Hands up if you’ve ever shied away from a complicated piece of equipment at the gym out of fear that you’ll either end up embarrassing or hurting yourself? (tricep cable pull-down thingy, we’re looking at you).
Truth is, many of us are using even the simplest forms of equipment wrong without even realising it. Not only does this lead to poor form which increases the chance of injury, not performing a move in its intended way means that you’re not reaping the physical benefits for max results.
Here, our very own in-house exercise scientist, Brooke MacDonald takes us through some of the most common culprits and how to properly correct your technique to avoid aforementioned risk factors and get the most out of your workout!
One of the most common machines we see people using wrong! The rowing machine is such a fantastic calorie-burning tool but majority of us do it with such poor form that we never end up getting the most out of the movement and put ourselves at major risk of injury. Most people think it’s all about their upper body – they use their torso or their arms right from the start of the movement and often you see people pulling really hard with their shoulders up around their ears.
The correct movement is quite opposite to this – and actually is very leg dominant. Think of the order or sequence of movement as working from your big muscles groups to the smaller ones. From the very first movement you want your legs to push and drive the body backwards; this allows the power to be recruited from your hips and glutes. Your arms should be almost straight the whole time until your legs lock out. This is where the most neglected element of rowing comes in – posture.
Many will sit with their backs hunched over, shoulders rolled forward and hips tucked under whilst sitting in a really stiff position. To activate the upper back muscles we need to sit tall and draw the shoulders down and away. From there we need to hinge from the hips, leaning slightly back as we pull away, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades when then legs reach full extension.
Lat Pull Down
The lat pull down machine is such a great tool to use to train yourself to do your own body weight pull ups (how #boss do we feel when we can do this!). However, the reason most people never get to a stage of being able to pull themselves up on a bar is because they are doing this basic seated movement so wrong. There are two things to watch for when completing this movement: Where you are positioning the bar and where your shoulders end up. Both of which can be the cause of many neck injuries.
The bar should be pulled down in front of the body, not behind the neck. There is a misconception that pulling the bar down behind your head will activate the upper back muscles more. This just puts strain on the shoulders and the spine – driving the bar down in front of the body maintains a neutral spine and healthy position for the shoulders. Work on depressing (pulling down) the shoulders right before you even start to pull with the arms. This will allow our back to engage and stay on throughout the movement.
Hamstrings are a very neglected muscle group when it comes to the gym. They are activated during so many movements but are over dominated by our large quadricep group, which are generally much bigger and stronger. It is important to make sure the hamstrings are trained correctly as they are a huge stabilizer for the knee and hip joint, keeping the spine and ligaments aligned. The seated hamstring curl can so easily be done wrong due to heavy weight. However the weight may not even feel that heavy. This is because our body is great at finding the easiest way to do things, even if that means activating other muscles groups to do so.
Next time you are on a hamstring curl machine, put your hand behind your back, if you can fit your whole hand between you and the backrest, stop, drop the weight and start again. Our body without warning, will move into hyper-extension or arching if we are not concentrating and the load is too excessive. If you arch your back to help curl up the weight your lower back muscles have become involved in the movement and left the hamstring to just come along for the ride. Your back should remain neutral with a natural lordotic curve and you really need to concentrate on pulling the heels to the butt without letting the curve in your back change.
No, there is not a machine that can help us do a plank (we wish there was!) but the machine we have called our bodies can cheat us even doing this oh-so-common move! You would think this move used in everything from Pilates, to bootcamps, to ab classes and barre would be pretty well understood by now, but the truth is, we still get it wrong! The most common mistakes come when people get tired. It can be anything from rocking back into your shoulders and hunching the spine, shifting your weight back onto your heels, sticking the hips up into the sky or the worst, letting your hips sag towards the ground.
My top tip? As soon as you feel your body adjust or move – stop, try to correct it, and if you cannot, that is enough planking for one day. (Phew!) To do it right we need to actively push our forearms into the ground, keeping absolutely everything engaged and contracted. Keeping the neck in line with the spine the shoulders, all major core muscles, glutes, calves and feet need to be activated working to stabilize the body the whole time. This movement can put a large amount on strain on the spine and lower back due to the nature of the position. Poor posture can lead to compression in the vertebrae or discs, strain through the lower back muscles and/or shoulder joint inflammation.