I had just done a set on the calf press machine. A young woman standing nearby said, “You’re the only one in the gym who does this the right way.”
I knew what she meant. Most of the users treat the seated calf press like a leg press.
My first lifting coach was a technique fanatic. He used to grunt, “If you go into the weight room, you’ll see some funny s**t.” We all learned good technique from the start with that coach.
Does It Matter?
Lifting technique is important for safety. Bad form can lead to injury – and cheat the muscle out of its workout.
But bad technique can be an important signal that the target muscle can’t handle the workload. When the weight is appropriate, the lifting action will tend to remain correct.
When the target muscle lacks the strength to lift the weight – or the endurance to finish the set – the body “cheats.” It’s just an attempt to recruit less fatigued muscle fibers, or even get stronger muscles to help. An impressive solution, when you think about it. But it’s not safe.
Errors in technique are always – consciously or unconsciously – a way of making the set easier.
Common mistakes in technique include the following, among others. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some funny s**t I’ve seen in the weight room over the years.
The Big Wind-Up
Using body momentum is a way of lifting a heavier weight. It might feel gratifying, but it can be dangerous.
You’ve probably seen this if you’ve ever watched anyone do standing arm curls. At some point (maybe even on the first rep), the lifter stops using just the biceps. He starts winding up and rocking his whole body forward and back – or even more dangerously – arching his back to get that weight to the top of the motion.
It’s more effective and less dangerous to use a lighter weight and isolate the biceps. Or at least stop the set as soon as technique deteriorates.
The Need For Speed
Rushing through the repetitions is another way of using momentum. The lifter speeds through the movement and “tosses” the weight up, then lets gravity pull it down, making no effort to control it.
Many people do this on the leg extension machine. The extension is super fast – using a heavier weight than the lifter would be able to handle at a slower, more controlled pace. The return motion is completely uncontrolled. The weight slams down, then gets tossed up again.
Extending the legs slowly instead would make for some solid concentric work, while a controlled return would require eccentric contractions. It’s a much safer and more effective alternative.
Shortened Range of Motion
This is often combined with rushed reps, and can be seen on standing heel raises, triceps press-downs, and arm curls of all varieties.
Posture Errors or Posture Horrors?
One of the most common mistakes in the weight room is “bridging” or arching on bench press, incline press, shoulder press, and even prone leg curls.
Bench, incline and shoulder press all involve the same basic muscles – pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders) and triceps. The angle of the bench determines the degree of fiber recruitment from each muscle group.
When a lifter arches during shoulder press, the body may be attempting to recruit more of the stronger chest fibers to assist the weaker, or more fatigued, shoulders. In effect, the arching turns the shoulder press into an incline press.
Similarly, arching during incline press may be the body’s attempt to convert the lift to a flat bench press, which might be a stronger lift.
Arching is so common during incline press, some gyms have incline benches that are shaped for the arch! Yes, someone actually got paid for designing a bench that makes it impossible to do a correct incline press on it. Yikes. But I digress.
Aside from possible strain on the low back, the target muscles are less effectively worked than they would be if proper form were maintained.
If your technique begins to deteriorate during a set, stop. Reduce the weight and do your next set with correct technique. Use the right weight and good technique. Stay safe.
Muscles will always and automatically take the easy way out. Only the discipline of technique will keep them working effectively and safely.