Fix the 3 Key Exercises You're Doing Wrong

April 30, 2014 | Featured in the Spring 2014 Issue

The Big 3—the Back Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press—are probably the best exercises for building muscle, getting stronger and becoming a better athlete. Unfortunately, they’re also the three moves during which athletes most commonly injure themselves—usually because they try to lift too much too soon or use improper form.

“Poor form encourages dysfunctional movement, which leads to imbalances, asymmetries and injuries,” asserts Brian Abadie, who trains NFL Draft prospects at the Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, Texas.

If you’re struggling with one of the Big 3, a simple form fix might help. Or, if an exercise feels difficult, awkward, or just plain wrong, you can swap it out for an easier-to-perform move that targets the same muscle groups. “Not all exercises are appropriate for you and your training level,” Abadie says. “Try using exercises that work the same muscles in a similar movement pattern to accomplish the same training goal.”

Back Squat

Back Squat

 

The Fix: Wrap a Band Around Your Knees

Many athletes’ knees collapse inward during the Squat, which stresses their knees. Correct this by wrapping a mini-band around your lower legs, just below the knees. “[The band] will activate your glutes to help stabilize your knees,” Abadie says. “This helps keep your ankles, knees, and hips aligned, which reduces the risk of injury.”

The Swap: Goblet Squat

Goblet Squat

It’s easy to perform and fixes several form issues, forcing you to push your knees out while keeping your chest upright. “We took a bunch of kids who were not good squatters and had them just Goblet Squat,” says strength coach Mike Boyle. “Ninety percent got better right away.”

How To: With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell vertically with two hands. Keeping the dumbbell in contact with your sternum, squat until your elbows touch your knees, then stand up.

RELATED: Mike Boyle Shows You How to Teach Any Athlete to Squat Properly

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Bench Press

Bench Press

The Fix: Change Your Elbow Position

Many athletes hold their elbows at a 3- and 9-o’clock position in relation to their head, which stresses their shoulders and limits the weight they can lift. Rick Scarpulla of Ultimate Advantage says your elbows should be at 4 and 8 o’clock, and that in order to maintain the proper angle, you should lower the bar to just below your nipples.

RELATED: Perfect Your Bench Press Form

The Swap: Alternating Dumbbell Press

Alternating Dumbbell Press

Dumbbells give you a free range of motion so your shoulders aren’t locked into position, reducing the stress on your joints. “This allows you to go a little lighter and move a little more naturally,” Abadie says.

How To: Lie flat on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand at your armpits. Drive your right arm up straight over your chest. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position and perform a rep with the opposite arm. Continue alternating.

Sets/Reps: 3x5-10

Deadlift

Deadlift

The Fix: Get Your Lats Into It

It’s painful to see someone trying to yank up a Deadlift with a rounded back—and it’s as dangerous as it looks. To stabilize your spine, Tony Gentilcore, co-founder of Cressey Performance, says you should “pretend you’re squeezing an orange in your armpit. This will fire up your lats, create more supportive tension and keep your back flat during the lift.”

The Swap: Trap-Bar Deadlift

Trap Bar Deadlift

Using the trap-bar shifts the load further back, reducing the amount of stress on the back. Boyle says, “[Trap-Bar Deadlifts are] really the only bilateral [two-legged] exercises that we still do.”

How To: Stand in the center of a trap bar. Reach down and grasp the handles. Pull your shoulders down and back, straighten your elbows and tuck your chin. Keeping your back straight, drive through your heels to stand up. Reverse the motion, lower the bar to the ground and repeat.

Sets/Reps: 3x3-10

RELATED: Fix the 10 Most Common Deadlift Form Mistakes

Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...

Featured Videos

Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,265,894
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Views: 197,143
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Views: 396,957
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,189
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,354,155
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,209
Dustin Pedroia on Training Dustin Pedroia on Training
Views: 10,920,894
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 6,134,125

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
What Sport Coaches Need to Know About Strength and Conditioning

What Sport Coaches Need to Know About Strength and Conditioning

Are you a strength coach or a sport coach? Lee Boyce A fitness professional really is a strange animal. An entry level cert (that in some cases can be...

