Without a doubt, for those of us that are all about the iron game, there are those “staple” exercises that we just cannot do without. For damn good reason, too – cause they are awesome and effective!!
Though there are tons and tons of these staple exercises that we all utilize, we wanted to touch on a few important ones that we picked up from this article called The Top 4 Gym Mistakes Causing Back Pain (and How to Fix Them), found on CriticalBench.com
It’s nearly impossible to go to the gym and NOT see someone doing an exercise or stretch incorrectly. Human nature begs us to reach out to these misguided lifters BUT we can’t solve every issue out there…it’s just not that easy. What I can do for you is focus on the most prevalent movements done poorly and explain how you can avoid these common mistakes.
The Training Faux Pas’
Making mistakes in the gym or utilizing improper form are just some sure-fire ways to mess your shit up! You have to be mindful of ALL you exercises, your stretches, your technique, your form, and your progression. The less you pay attention to all the subtleties that allow you make gains, injury free, the more prone you are to no results and more injuries. So pay attention…
Mistake 1: The Wrong Hamstring Stretch
Look familiar? Well it should!
This looks like something we’ve all seen at the gym, the park or wherever people exercise. When trying to stretch the hamstrings many people create unnecessary stress on their lumbar spine by reaching for their toes from a standing position. This obvious bend in the thoracic spine (or mid back area) puts both the pelvis and hamstrings into poor position for a proper stretch and breaks the natural curve of the back causing the lower back far too much strain.
This is the hamstring stretch we are all accustomed to, used to, and taught to do as early as grade school. Too bad it’s wrong on many levels and just plain bad for you!
You may or may not have seen this proper hammy stretch, but here it is.
By laying on the floor with one leg elevated and the other bent, it is possible to maintain a flat body position and avoid any strain on the lumbar spine. By fully bending and extending the straight leg, you can actively stretch the hamstrings (one at a time for optimal results) thus creating absolutely no stress on the lower back. Do this repetitively holding the leg straight at the top for several seconds pushing the heel towards the sky.
Mistake 2: Poor Deadlift Technique
The Deadlift is one of the very best overall strength and power exercises, and is performed by athletes of all varieties. Some athletes and casual lifters, make very fundamental mistakes when assessing proper form for this brutal, and possibly injury inducing, exercise…
Looks to be decent enough, except the little subtelty in the lining of the head and neck to form a straight line down the back…
Whenever a person performs a lift or exercise, having a neutral spine is essential. Try to always maintain perfect spinal alignment in all phases of the lift.
That being said, you shouldn’t be cocking your head awkwardly back to look forward when getting into position with the bar, rather look at your eyebrows with your head and neck in line with your torso. The other huge problem with the Deadlift is the hyper extension of the body at the top of the lift. When trying to fully contract the glutes and legs, people will lean backwards and look up, again putting their body in poor alignment and leading to undo harmful stress on their lower back.
Ahh… much better!
Notice the crown of the head to the buttocks forms a perfect line. The knees and hips are bent and the body is put into a very strong lifting position. At the top of the exercise, the glutes, quads and abdominals are fully contracted keeping the body rigid. The shoulders are back, chest is up and the upper back muscles are also contracted to maximize tension throughout the body and protect the lower back from any unnecessary strain.
Mistake 3: Rounded Back On Barbell Rows
Barbell Rows are a KILLER upper back exercise! They build slabs of muscle, great strength, and loads of balance. Some people tend to go too heavy on the weight, and end up either swaying, or even worse – rounding their back to make it “easier.” NO NO NO!!!
The Bent-Over Barbell Row is notoriously done improperly. Many people have a difficult time with pelvic tilting (posterior and anterior) and don’t realize how to position themselves while their body is under loads. Many people, unfortunately, don’t have the capacity to “turn on” certain muscles so assuming various positions seems almost impossible to them.
The thoracic spine or mid back is absorbing all the tension and putting the lower back into a very stressful situation. Anyone who does this routinely will be in discomfort and at serious risk of back injury. The best way to correct this poor body position is to shift the pelvic girdle and assume an athletic stance.
Doesn’t that look ten times nicer and cleaner? Sure does!
Let’s now look at the proper technique for this exercise. When done with the proper mechanics, the exercise looks much less dangerous for the lower back. Notice the mid back area is now in line from head to buttocks. It is obvious that the legs and back muscles are properly engaged to handle the load and keep the back free from pain. The body is technically in an athletic position also known in sports as the “ready position.”
Mistake 4: Improper Goblet Squat
The Goblet Squat is a variation of the KING of exercises – The Squat. The Goblet Squat is performed with kettlebells, and form is extra important on this one!
Wow, that hip tuck – I dono about you guys, but that doesn’t even look appealing…
Again, there are several variations of the squat and without getting into all of them, let’s focus on the basic mechanics. The starting position doesn’t illustrate the poor mechanics of the exercise like the finished position does. The only minor adjustment could be with the head position which can be easily fixed by tucking the chin in.
In the finished position it is plain to see that the hips have dropped far too low creating a “tuck effect” of the pelvis putting your back at risk of injury. Your back may hurt just looking at this position. This also can negatively impact the knees bending them to such a high degree under load.
Perfect positioning – perfect hip alignment!
The spinal alignment has been altered enough to create unnecessary pressure and strain on the lumbar spine. What is most apparent in the correct form photos is not only the head position but also the line created by the body from the shoulders to the pelvis.
The knees are bent just slightly past 90 degrees and the pelvic girdle stays in a strong, supportive position avoiding the “tuck effect” and creating zero stress on the lower back. All the load bearing and tension remains in the legs, abdominals and appropriate back muscles creating a pain free environment.
Hopefully after reading through these common exercise mistakes, the next time you hit the weights, you will be more inclined to concentrate on form and technique. Most of all – be consistent!