Cycling, yoga, Pilates, and barre—with all the boutique fitness classes on the market, you may have forgotten that classic lifts, like lunges, squats, bench press, and curls, can work magic for your muscles. But when left to your own devices, fitness becomes tougher to navigate and harder to plan for, which can lead you to wonder why you’re not getting stronger from all of the hard work you’re putting in.
“You can build a pretty incredible workout from basic gym staples,” says Flywheel instructor and director of talent operations Alex Robinson. “In fact, classic multi-joint compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and lunges are replete with benefits such as increased joint stability, decreased risk of injury, ability to lift heavier and stimulate hypertrophy, time efficiency, and swift body recomposition. However, if you’re not performing them with precision and perfect posture, you likely won’t see the results you’re expecting from these classic movements. That’s why it’s so important to check yourself even while performing what may seem to be the most basic workout. To help ensure that you lift with care, ahead you’ll learn all the overall mistakes you and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Skipping the warmup
All it takes is a few minutes before your workout to adequately warm up your muscles and prepare them for explosive movements and sustained output. Skipping this essential step can leave your muscles tight and prone to injury when your actual workout begins.
The fix: Perform light exercises and active stretches that specifically activate the muscles you’re about to work. “This will ensure you can exert force appropriately and get the benefit of the exercises,” says Robinson, noting that if the muscles are woken up, they will perform better.
Mistake #2: Not lifting to the point of fatigue
If you’re used to performing three sets of 12 reps for each and every exercise but continue to see little to no results, there’s a good chance that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. One of the best ways to tell is to self-reflect on your level of exhaustion at the end of the full round. If you’re not panting out of breath, you’ve found the culprit to why you’re not seeing your hard work pay off.
The fix: “If you can do 30 body weight squats without needing a break, it’s time to introduce some resistance,” says Mindbody wellness manager Kate Ligler. “There is a misconception that adding weight to an exercise is going to ‘make you bigger,’ which is largely inaccurate. Working to the point of fatigue with great form is the primary goal of strength training and will yield the results you want.”
Mistake #3: You’re not using full range of motion
“If you aren’t adding any weight to these classic movements, check in to make sure you are still strong and stable from start to finish,” Ligler suggests. “For squats and lunges, use a bench or ball at the lowest point of the movement to ensure consistency in range. For bench press or curls, that bar should be touching your body if you have healthy shoulders and elbows. If you can’t continue to hit the full range, your weight is too heavy.
The fix: Drop your weights to a more manageable lift until you’re ready to hoist higher numbers. More than anything, just remember that form is everything—and range of motion is a big part of that.
Mistake #4: Using incorrect form
“Even a slight deficiency, such as allowing your knees to track incorrectly on a squat, can generate force incorrectly and result in injury and failing to achieve the benefits of the exercise,” says Robinson.
The fix: Before executing any new movement, make sure you know exactly how to do so. Robinson says that watching a YouTube tutorial and doing research is your best bet to avoid injury and boost results. FWIW, here’s the right way to do a squat:
Mistake #5: Not varying your workout
“Do you always do three sets of 10 reps? Do you always do lunges with dumbbells at your sides,” Ligler asks. Doing so can lead to a plateau.
The fix: “Take these classic movements (lunges, squats, bench, etc.) and change up your positioning or rep count,” Ligler recommends. “For example, carrying dumbbells on your shoulders during your lunges is a much more challenging position for your core and posture.” In addition, she says to consider trying four sets of eight reps instead of your traditional three sets to squeeze in a few extra reps in the same amount of time.
Mistake #6: Trying to lift beyond your capability
“Often, we won’t see the results we want because of hang ups we walk into the gym with,” Robinson explains. “The ego buzz of trying to lift extremely heavy before we are ready is a classic mistake. Blazing out three excessively heavy reps with compromised form is a bad move.” That’s because, according to Robinson, in order to move such an excessive amount, you redirect the bulk of the weight from the muscles you’re targeting to supporting muscles. “Not only does this risk injury, but you won’t see the same benefits from the exercise as a result,” he explains, noting that quality is everything.
The Fix: Instead of making this rookie mistake, he says your goal should be to to execute the movement with excellent form at a suitable tempo.
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