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Full potential, here you come!
This article was written by Kelsey Cannon and repurposed with permission from Men’s Health.
You’re an experienced gym-goer. In fact, you can pick out the newbies there like you used to spot freshmen in the high-school cafeteria. But no matter how long you’ve been pumping iron, you may still be making some rookie mistakes during your workouts. Don’t let these errors sabotage your strength gains any longer.
You Focus on Lifting, Not Lowering
Pumping out reps at warp speed may make you feel like Superman, but focusing on the lowering phase of an exercise has big benefits. “Slowing down this portion eliminates the natural elasticity in your muscles and connective tissues so the weight can’t bounce back up quickly,” says BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., creator of Men’s Health StreamFIT. “This technique promotes muscle growth and builds strength, since you’re no longer relying on momentum or gravity to help you.”
Fair warning: You’ll have to put your ego aside. “Lowering slow and controlled makes the exercise more difficult, so you’ll most likely have to reduce the load or use a regressed version of the movement in the short-term if you want to reap the benefits of this type of training in the long-term,” says Gaddour.
Do this: Take four seconds to lower the weight, pause for two seconds at the bottom, take two seconds to lift the weight, and pause for two seconds at the top. Repeat.
You Stick to Your Favorite Exercises
By now, you have your go-to moves. You know which exercises you’re good at and which ones work your favorite muscle groups. But are these exercises holding you back?
“There will always be time for more bench presses and bicep curls,” says Michael Piercy, 2013 TRX Instructor of The Year, and owner of The Lab Performance & Sports Science in West Caldwell, New Jersey. “If you want to hit all of your muscle groups, shore up weak spots, become more mobile, correct bad habits, and challenge your body, then you have to make sure you are hitting the fundamentals each and every time.”
Do this: Include the basic human movement patterns like the pull, push, hinge, squat, and carry in every workout. Choose exercises that fit those patterns, and you’ll have an effective total-body routine that continues to increase your gains.
You Stand in One Position
You know that adding weight makes an exercise harder. But if you want to make your body work harder from head to toe, you must change your stance. “You don’t always have to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and facing forward,” says Bruce Mack, co-founder of Men’s Health Thrive. “Altering the way you place your feet on the ground forces more stabilizing muscles into action, which increases the challenge of the move.” Working these muscles strengthens your core, which will help you move heavier loads down the road.
Do this: Make it harder by performing standing exercises in an in-line split stance position. Start in a staggered stance, with your left foot in front of your right. Now, move your right foot a couple of inches to the left. Your feet should form a straight line that passes under your body. Want to make it even more difficult? Start in an in-line split stance, and then lower your body into a lunge so that your back knee hovers above the floor. (If you’re looking for another easy way to increase your gains, check out this 10-second trick that will help you lift more weight.)
You Head Straight for the Weights
You can easily think of a million excuses for skipping your warm-up: It’s boring, you don’t have enough time, the walk from the locker room already loosened you up. The right warm-up can transform your workout, though. It improves your range of motion, increases your joint stability, reduces your risk of injury, and enhances the communication between your mind and your muscles, says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. Add a warm-up to your routine for two weeks straight, and you’ll soon realize that the most important part of your workout was the one you were once avoiding.
Do this: Complete this 10-minute warm-up from Gentilcore before your next workout.
You Forget About Your Back
The more comfortable you get in the weight room, the easier it is to fall into a rhythm and skim over important form details. One cue you should never disregard: bracing your core. It ensures your spine is in its neutral alignment, reducing your risk of serious back injury. “Whether you’re picking up a dumbbell from the weight rack or going for a new personal record, your back should always remain flat,” says Gaddour. “It should stabilize your body whenever you have a weight in your hand. It shouldn’t be flexing or extending.”
Do this: Sharply exhale and clench your abs, as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Maintain this contraction throughout the entire movement. Reset before each rep.