Are you a 5-foot, 10-inch male who weighs 140 pounds and can do 50-lb., single-arm bicep curls? If you answered, “yes,” you are probably doing them wrong. If you managed not to strain your lower back on the way to assisting your biceps, you probably only curled about 20 lbs. with the muscles you were actually targeting. Too many people read online blogs or adopt workouts from their friends or Men’s Health (I read it, too) and then head straight to the Student Recreation Center to attempt some hard-core lifting. Stop. If you don’t start exercising correctly, your doctor is going to tell you that you have the elbows of a 40-year-old tennis player and the knees of your grandmother. Here are some general “don’ts” that will make your workouts both safer and more effective. Your body will thank me in 10 years.
Performing resistance exercises while standing up is great because it forces you to utilize your core; however, it also puts you at greater risks for improper form and injury than do seated exercises. When doing any upper body exercise, stand in a stance similar to the “ready position” in tennis: feet shoulder width (or slightly wider) apart, knees bent and back straight. Then, when performing the exercise itself, try to move only the targeted joint and keep the rest of the body still. Embracing your core (like flexing your abs) will help to keep your body stable and prevent you from using your back.
Many beginning lifters are afraid to do squats because of the horror stories they have heard about people blowing out their knees or pulling their backs. Those people were doing them wrong. When doing lower body exercises such as squats, you must keep your weight in your heels. Far too many people come down with their weight in their toes; this puts all of the strain on the knees instead of on the glutes, hamstrings and quads. Instead, come down with the weight in your heels (you should be able to wiggle your toes when at the bottom of the motion), and drive up with your legs at the bottom of the motion. Don’t make the mistake of lifting the bar up with your back. Yes, the squat is supposed to work your back, but its role is as a stabilizer, not as the primary pusher. If you are worried about falling backward, place a plyometric box behind you, sit down in between each rep and use a spotter.
Don’t be stupid with your weight selection. More isn’t always better. I promise that your arms and legs will look better if you do 25 percent less weight, 100 percent right than if you do too much weight, 100 percent wrong.
Don’t lift the same muscles on back-to-back days. Your muscles get stronger when you rest. Lifting causes micro-tears in your muscle fibers (this is why you get sore). In general, larger muscles like your quads take longer to repair than do smaller muscles like your abs or biceps. If you do not allow for an adequate recovery time, not only will you be more prone to sustaining injuries from overuse, but you will not see results. Because they activate the same muscles, don’t do dead lifts today if you did squats yesterday.
Finally, let’s talk about gym etiquette. First, wipe off your sweaty bench and weights. Aside from obvious and understandable concern over the presence of bacteria, it’s just gross to walk up to an empty bench that hasn’t been cleaned. Next, if you are lifting more weight than you are used to lifting, get a spotter. Don’t end up like Southern California football player Stefon Johnson, who required emergency surgery after the bar crushed his throat and larynx.
Especially during peak hours, don’t hog the equipment. Even if you weigh 225 and can bench 350, that 140-pound guy (or girl) has just as much of a right to the equipment as you do. Use the weight room as long as you’d like, but being bigger and prettier doesn’t mean you can claim the bench press, squat rack and kettle bells at the same time.
One final thing: At least put forth a marginal effort to not stare at every girl who is brave enough to walk into the downstairs weight room. Weight lifting should be for everyone, but too many girls are afraid to go downstairs and lift with the guys. So, if they do decide to join us in the weight room, please be courteous and don’t embarrass the rest of us.