So you’re pumped and ready to get into shape. In your no-nonsense Lycra, you bravely step through the gym doors, only to realize that you haven’t a clue where to start. Whilst any exercise is better than none at all, good form is key to ensuring that you’re making the most of your sessions and not at the risk of injury.
Even the most experienced gym-goers make mistakes, so it’s worth brushing up on your knowledge of technique and posture whether you’re a newbie or not. Let’s start with these 8:
1. Tricep Extensions: You Don’t Tuck In
If you’ve been blasting the bingo wings with tricep extensions but don’t seem to be achieving the sculpted arms you’d hoped for, it may be because you aren’t tucking your elbows in. As you extend your arms and lower the dumbbell behind your head, it’s all too tempting to let your elbows fall to the side – this is the easy route! If you really want to challenge those triceps and tone-up, keep your elbows as close to the ears as possible. You’ll notice a massive difference in difficulty/resistance.
2. Bicep Curls: You Only Go Half Way
If you want the full effect of the bicep curl, lower the weight past your chest/closer to your hips, so that your arms are perfectly straight. This encourages a full range of motion, forcing the muscles to work harder. Again keep the elbows pinned to your sides. If you’re lifting heavy to strengthen up, don’t rush your reps. Whilst there’s no harm in going fast; slow, controlled movements are the best way to get strong and sculpted – effective breathing matched with good pace and form achieves the best results.
3. Dumbbell Rows: You Hunch Your Back
Dumbbell rows are great for strengthening the arms, shoulders and back. However, when done incorrectly, they can be dangerous. Many pay very little attention to how their upper body folds over, and simply concentrate on moving the arms up and down, job done. But there’s so much more to this exercise. To fix your form, engage the core in addition to working the biceps. When bending forwards, naturally straighten the back so it’s roughly parallel to the floor, draw the stomach in and look ahead. This position promotes strength and prevents injury.
4. Planks: You Stick Out Your Bum
The idea of positioning your body perfectly straight is trickier than you first think. It takes multiple muscles, primarily the core, to hold your body weight in place, which can result in shaky arms and achy abs to begin with. Don’t take it easy by sticking your bum in the air or sagging the hips; yes it takes the pressure off, but it’s far less effective than a plank in good form. Lower the hips, tuck your stomach in (core engaged), squeeze the glutes and remain strong and steady for as long as you can hold.
5. Crunches: You Pull Up With Your Neck
Many step away from 3 sets of crunches with a sore neck and not much else, and that’s down to poor technique. Rather than engaging the core and controlling the lift through the tummy muscles, they lift through the neck. As you can imagine, this does nothing except create unnecessary pain. To perform it correctly, push the small of your back into the floor, engage the abs and roll your shoulders off the floor, ensuring that your weight is carried by your core; not the base of your neck/back. If you still can’t quite get it right, try switching to another tummy targeting exercise, like Russian twists or flutter kicks.
6. Squats: You Aren’t Lowering To 90-Degrees
Squats are amazing; if you aren’t doing them already, you need to be. They build muscle throughout the body, as well as shape and tone your glutes and thighs – watch out Kim K! However, that being said, with the squat comes a multitude of potential errors when it comes to mastering form. It isn’t just a case of lowering to the floor. Practice your squat in front of a mirror to ensure that you’re achieving that 90-degree angle, with the thighs parallel to the ground and the knees aligned. If you don’t, it’s wasted effort and you’ll witness no change. You really need to engage the glutes and the upper part of your hamstrings to feel the burn.
7. Squats: You’re Stuck In A Rut
You squat like there’s no tomorrow but aren’t reaping the benefits. Your form is in check, but you’re not making progress. Chances are you need to either a) add variety or b) add weights. Squat plateaus happen, and a way to avoid this is by increasing the difficulty. Enhance your squats by switching them up: try the jump squat or pistol squat, or include a half turn. If variation isn’t holding you back, look to your weights. Many make the mistake of lifting light when they squat – this won’t make a difference. Take your barbell, dumbbell or weight plate up a notch; the increased weight will really maximise your squats.
8. Leg Lifts: You’re Arching Your Back
Leg lifts are deceiving. They seem simple, but the burn soon kicks in. To alleviate the pressure it’s common for gym-goers to arch their lower backs, which not only limits the effectiveness of the exercise, but it could also potentially strain your back. To fix your form, maintain the lower back’s natural curve (don’t raise it). Keep your head/shoulders pressed to floor, with the core engaged. Completing leg raises with good technique is more important than rep count – don’t run before you can walk.