As a skinny fella, entering the weight section of the gym can be intimidating and a little emasculating. I’ve often walked in and seen these huge mountains of men bicep curling more than I can squat. As a lifelong soccer coach and player, the competitive nature of my personality will rise to the surface when I see this. Thankfully, I am now at an age where I can mostly keep my ego under control and focus on what I need. This has not always been the case though.
The competitive nature of most men can lead to some horrendous form mistakes at the gym. Often choosing a weight that is heavier than needed, as if to prove something to themselves, the sight of a skinny fella jerking and twisting their body while squeezing out a shoulder press is a common sight at the gym. I’ve done it. I recall leaning that far back when bicep curling a barbell I looked as though I was training for the world limbo championship. I think it goes without saying that I never saw much growth in those days.
Form is important. I have seen changes in my physical shape by focusing on performing movements correctly rather than lugging the heaviest weight I can find. Not only that, but my strength has improved far past that of what I was struggling to left previously, in a far more controlled manner.
Below are 5 form mistakes that I have previously performed and still see at the gym. Some are minimizing your growth and some are working completely different muscles to what the target should be.
Lateral Raise – Arms above elbow
Full, round shoulders are key to any killer physique. They fill out a t-shirt, make the waist look thinner and give a person’s partner something to hold onto. There are several reasons why a man looks good in a suit, and the way the shoulders sit on a blazer is a big one. For such a small muscle group, developing them properly is vital.
The shoulder muscle group is broken into 3 sections – front (anterior), middle (lateral) and rear (posterior) deltoids (delts). The front delts often get the most focus by most gym goers, yet the middle and rear are vital for that 3D look. Yet, unbeknown to many, most don’t work their middle portion, despite thinking they are.
I was the same up until 20 weeks ago. Trying to lift heavier, as I lifted my arms to level with the shoulders during the lateral raise, I turned my forearms up and kept my hands above the top half of my arm, all the muscular tension was placed on my traps rather than my delts. It clarified why I never had DOMS the day after a shoulder workout.
The correct motion involves a slight bent elbow. As the arms raise, a straight line from shoulder to elbow to hand is needed. At the top of the raise, all 3 should be parallel to the floor, before lowering in a controlled manner. If performed correctly, a constant tension in the middle delts will be felt.
Go lighter and try this. I am currently lifting 20lb (9.5kg) for 10 reps weights when doing this. Only 20 weeks ago they were 10lb weights. The strength improvements and growth will come.
Bent Over Rear Delt Raise – Palms facing each other
The rear delts are a hard muscle to work on. As with the lats, you don’t get to see them in action when working them. Therefore, mind-muscle connection must be stronger for this part of the shoulder muscle group than the others. It is also important that they get as isolated as possible to be fully stressed.
Most people who perform bent over rear delt raises will have their palms facing each other. There is nothing wrong with this. The rear delts will get a good workout performing the exercise this way and many get the required growth as result. However, by performing it this way, some of the stress is taken off the delts and placed on the lats. This of course means lifting heavier weights is possible, but it also means that the rear delts are not getting the full impact of the exercises.
By turning the palms of the hands so that they are facing you rather than each other, the shoulder takes the brunt of the lift, with little, if any, help from the back. Performing this way allows for a greater tension and focus on the target area. The weight lifted should be a little lighter, but increases will come as strength is improved.
I can feel a difference performing them this way. I perform more consecutive reps with a neutral grip, suggesting that the shoulders are getting some support. My mind-muscle connection is also a lot more focused this way, as I can fully feel the tension on the rear delts when I raise my arms.
Squats – Not going parallel
Squats are often viewed as a bastion of strength. A key element of powerlifting, they work a wide range of muscle groups – legs, back and abs. I find nothing more satisfying in the gym than going heavy on a squat and performing 4-6 reps. Not to mention, as highlighted by an ex of mine, they have done wonders for my butt! It took big improvements to my form to make this happen.
Being skinny growing up, my main thing was loaded up with as much weight as possible. Loading the smith machine with 80kg worth of plates, and I used the smith so that I wouldn’t collapse, I used to bend my knees about a quarter of the way down before pushing back up. It was ridiculous. My legs were getting no benefit whatsoever and my core didn’t have to work to keep me upright. Yet this is something I see time and again and people wonder why they still have legs that resemble matchsticks.
One thing above all else should be remembered wen performing squats; go parallel. What this means is that as you lower, your upper legs should be parallel to the floor before you push back up. If in doubt, use a bench to have your butt touch and the negative portion of the exercise.
Try and perform squats with a barbell if possible. If you have no access to one, use a smith machine. Also, use a weight that is manageable. When I started the stronglifts program 2 years ago, I had a 25lb plate on either side of the bar, performing 5 sets of 5 reps. Working squats 3 times a week, I added a 2.5lb plate to either side every workout. Within weeks I was I had a 45lb plate and a 25lb plate on either side of the bar, performing 5 proper reps every set.
Barbell Bicep Curl – Half range of motion
Every skinny fella I know wants bigger arms. After all, there’s no point in filling out a t-shirt with boulder shoulders if a set of twigs are hanging from them. Biceps have the benefit of many different motions and pieces of equipment being able to be used to target them. Out of all the exercises used, the barbell curl is a staple. The bar can be held at different widths to allow for targeting of specific heads of the bicep and, if perform correctly, it can add thickness as well as the peak that people show off when asked to pose.
I have discussed my previous form of swinging my body as much as possible to lift the weight when curling. This is a common sight and doesn’t need explaining as to why it is bad. Then there is those who go heavy and only lower their arms to half way. Yep, I’ve been there too.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. During the Shortcut to Shred program, I was introduced to the seated barbell curl. The program creator, Jim Stoppani, explained that a half rep focuses solely on the bicep brachii, which is great for those looking to compete. This is the part of the muscle group which highlights the peak when flexing. However, us skinny folk are in need of more.
By maintaining a full range of motion – starting below your hips and raising to your shoulder, before lowering to same position – the first half of the lift will work the brachialis, the part of the muscle group that makes the arm appear wider and thicker, as well as the top of the forearms.
Bench Press/Shoulder Press – Locking Out
The bench press is a staple of any gym goer’s repetoire. It is an exercise used by anyone looking to get a bigger chest and with good reason. Yet, despite this, most people who are looking to build and chisel muscle perform it incorrectly, by locking their elbows at the top of the motion. Though this has it’s place in powerlifting, for building muscle it actually does the body a disservice.
Firstly, all stress is placed on the elbow joints. This could cause some serious long term issues in your elbows. Secondly, it takes the tension away from the pecs, the muscle that need stimulation to grow.
I did this for years, due to the weight being too much for me. Unsurprisingly, developing my chest past anything but pigeon-level did not happen.
Instead, focus on keeping a very slight bend in the elbow at the top of the movement. This will keep the tension on the chest as opposed to the elbows, providing more stimulus for growth. This train of thought can also be used for the overhead shoulder press, with the barbell or dumbbells.
Are there any form mistakes you see at the gym? Or are there any issues you ave having in performing exercises properly? If so, let me know in the comments section.Email This Post