We hate to sound like your mother, but there’s a reason why we always tell you to wrap your hands around the bar, including your thumb. And we’re not telling you that your feet should be pointing straight ahead for our own benefit. One obvious reason behind the droning advisories is safety, but there are plenty of other reasons why you should follow these fitness rules.
Pay attention to these mistakes you could be making in the gym, and the reasons why you should avoid them.
The suicide grip is when you bench press without your thumbs wrapped around the barbell. If the barbell slips when you press, it can crush your face, neck, or ribs. But it’s not only about safety. The suicide grip is also a weaker grip compared to having your hands wrapped around the bar, so to set a new personal record and really add pounds to your bench press, squeeze the bar as hard as possible to stabilize the movement and engage other muscles.
You should have your feet slightly turned out when you’re squatting, but for everything else, keep your feet pointed straight ahead. Improperly placing your feet can create a lot of stress on your knees and hips, and it can reduce your strength. While squatting, for example, having your feet turned out too far or turned in will reduce the efficiency of the movement.
Have you ever seen someone exercise without weight collars, only to have the plates slide around and almost fall off? Good luck trying to set a PR when your 45-pound plates are all over the place.
Regardless of the weight, it should be instinctive to attach weight collars while using barbells to prevent a disaster from happening. Having weight collars on a barbell can help improve your balance and feel for the exercise.
Too often, guys bend backward as they push overhead. This happens for two reasons: they want to tilt their chest up to mimic an incline bench press, or they lack shoulder mobility. Doing either of those puts enormous and dangerous stress on the joints of your lumbar spine, putting you at risk of serious injury.
Also, too much arching will shift the force onto your chest, away from your shoulders, which means you won’t be getting the shoulder work that you want. Instead, squeeze your glutes and core as hard as you can as you push overhead—this will stabilize your lower back and help you push more weight overhead safely.
There are a few important reasons as to why you need to reach proper depth on the squat. Not going low enough will limit the size and strength of your legs as well as your range of motion. Worse yet, you’ll hurt yourself because the force of the weight stays on your knees and doesn’t shift onto your hips (which are far stronger) until you reach parallel. So just ignore the myth that parallel squats are bad for your knees—it’s false if you do them properly. Just make sure to brace your core as you squat, spread your knees as you descend, and keep your weight on your heels.
Coming to the gym and starting your workout ice-cold can lead to injuries and pulls, and doing a few light reps of your first exercise won’t cut it. What you need is a series of dynamic movements that will open your joints, increase your core temperature, activate your weak muscles, and fire up your nervous system.
This is another reason why skipping your warm up will limit your peformance in the gym. Your body and mind won’t be prepared to lift a heavy load.
Walk into any commercial gym, and you’ll notice most guys do a lot of pushing exercises like the bench press, pushup, military press, dip, and squat. Those moves are effective in building muscle and strength, but you also need to incorporate pulling exercises to better develop balance and your ideal physique.
Doing more pulling—rows, pullups, reverse flyes, deadlifts—promotes better posture and balance around your joints, which prevents injuries. Pulling also makes you stronger, because it gives you the foundation you need to push harder. For example: If you’re plateauing on the bench, do more rows to build out your back. This will make you press more weight eventually.
BY ANTHONY J. YEUNG, C.S.C.S.