While training high school athletes I see a lot of unique mistakes in the weight room.
Most are simply due to inexperience, but there is a certain class of mistakes that often comes from an athlete’s time spent at the gym with their dad. I would much rather deal with the inexperienced lifters because they have not yet developed bad habits compared to the one who have learned a thing or too from Dad.
Below I have addressed five such mistakes fathers pass along to their young athletes and why these should not be a part of an athlete’s technique.
1. The Ultra-Wide Bench
The ultra-wide bench is a great way to shorten the range of motion, put on more weight and isolate the pecs. Unfortunately, it does little to nothing to help an athlete get better.
Most people love this bench because you can lift more weight due to the reduced range of motion. However athletes never work a muscle in isolation. They need entire muscle groups to work together in a coordinated pattern.
An athlete should bench press from the same position from which they would push a person or perform a chest pass. There should only be roughly a 30- to 45-degree angle between your torso and your elbow at the bottom of the Bench Press. That is going to provide the most stability at the shoulder, the most leverage to push from, and the most even muscle recruitment between the deltoids, triceps and pecs.
An ultra-wide grip on the barbell.
Narrow your hand position to make the Bench Press safer and more effective.
2. Legs-Up Bench
Another common mistake is the idea of getting core work done while you bench. The Bench Press is not an exercise to train your core. If you’re truly trying to get stronger, the instability of lifting your legs off the ground while a bar is overhead is idiotic.
If you want an upper-body pushing exercise that trains the core, perform Push-Ups. If you want to build a stronger upper body, perform the Bench Press with your feet firmly gripping the ground.
This is idiotic. If you want to activate your core while doing an upper-body push, just do Push-Ups instead.
3. Not-So-Bent-Over Row
The Bent-Over Row is a great way to complement the horizontal pushing motion of the Bench Press with a horizontal pulling motion. It also requires the ability to hinge well at the hips and core stability to keep the spine neutral.
This is not a basic exercise, so when inexperienced athletes are taught this without mastering the hip hinge, they will not be able to get fully bent and they will remain nearly upright. The result is what I call a Not-So-Bent-Over Row.
The other reason an athlete would do this is the same reason for doing a Decline Bench Press, primarily because it allows the athlete to lift more weight. When the athlete is in this position it essentially eliminates the entire range of motion, and anytime range of motion is reduced the amount of weight that can be lifted increases. Lifting more weight at the expense of proper form is always a detriment to an athlete.
The Not-So-Bent-Over Row. This position essentially eliminates the entire range of motion.
Proper form on the Bent-Over Row.
4. Squatting the Deadlift
This goes along with the not-so-bent-over Row because both are likely caused by an inability to hinge properly. The Deadlift, when performed correctly, is a great way to train the glutes and hamstrings as well as the deep core musculature.
The most common mistake I see from athletes who have lifted before is that they do not hinge, but instead squat their Deadlifts. Instead of relying on the powerful muscles of the posterior chain (backside), the athletes rely on their quads.
As you can see in the pictures below, this creates an extremely awkward position and the bar must go around the knees when the athlete stands up. This seriously limits the ability to increase the load during the Deadlift.
For these athletes I have to strip the bar and ensure they are able to hinge with their hips while maintaining a neutral spine. Once they can show they can do this they can begin gradually building back up. This is a hit to the ego because they have gained strength, but in a compensation pattern. It is important to emphasize slowly building back up or they will revert back to their squat version where they have more strength.
See how the knees extend past the bar? Not good.
Proper Deadlift form allows you to raise the bar without hitting your knees.
5. Ultra-Wide Grip Squat
In all my years of strength training, I have never heard a good reason as to why people do this.
For people with shoulder issues, this may be the only way you can Back Squat. For this reason, many dads teach their kids to squat this way—it is the only way they are able to. Quick tip: If the only way you can back squat is with your hands out toward the end of the bar, you probably should not be back squatting.
Although this position does not directly affect the way the leg muscles are recruited, it is going to seriously limit the athlete’s ability to squat effectively and safely. The torso needs to be the strong base through which the legs can transfer force to the bar. When the arms are up in this fashion the most powerful muscles of the upper back, the lats, are unable to fire to stabilize the torso.
This is an easy fix though, with the athlete placing their hands closer together on the bar and their elbows pulled down to create a ridge on their back and keep their torso upright. The athlete can make this adjustment on Day 1 and not need much time at all to get back and beyond what they were squatting.
Quick tip: If the only way you can back squat is with your hands out toward the end of the bar, you probably should not be back squatting.
Proper grip on the Back Squat.
These are five mistakes I commonly see from improper instruction either from a parent, sibling or unqualified coach. It is crucial for young athletes to be taught how to lift by qualified professionals. The lessons that are learned first will either create the firm foundation to build off of and develop optimal athletic performance or it can create bad habits and compensations that may have detrimental effects for years to come.