point B, and it recruits as many additional muscles to spread the effort and stress as it can.

At home, when you pick up a heavy box, your body will make it as easy as possible by employing as many contributing muscles as it can – lots of legs, core, arms, back and shoulders. But that’s possibly not what you want in the gym; so you can force the body to behave in a different way – ensuring that it uses only that muscle or sub-set of muscles you specifically want to engage.

Not the standard bicep curl

One of the worst examples I’ve seen is someone in the gym a couple of weeks ago who was performing standing bicep curls with a barbell. At least, he thought he was doing bicep curls.

The bar started out low, by his waist, and he was bent forward. Then a huge heave upwards as his body then leant well back, accompanied by legs bending down and springing up at knee and hip joints.

At the top of the movement, his arms came forward at the shoulders ensuring the bar ended up near his forehead.

weight training form_2Weight training form

There may actually have been some movement at the elbow – where it should have been – but if there was it was pretty negligible and certainly less than 10% of his overall effort – rather than the 100% it should have been.

Actually there probably was some benefit to the bicep due to the static, isometric hold he had at around 90 degrees at the elbow – but if he really wanted to do an isometric hold, then nothing should have moved!

So the bar moved a long way, the body helped achieve the objective of moving the weight with minimum stress by involving as many muscle groups as possible – but an isolation exercise for the bicep…..well, no.

And I began to feel sorry for his lower back, going through movements well away from the design spec for that body part. No injuries this time, I’m pleased to report, but surely it wouldn’t be long.

I’m sure that the weight would have to come down if he’d performed the exercise correctly

There’s a whole set of number-ego issues in here which I’ll talk about another occasion. But you can see the over-simplified maths in terms of benefit to the biceps if he’d switched to 100% of his effort and concentration effort on the bicep with 50% of the weight he used, rather than 10% of the effort and concentration devoted to the bicep on this heavier load employed.

Once you see this once, you start looking for it everywhere. Well, I do.

Leaning backwards during lat pulldowns, knees and hips involved in calf raises and introducing a forward element in lateral shoulder raises are the next three examples that jump to mind immediately.

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this behaviour myself at times – probably quite frequently.

But by being aware of it, I hope I correct myself before it goes too far – and bring the weight down if required to keep that form right.

Hope this helps, have a great New Year!

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