3 Exercises You’re Doing Wrong (And Why)

A friend and former student of mine was asking me a question today that dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about for a while. He contacted me through facebook and told me that he had strained his neck doing lat pulldowns and wanted to know 1) how he had done that and 2) how he could avoid doing that in the future. Basically I suggested that he was probably doing the exercise wrong, but wrong for reasons that he (and most people) aren’t aware of.

When someone is doing an exercise incorrectly, there are only a few reasons why that might be the case. The first is that they simply don’t know how the exercise is done. For some motions, like Deadlift or Squat, this can be both an easy mistake and a very dangerous one. The form for both of these motions is deceptively specific, as it should be, since failing to do this motion correctly can lead to serious and long term lower back injuries. The second (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) reason is that the wrong way of doing it is just easier and lets you do more weight and feel like you’re doing something impressive. But the reason it is easier – and the reason that way is wrong – may be surprising. And it ties in with how my friend hurt his neck.

I told him, “If you strained your neck, you may have been using too much weight. When you strain a muscle that doesn’t seem to be used for a given motion, it means that your body is recruiting secondary muscles to get through that motion (because the primary ones aren’t up to the job). It’s gonna hurt for a minute, but it’ll get better in a week or so. In the future, watch your weight and make sure your form is flawless. If you have good form in a motion, then your body can’t recruit other muscles (and if you can’t do a motion with good form, lighten the weight!)”

So let’s look at three different exercises that a lot of people are doing wrong and why they’re wrong.

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Bodybuilding: Week 4

(Previous week: 1, 2, 3)

Here after week 3 I’m beginning to wonder if every week is a mixed bag! Some things were great and some things were not. Though perhaps the things that weren’t great were mostly just perception and not reality – holdovers from when I was seriously fat that I haven’t quite shaken yet.

I’ll explain.

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Bodybuilding: Week 3

(Previous week: 1, 2)

Week 2 was a little rough, of course. My best plans notwithstanding, I didn’t get as much done while on vacation in Chicago as I’d hoped, but also about the same as I expected if we’re all being honest. Still, I made some progress in certain areas even as some stagnated, so any progress is still progress, especially considering that I was gone for 5 days in Chicago and could have made no progress.

So let’s recap.

Long Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press by 30%.
  • Lean down to an athletic bodyfat %
  • Qualify for a show

Near Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press each week.
  • Clean up my diet and maintain a very clear, very clean carb cycling regimen.
  • Increase my cardiovascular endurance each week.
  • Find myself a coach.

Like I said, some goals got met and some didn’t. Namely, my bodyfat goal suffered mainly because I couldn’t control my eating the way I’d need to in order to make progress there. But my lifting actually went really well!

Bodyfat: My weight stayed the same: I’m holding steady at 224.4. But I also increased my strength, which would seem to indicate that I changed some fat weight to muscle weight.

Strength: I made some impressive gains in my support exercises last week, which surprised me, but even more satisfying is the fact that I increased my strength in my four main target motions: bench, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press. My squat, shoulder press, and deadlift increased by 20%, which is pretty astonishing to me not just because the weight increase was so big but because I maintained my form through it. I’m doing a squat correctly and increasing my strength… which really shouldn’t surprise my I guess. Doing things correctly in the gym tends to improve gains. My bench press increased by 7% and while not as impressive as the others is still a pretty solid gain in one week. As far as strength goes, last week was really productive!

Diet: This part was a total collapse haha. Like I said, my food was hard to control in Chicago even though I tried planning ahead, but thankfully my weight didn’t fluctuate. Which actually really surprises me because normally my weight would shoot up from any deviation from the norm.

Cardiovascular Endurance: I didn’t get to do much Insanity in my hotel room, but I did do it each morning before I left and the morning I got back. I’m happy to say that my endurance is now up to about 80%-90% of my target (my target being “get through Insanity without stopping”). Again, sort of surprising considering that as an endomorph my cardio endurance is usually first thing to decay if I’m not consistent with it. So again, pretty happy!

Next Week:

With nothing surprising on the horizon, let’s see if I can get up to 100% with all my goals. This will mean focusing on healthy carbs on Saturday for my “refeed” as well as getting all of my cardio into the program. If I can get things to 100% this week, I’ll add some new goals!

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Bodybuilding: Week 2

So week 1 of my bodybuilding odyssey is under my belt and it’s time to update this series of posts. What I’ll do is give a recap of what my goals were, discuss if I met those, then unpack the reasons I succeeded or failed at a given objective. Finally, I’ll go over some plans for guiding next week’s performance. So here we go: the recap.

Long Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press by 30%.
  • Lean down to an athletic bodyfat %
  • Qualify for a show

Near Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press each week.
  • Clean up my diet and maintain a very clear, very clean carb cycling regimen.
  • Increase my cardiovascular endurance each week.
  • Find myself a coach.

So how was the first week? Actually went pretty well, all things considered. I didn’t reach some goals, but I also learned to focus on things in a different way to help my overall performance. But let’s go over each goal and how I met it.

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5 Building Blocks of Any Weight Routine

So I’ve written a good bit of narrative, but I want my work to be informative too as much as motivational. There will be more stories about being fat (hell, I was fat for a couple decades so I have a lot to say, and I have several other contributors who are going to chime in soon), but for now I may switch gears to something instructive.

So here we go.

5 Building Block of Any Weight Routine

Like I said in my last post, part of what kept me out of the gym, and part of why I failed at the gym at first, was because I didn’t know what I was doing and had only enough understanding of the gym to imagine that whatever I was doing, it was probably wrong. There is so much information about working out in magazines, books, online, and from just various Joes around the gym that it was difficult to know just what to do for myself. There was just too much to choose from… so I had to make a method for choosing. Which led me to distilling hundreds of pages of advice into a handful of building blocks for any routine.

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Fat at the Gym

I’ve spoken a good deal about eating and a little about planning, but while it’s true that 80% of your success is going to be in the kitchen, that other 20% in the gym is going to mean the difference between having your mom say “you look great!” and having beautiful strangers in line at the movie theater say “you look great!” The difference between losing weight to look nondescript and losing weight to look like a superhero.

So here’s my little tale of the first tentative steps I took into the gym.

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