When working out, you want to ensure your efforts are producing great results. Going through the motions isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
Often, how you initiate movement during exercise and maintain tension throughout can make or break overall effectiveness. The saying, “An object in motion stays in motion” is great for pushing a stalled vehicle or giant rocks but not so much when muscle development is your goal.
Throwing steel around in the weight room may make you feel productive but there’s always a right and a wrong way of lifting. Acquiring a basic understanding of momentum and inertia will keep you safe and may push your muscle to the next level.
Take a look at the following popular exercises and see if you are leaving results on the table.
Barbell, dumbbell or cable rows
When performed properly, mid-back muscles (rhomboids, mid traps) are important movers in rowing movements. A strong mid-back improves posture and stability by supporting the scapula (shoulder blades).
PROBLEM: Many people under-utilize mid-back muscle when rowing by initializing each rep using their biceps instead of their back. This can be seen when the exerciser bends their elbows to get things started. In this case, squeezing your mid-back muscles at the end of the pull is too late. Note: Unless you know what you are doing, initiating movement by rocking can also be problematic and potentially dangerous.
FIX: First, pick a weight that stimulates your muscle — not your ego. Second, stabilize your spine to prevent rocking. Third, initiate movement by drawing your shoulder blades back — with arms straight. Finally, once your shoulder blades are retracted, pull through with your arm.
Retracting your “scaps” will be a foreign movement to many. Familiarize yourself with the action by using little or no weight.
One of the most popular exercises, bench pressing, works your “pushing” muscles — chest, anterior deltoid and triceps.
PROBLEM: Using momentum to lift heavier weights can diminish results and cultivate injury. This typically occurs at the bottom of the movement. Lifters often do one of two things: bounce between reps (rebounding the bar off of the chest) or “stop, drop and push.” Either way, momentum is robbing intensity from the movement and creating weak spots. Using weight that is too heavy for the lifter also tends to force the shoulder joint beyond its normal range. This can occur during simple pushups as well.
FIX: Focus first on quality and intensity before quantity. Who cares if you can lift heavy weights if you’re not performing the exercise properly. To prevent weak spots, ensure you stop at the bottom of each rep, pause, then push. Before pushing make sure that you “feel” the dead weight and ease into it. Even a slight drop primes your push phase, creating unwanted momentum.
Squatting is one of life’s most important daily movements. Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to squat properly.
PROBLEM: Tight posterior muscles make you rigid and stiff. As a result, bending occurs at the waist, putting undue pressure on the low back. Inflexibility also strains your knees as they tend to activate out of sequence.
FIX: Initiate a squat by pushing your hips back before bending your knees. Hold on to a doorknob for practice. Ensure your chest faces forward (don’t fold in half).
If you don’t shift backwards when squatting, your weight is carried over your knee, causing eventual joint pain.
Arm work (bicep/tricep)
Everyone wants tight, muscular arms.
PROBLEM: When your arm workout gets tough, elbows shift and bodies rock, creating momentum and relieving muscle tension (the goal is to create tension — not relieve it).
FIX: When trying to develop tighter, stronger arms it’s important to isolate the muscle and create tension through a full range. This can be accomplished by maintaining your elbows in a fixed position. If not, secondary muscles jump in to help. If your elbows shift forward during a bicep curl, your shoulders are assisting. If your elbows shift during tricep exercises, your back may be assisting. In either exercise, rocking or dramatic changes in speed creates unwanted momentum.
To improve strength and ensure everything is working as intended, manage quality before quantity. Don’t let momentum create false results.
Paul Robinson has enjoyed 30 years as a personal trainer, executive, speaker and consultant in the fitness industry. He owns Kneifel Robinson (KR) Personal Training, with his partner Monica Kneifel Robinson, serving St. Albert & Edmonton. KR specializes in helping beginners, Boomers and gym-phobics achieve success. You can reach them at [email protected]