There Might Be a Good Reason Tim Tebow Looks This Ridiculous

There Might Be a Good Reason Tim Tebow Looks This Ridiculous

The 10-Minute Grip Strengthening Workout

The 10-Minute Grip Strengthening Workout

Olympian Carrie Tollefson's Core Workout

Olympian Carrie Tollefson's Core Workout

Use Single-Leg Strength to Enhance Soccer Performance

Use Single-Leg Strength to Enhance Soccer Performance

Marcus Mariota's Speed and Strength Workout

Marcus Mariota's Speed and Strength Workout

Go Against Traditional Workout Order for Bigger Gains

Go Against Traditional Workout Order for Bigger Gains

Why Reverse Lunges Are Better Than Forward Lunges

Why Reverse Lunges Are Better Than Forward Lunges

5 Things to Remember When You Wing Your Workout

5 Things to Remember When You Wing Your Workout

Strength Isn’t Just How Much You Can Lift on a Barbell

Strength Isn't Just How Much You Can Lift on a Barbell

Why Single-Arm and Single-Leg Training is Better for Athletes

Why Single-Arm and Single-Leg Training is Better for Athletes

2015 Summer Training Guide: Soccer

2015 Summer Training Guide: Soccer

A Modern Twist to the Original Burpee

A Modern Twist to the Original Burpee

2015 Summer Training Guide: Lacrosse

2015 Summer Training Guide: Lacrosse

Mix Up Your Workout With Unique Partner Exercises

Mix Up Your Workout With Unique Partner Exercises

Full-Body Training: 4 Dumbbell Ring Training Exercises

Full-Body Training: 4 Dumbbell Ring Training Exercises

Build Lower-Body Power with This Squat Workout

Build Lower-Body Power with This Squat Workout

2015 Summer Training Guide: Track

2015 Summer Training Guide: Track

3 Bear Crawl Variations for Better Core Strength

3 Bear Crawl Variations for Better Core Strength

Building Functional Balance for Figure Skaters

Building Functional Balance for Figure Skaters

Troubleshooting the Lunge: How to Fix Your Form

Troubleshooting the Lunge: How to Fix Your Form

Build Elite Strength With This Training System

Build Elite Strength With This Training System

2015 Summer Training Guide: Basketball

2015 Summer Training Guide: Basketball

2015 Summer Training Guide: Wrestling

2015 Summer Training Guide: Wrestling

Build Powerful Muscles With Velocity-Based Training

Build Powerful Muscles With Velocity-Based Training

Bulletproof Shoulders: A Shoulder Training Guide

Bulletproof Shoulders: A Shoulder Training Guide

Building Brakes for More Speed

Building Brakes for More Speed

2015 Summer Training Guide: Baseball

2015 Summer Training Guide: Baseball

3 Simple Tips to Gain Muscle Mass

3 Simple Tips to Gain Muscle Mass

9 Ways to Improve Your Squat Technique

9 Ways to Improve Your Squat Technique

2015 Summer Training Guide: Volleyball

2015 Summer Training Guide: Volleyball

10-Minute Dynamic Warm-Up for Any Workout

10-Minute Dynamic Warm-Up for Any Workout

The Squat Variation That Torches Your Core

The Squat Variation That Torches Your Core

2015 Summer Training Guide: Football

2015 Summer Training Guide: Football

Are You Using the Right Weight for Every Exercise?

Are You Using the Right Weight for Every Exercise?

Why You Should Add Depth Jumps to Your Workouts

Why You Should Add Depth Jumps to Your Workouts

How to Build Strong Neck Muscles

How to Build Strong Neck Muscles

2015 Summer Training Guide: Softball

2015 Summer Training Guide: Softball

Fix 7 Common Problem Areas with Exercises From Todd Durkin

Fix 7 Common Problem Areas with Exercises From Todd Durkin

YardBarker