When exercise technique fails, you fail. Your inner meathead might not care about form, but when form is compromised, so too are your gains in strength and muscular size.
Poor form reduces strength and size because joints are not in the optimal position to efficiently absorb, transfer or produce force. This in turn places more stress on passive structures, such as ligaments, cartilage and bones, increasing your risk of a degenerative injury. Active structures, such as the hamstrings or quads, that are working overtime (taking more of the load share) are also at risk.
Even if you know what a lift should look like, there are many subtleties you might miss.
If you don’t want to be the next athlete who has to take a few weeks off because of injury, or that dude who is still putting up the same weight as this time last year, pay attention to the following mistake fixes.
1. Flying Scaps to Finish a Push-Up
If you finish a Push-Up without your scaps all the way through, it looks like wings are popping off your back. This “winging” of the scapula places unwanted stress through the shoulder joint and girdle, and it lessens the demand on thoracic muscles. This results in overuse injuries, reduced force output and limited muscle size gains.
Instead, push hard through the floor and finish with your upper back filled out. Someone should not be able to grab the inside edge of your scap. Make sure your scaps move around your rib cage and your upper back doesn’t round (hyper-flexing) into a position that makes you resemble Quasimodo.
RELATED: Five Steps to Perfect Push-Up Form
2. “Swooping” to Initiate Hip Extension
All too often, I observe athletes initiating hip extension (think coming out of a Deadlift, Squat, Lunge, etc.) by first lifting their chest instead of pushing their hips forward. This results in a swooping motion that promotes overuse of the erector muscles and leads to hyperextension of the spine. Overusing the erectors decreases the work taking place at the hips and will likely lead to injury down the road. With less output from the hips (glutes, hamstrings, etc.), the amount of weight you can move is reduced, thereby limiting the challenge of the exercise and ultimately decreasing your results.
Instead, focus on pushing your hips forward first. Your chest will rise as your hips come forward, rather than your hips coming through after your chest is lifted. Your back will thank you while you force your glutes and hamstrings to grow stronger and thicker and put up a new PR.
3. Snapping/Popping to Finish Hip Extension
A common cue to finish hip extension movements is to snap or pop the hips through. This often occurs at the knees and low back, stressing the hamstrings and spinal erectors. Injury is a concern and you might create muscle imblances. With a blown-up hamstring and/or crushed low back, it will be hard to put heavier weight on the bar and achieve greater strength, size and performance. So make sure it’s your hips going forward, and not your knees and lower back “snapping” back to finish the extension.
RELATED: Master the Hip Hinge, Exercise’s Most Important Motion
4. Setting the Scap During Upper-Body Pulling
“Set it down and back, down and back!” This is a cue I used often when trying to get my athletes to position their scaps during any rowing or vertical pulling movement. To take it a step further, I formerly cued the scaps to be pinned down in back, or “put in the back pocket,” at the start of an upper-body pulling movement.
However, I was mistaken with that form tip. Doing it essentially shuts down the sub-acromial space, which promotes impingement at the shoulder. It also promote lat dominance, which further depresses the scaps and encourages faulty movement and impingement. This leads to rotator cuff and labral issues, as well as nerve problems when performed with heavy loads and/or for an extended period of time.
Instead, move your scaps in concert with your arms. The scap should lead the motion with the arm moving at the same time. The same sequence goes with horizontal rowing. You do not want to set the scap and then move your arm. You want the scap to initiate the movement, then move with the upper arm.
5. Setting the Scap Down and Back During Upper-Body Pressing
Similar to the previous point, when you perform a pushing movement, you do not want to set your scap down and back. You want the scap to move freely with the arm. If it does not, you are likely causing impingement, especially at the top range. Basically you will run the head and neck of the humerus into the shoulder joint and impinge any structures that are between them.
Instead of driving the scap down, allow it to naturally move with the arm with the upward pressing, and slightly outward during a horizontal pressing. Unless you are going for a max-effort Bench Press, you want the scap to move in its natural rhythm with the arm.
Learn more about the importance of proper exercise technique.