Common Mistakes in the Gym

So I thought I'd go over some common mistakes that I see in the gym.  I think people make these mistakes for a variety of reasons.  Some guys are lazy.  Some are trying to protect their egos and look strong (as opposed to being strong).  Some guys are just trying to play it safe and not get injured.

But I think a lot of times people make the following mistakes, because they are either misinformed or uninformed.  People sometimes make these mistakes, because they just don't know any better.  I think this is partly the fault of personal trainers who are also misinformed and uninformed.

Mistake #1: Using the Smith machine for squats, bench presses, military presses, etc.  People use the Smith machine, because they think it's safer and that they don't need a spotter.  But in reality the Smith machine is more dangerous and can develop pattern overload in a trainee.

You see the Smith machine locks you into a single line of movement, so you develop strength in only one dimension.  Since the weight is stabilized for you on a Smith machine, stabilizer muscles such as the rotator cuff don't get any work.  So if you do the bench press the prime movers such as the chest get stronger while your rotator cuff gets weaker.

This strength imbalance becomes a problem, because it makes you more prone to injury in the real world where you move in 3 dimensions, not just one.  Doing a 225 pound bench press on the Smith machine is not the same as doing a regular 225 pound bench press.  Doing a Smith machine exercise is analogous to riding a bike with training wheels and saying, "Look at me!  I know how to ride a bike."

Mistake #2: Doing pull-ups and dips on an assisted pull-up and dip machine.  This is another case of, "Look at me!  I'm riding a bicycle!"

Assisted pull-up/dip machines support your body weight as you lift.  So while your lats and biceps are being worked to some degree, the muscles that normally stabilize your body during real pull-ups (such as your abs) are not engaged at all.  So it becomes a real shock to people when they switch from a machine assisted pull-up to a real pull-up.

This also applies to dips as well.  You're better off performing actual dips than machine assisted dips.  If you cannot do either a pull-up or dip, then have a spotter help you just enough to complete 3-5 reps.

Mistake #3: Doing partial movements on squats, leg presses, dips, etc.  Partials have their place in a training program.  Tactics and Strategies has a chapter on how to use partials to break through strength plateaus.

But most people that I see doing partials do them solely to appear as if they're lifting heavy weight.  In other words, most people doing partials do it for ego, to look strong when they really are not.  Anybody can push a heavy weight the distance of one foot.  Loading up the leg press with eight 45-pound plates on each side is not that impressive unless you're lowering it down to where your knees are in your face. 

But to push a weight through a full range requires real world, functional strength.  Quality reps are more important than the quantity of reps.  And quality reps involve a full range of motion.  Who cares if you do 10-12 dips if you're only lowering yourself 6-8 inches?

Doing only partial reps creates structural imbalances, which decreases your flexibility.  People think that it's safer to do half squats than full squats.  In reality, it's the opposite.  Half squats increase the risk of patella tendonitis, chronic knee pain. 

People avoid doing full squats or full dips, because they don't have the flexibility to perform them.  But people don't have the flexibility to perform full squats or full dips, because they never train with a full range of motion in the first place.  It's sort of a catch-22.

If you have problems doing a full range barbell back squat, then I strongly suggest you can concentrate on simple bodyweight squats, full range.  Unless you're a powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter or bodybuilder, there's really no reason for you to do barbell squats if you can't perfect the form and squat all the way down.

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