Tim Anderson at Original Strength describes movement in terms of ‘good, better and best.’ Because some movement, no matter how badly done, is better than no movement. You start at good; then you get better, and then comes best.
There is no set timetable for best because mastery is difficult, and it’s an endless pursuit. But some exercises are performed so poorly that they may cause pain and injury further down the road. It’s a line ball decision on whether this movement is good or dangerous.
Here are four movements that (in my experience) are poorly performed in the high school weight room, and tips coaches and athletes can use to correct these mistakes. So, you’ll never make them again.
Rows seem simple. You either pull the resistance towards you (dumbbell row) or towards the anchor point (TRX Row). But rowing exercises are tricky to nail down properly in terms of good form. There are many moving parts, and most of the movement is happening behind the athletes making it a challenge to know what is going on and if the correct muscles are being used.
When the upper back starts in a rounded position, the shoulder blades are in a relaxed elevated position. This elevation pulls the shoulder-blade into the neck and makes the upper trap do more work, and the lats and rhomboids’ targeted muscles do less.
The old trusty cues ‘shoulder down and back’ or ‘chest up ‘ or ‘ears away from your shoulders will put the athlete in a better position to target the correct muscles.
Not getting engagement from the muscles between the shoulder blades and moving come almost entirely from the elbow (elbow flexion) and not the lats (shoulder extension).
To fix the rounded upper back to engage the muscles between your shoulder blades, extend the spine like you’re proud of your chest. Think of stretching the pec as you pull the shoulder back, drawing the shoulder-blade down across the ribs versus up to the neck. It would be best if you had the longest neck in the world.
The kettlebell swing trains the posterior chain muscles of the back, glutes, and hamstrings in a powerful joint-friendly fashion. Plus, you get the heart rate up without the usual joint pounding effect of traditional cardio. This is perfect for the youth athlete for in-season training, but only if done correctly. It’s supposed to be an explosive hip hinge, but instead, it often looks nothing like this.
The swing is the purest hinge movement there is but some turn this into a squat with front raise. This means the power is coming from the knees and not the hips. Plus, swinging in the squat position puts tremendous stress on the lower back. And this is a big no-no.
The first step to avoiding a squatty swing is to learn a proper hip hinge, but a good hinge won’t always guarantee a good swing, given how fast the swing happens. If you are still squatting your swing after mastering the hip hinge, one fix is to swing with a short foam roller between your legs.
The foam roller serves as a cue to hinge at the hips and keep the kettlebell above your knees during the downward arc. If you knock the foam roller over, it means you’re squatting your swing.
Some think the higher the kettlebell goes, the better, but when this is the focus, the athlete often uses their arms and overextends their low back instead of finishing with the glutes.
Disregard how high the kettlebell goes. Think of the finish of the swing as an upright front plank. Squeeze your glutes and quads at the end of the swing to prevent overarching the lower back.
The bench press is a movement that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders and is essential for youth athletes to gain general upper body pressing strength and size. Plus, a flat barbell bench is a variation that allows you to use the most weight and is a staple in every high school weight room. But in chasing numbers, some mistakes are made.
Bench Press Mistake
Youth athletes tend to flare their elbows out when the weight is heavy and or when getting tired. This leads to an inefficient pressing path and extra stress on the anterior shoulder and the A/C joint.
First, focus on your setup and set it up with a closer grip. Then focus on bending the bar in half with your lats to help keep those elbows in.
Bench Press Mistake
The bench press is often looked at as just an upper-body exercise. This doesn’t seem right. You must be able to keep your entire body tight. Lower body drive is a major factor in lifting more weight. This lower body drive is provided by the feet.
Whether you have your whole foot or just your toes on the ground, push yourself backward with your feet to assist with your lower body drive. Keep your core and glutes tight with the backside of your body pressed against the bench.
Elevated Split Squat
If you were to do one accessory exercise to improve your squat and deadlift and help you run faster, the elevated split squat would be it because it builds leg drive with its greater range of motion and huge recruitment of the quads and glutes. Plus, it strengthens imbalance between sides which improves performance and may reduce injuries.
Split Squat Mistakes
The front-wheel comes off the ground during the lowering (eccentric) or rising (concentric), putting more stress on the knees and less on the glutes.
First, address the height of the box. It may be too high and lack the hip mobility to squat from this elevated height. If this doesn’t fix the problem, split squat with both feet on the ground and work on your hip mobility.
Split Squat Mistake
Due to weaker glutes or using too much weight, putting unwanted stress on knee ligaments and tendons and taking the tension off your quads and glutes.
Reduce the working weight to see if this helps the problem. Then use an active foot by either gripping the floor with your foot or turning your foot clockwise (right foot) anti-clockwise (left foot) to help create a stronger arch.
Mistakes are common in the weight room because that’s how you learn. But incorrect form can lead to a decrease in performance and a higher risk of injury. Better to correct mistakes with these four exercises to keep you on the field longer and stronger.