There’s a reason low-cost gym(s) has weight machines as far as the eye can see. These machines are easy to use because the directions (usually) are right there beside you on how to do each exercise.
You don’t have to think about it, you just do it.
Most people struggle with getting to the gym in this 24/7 switched on time constrained world. Between work, children, social life, paying bills and staying alive, making time to exercise is almost a minor miracle.
And when people are there, they like to look like they know what they’re doing or else stuff like this happens.
Machines, when used correctly are a safe and effective training method that can help move you towards whatever goals you have. However, as an exercise professional, I like to live on the wild free weight side.
Barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, battle ropes and resistance bands don’t come with an instruction manual. They don’t have step by step directions telling you how to use them.
To figure these out, (if people venture outside their comfort zone) people often use methods such as monkey see, monkey do or watch YouTube videos in the effort not to look silly.
How do I know this? I am (used to be) one of those people. Now through a lot of trail and error and constant learning, I have a fair grasp on how to perform the fundamental movements, which are
I’m by no means an expert or have stopped learning and refining how to teach these movements.
However, I can pass the basics on to you, so you can shorten your learning curve and save yourself the question ‘am I doing this right’ because you’ll already know the answer.
Squats are a fundamental human movement that you perform every day, and they’re programmed into your brain while safely in your mother’s womb. Have you ever seen a child squat? Do they see somebody else do it? No, they were born with it.
Regardless of the squat variation, whether it’s a bodyweight, barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or a resistance band it’s a hip movement where the hips and knees flex while your entire spine stays relatively straight from head to butt.
There are many ways to squat because of differences in our anatomies and no two people will squat the same but the 3 facts mentioned are set in stone, almost like the ten commandments.
Use the following cues to encourage you to use your hips, discourage unwanted movement at the knees and put your body in the best position to make a squat look like a squat.
1. “Pretend you’re sitting down into a chair behind you”. If you cannot pretend, doing box squats will help.
2.“Aim your glutes at your heels”. This encourages you to squat between your legs and not over them
3.“Rip the floor apart with your feet”. Creating tension and keeping an active foot will help prevent unwanted motion at your knees.
4.“Put your shoulder blades in your back pocket or keep your chest up”. No matter what squat variation you’re doing, activating your lats will help keep your spine straight.
Repeating these cues inside your head while squatting will go a long way to performing the squat well.
2. Pulling (rows)
When you were a baby, you’d pull yourself up on a stable object to a standing position to walk while using the object for support and you were so proud of yourself, I bet.
Did anybody teach you that? No, because this movement is hotwired into your brain.
Pulling is a natural movement that is often neglected in the gym because you’re working on muscles you can’t see. However, working those big strong muscles of the back will improve your posture, give you sexy shoulders and work on the gun show.
Like you needed an excuse.
Pulling exercises take on many forms such has barbell, dumbbell, resistance band and cable, with countless variations on top of that. No matter what you do, the pull consists of bending your elbow and pulling the resistance towards you.
You’d be amazed how many gym goers avoid this exercise or completely screw up this movement because of too much weight or correctable technique flaws.
Use these cues to get the most out of this essential human movement.
1.“Keep your shoulders away from your ears”. This prevents you shrugging your upper traps to move the weight, a common pulling error.
2.“Chest up, shoulders down”. This cue works for both vertical and horizontal rows. This will keep your spine in neutral and avoid shrugging your upper neck to move the weight.
3.“Create a gap”. I stole this one from Eric Cressey. Without being to scientific, this cue allows the shoulder-blade to move across the rib cage correctly by keeping a gap between your upper body and your upper arm.
4. “Get those arms long”. Another common error is short arming the row and not going through the full range of motion. This happens when form falters or the weight is too heavy.
You were born with this installed into your hardware. Therefore, you already familiar with how to push yourself away from the floor when lying face down or to push our friends and family out of the way when they’re bothering you, without even batting an eyelid.
Pushing is a movement that you do every day without even realizing it, however when some guys get in the gym all they can think about is how much weigh they can put on the bar and good technique be dammed.
Whether you’re doing a bench press, push-up or shoulder press the trick is to create enough tension to provide stable pressing platform (which can help you lift more weight) and give your shoulders some much needed stability.
These push-up cues will set you up for success.
1. “Imagine there is a piece of paper in your arm pits. Squeeze it and don’t let go.” These help you to keep your arms close to the torso, to load the triceps/chest and to take some of the stress off the shoulders.
2. “Screw your hands in the ground.” Turn your right-hand clock wise and left hand anti clock wise and “screw” them into the ground. This will offer much- needed stability and strength for your shoulders.
When you’re doing a barbell or dumbbell bench press, regardless of the variation, you need to create tension with your feet, hands and shoulders for better technique and safety. The following cues will do this.
1. “Strangle the dumbbells/barbells.” (Like Homer Simpson did to Bart)- This activates your rotator cuffs to provide stability for your shoulders. Or ripping the barbell in two with your hands works well also.
2.“Drive yourself backwards with your feet.” (when pressing the weight off your chest)- This acts like a counter balance and helps give you some extra pushing power when you need it most.
3. “Bring your chest to the bar.”- Not only does this help you control the weight on the way down, it engages the lats and gives you more strength and stability.
Using the hips like they’re intended will make you a boss in the gym and your partner a happy person in the bedroom. Yes, the hips can be that powerful when they’re used correctly. Don’t blush, you know it’s true. 😊
Incorrect use of the hips is one of the major causes of low back pain and hinging properly will keep your lower back happy. Furthermore, it also helps you look great in your favorite pair of pants.
This is the most difficult of all fundamental human movements to teach and do because
A. We sit on it way too much which leads to weak glutes
B. A lot of people have a hard time differentiating their hips from their lower back
C. It’s a hard move to “feel” when performing it
However, no matter what type of hinge you do (or they way you do it) whether it be bodyweight, deadlift variation or kettlebell swings there is more hip flexion than knee flexion and your spine will remain straight from head to butt.
Run these cues through your head to capture the power of your hips and save your lower back from a world of hurt. Mix and match these cues to see what works best for you.
1. “Turn your right foot clockwise and left foot anti clockwise”. This helps create tension in your outer hips and gives you a stronger connection to the ground.
2. “Let your hips go back, back, back, then forward”. Some people bend their knees too much during the descent, turning the hinge into a squat.
3. “Chest up”, “Squeeze an orange in your armpits” or “Put your shoulder blades into your back pocket”. These cues encourage you to engage your lats to keep your spine straight from head to butt.
4. “Crack a walnut between your butt cheeks”. This cue encourages a glute squeeze at the top of the movement.
5. “Leave your heel prints in the ground”. This helps you generate force into the ground, which will help with your hinge.
They are quite possibility the biggest bang for your buck exercise in and out of the gym and are relatively simple to perform. Notice I said simple, not easy. Carries will help improve your grip, upper back, shoulders and leg strength.
Furthermore, out of all the five movements this is the simplest to teach and do but are avoided because
- They’re hard
- There’s no pump
- What muscle does it work again?
- Where’s the mirror?
However, avoid these at your peril.
The cues you’re thinking about while doing this are “shoulders down and back” or “chest up” and “strangle the handles”. These encourage good posture; shoulder safety so you’ll get more out of this essential human movement.
Wow, you got to the end of this post, I bet you’re hungry. Please go get yourself something to eat. Now, you’ll never question yourself again because you’ll be a pro.
I hope you didn’t eat too much.