I enjoy working out.
I go to the gym maybe four or five times a week, and I try my best to keep in shape.
Beyond that, I’ve been lifting weights for 12 years, and I used to be an ACE (American Council of Exercise) certified personal trainer. The point being, I know my way around the gym, I also know a thing or two about resistance training, and I speak from experience when I say that good form is crucial when trying to realize any and all fitness goals.
I mention this today because I just saw a guy in the weightroom “benching” 225 lbs. – a very respectable amount of weight, especially for a guy his size – albeit with extraordinarily bad form.
It was like watching a live demonstration on How-NOT-To-Bench.
So, inspired by this guy’s ridiculously sloppy form, I’ve decided to put together a list of just a few of the most common errors guys make when trying to bench.
(No offense to the guys, singling them out like this, but really, we’re the ones most often guilty of lousy lifting technique.)
It’s All In The Technique
First of all, unlike the guy I observed in the gym, you want to avoid arching the back while pressing the weight; doing so generates a tremendous amount of stress on your spine and can lead to serious injury.
You might be able to put up a lot of weight, maybe even significantly more weight than if you observed proper form while performing the exercise, but a) is it really worth risking a major back injury just to “pad your stats,” and b) what sort of progress do you hope to make if you’re constantly cheating while exercising?
When it comes to weightlifting, there are all sorts of ways to cheat, and as far as benching goes, arching your back is the most common and easily overlooked cheat. Admittedly, it feels natural when struggling with a weight to arch your back. It’s a body’s natural tendency and something you must consciously avoid if you want to maintain proper form and consequently realize true gains.
(And really, you shouldn’t be attempting to lift that kind of weight without a lifting partner, someone who knows proper spotting technique and can provide the appropriate assistance should you require it. Your partner will notice if your form begins to suffer and ideally, point it out to you so that you can correct it with the next repetition or set.)
It may be a blow to the ego, but if you’re struggling to maintain proper form, you should probably lower the amount of resistance and work your way up to it.
Slow and Steady Wins The Race
Very often, guys cheat by bouncing the weight off their chest when benching. Again, you might be able to put up a lot more weight or squeeze out a bunch of extra reps doing so, but in the long run, there’s nothing to be gained by cheating the weight up. (You might even end up injuring yourself!)
Similarly, guys (I am sometimes guilty of this as well) often don’t resist the weight during the extension, or negative, phase of the exercise (in this case, when the weight is traveling downwards), simply allowing gravity to pull the bar down for them, only exerting energy to push the weight up and ignoring half of the exercise! It’s subtle, but it’s something you want to avoid if you’re serious about improving.
Both of these I consider “momentum cheats” - rushing through the exercise, thereby shortchanging yourself of the benefits, instead of using slow, controlled movements.
Stick It In Neutral
I know a lot of guys may disagree with this, but when benching, bending the wrists is a bad idea. Instead, the wrists should be kept in a neutral position, like this:
A lot of guys, many of them experienced weightlifters, grip the bar with their wrists bent backward, insisting that it feels natural to them. They started out that way; it’s what they’re used to.
My recommendation – try to break the habit, or avoid getting into the habit in the first place, and always keep your wrists straight when performing this exercise. (Actually, this applies to almost all exercises, really.) Keeping your wrists in a neutral position provides greater stability and lowers the risk of serious injury. Bending at the wrists puts a lot of unnecessary strain on the tendons, especially with extremely heavy loads.
It’s easy to take your wrists for granted, but if you really think about it, they’re absolutely essential for most everyday activities. Wrist injuries are fairly commonplace, in and out of the gym, so exercise some good common sense and avoid overexerting them in the gym.
There are plenty of guys like the one I mentioned above.
Some of them are just starting out and don’t know any better. (To those just getting into lifting: Read a book. Buy a fitness magazine. Do some research online. Ask a friend. Ask a trainer.)
Others lack self-discipline; they’re impatient, or lazy, or a combination thereof.
Still others are just trying to show off.
Sacrificing good form to put up a lot of weight might boost your ego and make you feel better about yourself, but it’s not going to help you become stronger or more toned, and it’s not going to help you get rid of that gut either.
Maybe you don’t want to seem like “the weak one” among your gym-going friends. Or maybe you’re hoping to impress the attractive young lady (or fella, I suppose) exercising next to you.
When it comes down to it, none of that really matters. The only person who direcly benefits from exercise is the one doing the exercise.
So work on doing it right, and stop cheating yourself. It’s your body, after all.
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