Smart moves in the weight room
The weight room can be a confusing place for gym-goers. Often armed with too little information about how to properly handle weight and cable machines and free weights, they are ripe for making blunders -- and it can cost them, leading to major and minor injuries. We asked five Southern California trainers: What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen people make in the weight room?
Nina Moore, trainer, the Sports Club/LA: “Not doing a proper warm-up before training. You’ll see someone come in at 6 a.m. and the heaviest thing they’ve picked up so far is their gym bag, and they go right into doing a bench press with 175 pounds without doing any warm-up at all. If you don’t do a warm-up, that’s when you increase your risk of injury [pulled and strained muscles and ligaments, and sore joints]. An active warm-up prepares the body for the work to be performed. Doing warm-up exercises is also a great way to [engage] the core muscles.
“We have our clients do simple movements that mimic the activity they’re going to do to get the joints and ligaments warmed up, increase muscle temperature and increase core temperature. On the floor [at the gym] we keep a bike, an ergometer [an upper-body exercise machine that uses arms and hands to rotate pedals], jump-ropes and [stability] balls for people to warm up. Or, you can do an exercise without adding resistance -- such as body weight lunges as a preparation for doing lunges with weights. You can also do push-ups.
“A good warm-up should include about 10 minutes of activity. That’s also a time when you can clear your head and focus on what you want to accomplish during the workout.”
Rob Glick, Newport Beach-based co-founder of Global Fitness Solutions, member of IDEA Health & Fitness Assn.: “People don’t understand about maintaining their trunk and spine stability while lifting weights. They’re just throwing the weights up rather than lifting the weights and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can hear their back screaming.’
“When doing weights on a fixed machine, you’re making an isolated movement and strengthening your body in this one position. So you relax your core, because the bench is giving you stability. Free weights and cables are much more functional, so that’s where the deeper understanding of the core comes into play. Core strength and core control can be a stabilizer and an anchor. If I want my core to work as a stabilizer, I want to maintain a nice, proper posture and then do the movement. Slow down initially and connect to the movement properly. Don’t worry about how much weight you’re lifting. Once you understand how to do it, let your body be your guide to how much weight and how many reps you should do.”
Mike Ryan, Venice-based trainer with Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute: “Guys especially always want to lift as much as they can. That’s the worst thing in the world, because weight training is all about form and technique, it’s not a weight-loading competition. It’s a good idea to always err on the side of caution and build up weight appropriately. Otherwise, it opens people up to injury.
“I hate to say it, but guys need to check their ego at the door. When you realize you can’t move a weight properly, be smart about it. Drop the weight and go lighter.
“I’ve seen everything from a sore back to a pulled hamstring and quad. In terms of bigger injuries, I’ve seen people tear their pectorals doing a bench press. That’s just a nasty injury. The nagging injuries are fairly common -- people tweaking their back -- and those are preventable.
“It’s great that the enthusiasm is there, but you have to pace yourself. This is a lifestyle change -- you’re in it for the long run. Take your time and let the muscles mature as you develop them.”
Janel Bilal, personal trainer, 24 Hour Fitness Magic Johnson Sport Club, Carson: “I see a lot of bad form, especially protracted shoulders. Some people don’t have proper stabilization through the shoulder area, and during an exercise like a seated row, you see shoulders that are curled forward. Many people are sitting at a desk all day or commuting long distances, and they’re in that slouched position. Or they play a sport such as tennis, where there is a lot of forward shoulder rotation.
“You shouldn’t rotate your shoulder while you’re working another muscle group. For example, your shoulders shouldn’t be rolling while you’re doing a bicep curl. Pressing the shoulders down and squeezing the rhomboids [muscles in the upper back] will lock in the shoulder girdle and keep that area stable enough to get the muscle group you’re working to carry the majority of the weight.”
Chalene Johnson, Irvine-based fitness instructor and video and fitness infomercial host: “The No. 1 thing is too much momentum with the weights. The speed of the repetition is way too fast. People are literally swinging the weights and lifting them so fast that the velocity builds momentum but decreases the overload to the muscle, which makes the exercise less effective. The slower the speed, the more effective.
“The quicker you can reach overload by going slower, the more effective the muscle contraction and the results. You’re trying to make the exercise as difficult as possible to break the muscle fiber down. Overload creates a momentary failure so that you can’t do another rep, and that process breaks the muscle fiber down. That’s what causes the muscle to repair itself, leading to increased muscle mass, a higher metabolism and decreased body fat.
“Do the exercise slowly and controlled. Count to four on the [muscle-loading portion], and four on the [unloading portion]. Another technique is to think about the muscle. Before you begin the rep, flex the muscle three times as if it’s loading.
“It’s not the number on the side of the weight that makes a difference, it’s how difficult you can make the rep.”