Working out is simple. And the more complicated you make it, the more mistakes you’re probably committing.
You can get the best exercise of your life running hills or working out the pull-up bars at a playground. Even a set of 50lbs dumbbells is enough to keep you lean and shredded if used properly.
I love my gym. It’s my dojo. The place where I get away from it all. But it can also be a crutch for a lot of us.
We go to the gym because we can work out on a bike while scrolling through Twitter. We can sit on a machine and do crunches that don’t do anything but waste time. Or, we can make the gym our social club and spend hours chatting it up with friends.
There are many mistakes we all make at the gym, but here are my top five to avoid.
A correct pull-up is arms extended, back pinched, and pulling yourself up so that your chin clears the bar.
An incorrect pull-up is using momentum to rock yourself up and down like you’re head-banging at a rock concert. Incorrect pull-ups look so bad that I’m not sure why so many of us try to get away with it.
Your pull-up numbers do not matter. What matters is strengthening and growing the muscles of your back. Incorrect pull-ups do not do this.
You should be trying to pull the bar to your chest. The best pull-up experts do this actually. This action creates the perfect form to strengthen your back.
Prioritize form, not numbers.
Crunches & Planks
Crunches suck and so do planks.
Planks are one of the few core exercises to activate 100% of your core. Despite this, you never see any athletes doing them. Tyreek Hill, Lebron James, heck, even the Dad-bod king Tom Brady isn’t a fan of doing planks.
These athletes incorporate more dynamic ab movements, including moving plank exercises. Exercises like the “Twisting Piston” utilize the standard plank move but introduce hops you make while twisting your body left and right.
This works multiple parts of your abdomen including the often overlooked oblique muscles.
You don’t get a six-pack by sitting in a plank for 10-minutes or doing 50 sub-par crunches. You get a six-pack when you do more dynamic, athletic exercises.
The upright row is an exercise where you grab a barbell mini in a pronated grip and lift it straight up while keeping the bar close to your body and flailing your elbows out.
It works your shoulder and trap muscles, and Arnold Schwarzenegger even used it back in his prime weightlifting days.
There are many problems with the upright row however.
In order to perform the exercise, your shoulder has to go into internal rotation with heavyweights. This puts a tremendous amount of strain on your rotator cuff — a muscle that is weak for many of us already — and could cause shoulder impingement.
It’s just not worth it. Try this exercise instead.
Dumbbell Side Bends
I used to do these. I admit everything.
Holding a dumbbell at my side and bending up and down made me think I was sculpting my six-pack. I would even superset these in-between sets to get that extra burn.
It never worked. It’s a bad exercise that doesn’t target the oblique muscles enough to see any results.
“Most of the time, it involves too much lateral bending and twisting of the spine,” says performance specialist Matt Cheng. Instead, he recommends doing hanging oblique knee raises on a bar. “These target the same oblique muscles while taking the pressure off your spine.”
It’s a bit of a no-brainer terrible exercise. How could bending over with a dumbbell give you a six-pack? Don’t worry, I was stupid enough to believe it too.
The Smith Machine has its time and place.
When I first started bench pressing I would use the Smith Machine to get more accustomed to lifting heavy amounts of weight.
It’s like using training wheels when learning how to ride a bike. The problem, however, starts when you don’t take the training wheels off after years of using them.
The Smith Machine does not build up your stabilizer muscles. It’s like constructing a building with terrible support beams.
Without strong stabilizer muscles, you drastically increase your risk for injury. So, after a few months in the gym try compound exercises like the squat, bench press, and shoulder press on a free bar.
There’s no shame in starting off light. We’ve all been there.
As we finally trudge through this brutal winter season, I’m excited to head back to the gym more. But I’m not excited to see more people commit these gym sins.
Doing improper gym exercises not all steals from your gains, but it increases your risk for injury.
You should always reexamine the exercises you do and the proper form for doing them. An injury just isn’t worth it.