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Ignorance in the Gym leads to Injury

Posted May 24 2009 12:00am
Why your Ego can make you look kinda dumb

As an in-home personal trainer..I keep my personal workouts separate from where I train my clients (in their home, office-gym, track, parks, ect). So the gym I belong to is my own personal place to kick my own butt, uninterrupted by questions from members, helping people workout, ect. I do that all day, and I love it but its VERY important that I get that time to myself to workout, come up with new functional exercises for my clients, and just SWEAT it all out!

Something, over the years I notice, and I know other people who are well educated on proper exercise mechanics are the people in the gym that have NO idea what they are doing, but like to pretend like they do...meaning they DO NOT want help, and they especially don't want to be corrected. Now, as a trainer that is not employed by the particular gym I workout at I have learned to bite my lip 80% of the time. When I see someone that looks a little lost, or may be receptive to my help (psychology, experience and body language will help my to determine when to step in) I will offer some advice. There are also times where I have been approached by someone with questions who has seen me in there and I am guessing they think I know what I am doing (which is another subject I want to cover later). Most of the time the trainers that are employed by this gym are working with their clients and don't really notice, or at least pretend not to notice the guy next to him lifting too much weight, tossing his body all over about to throw his back out.

Now, don't get me wrong. Major kudos to these people for joining the gym and taking that step to living a healthier lifestyle--but that is just the first step...theres MUCH more to it, and when you execute this drive you have to lose weight, lower your cholestrol, strengthen your body--you MUST educate yourself with the RIGHT information, and check your pride at the door. Walking in thinking you don't need help and a "know-it all" attitute is going to make you look MUCH dumber than if you asked for help (which, I admire those VERY much that ask for help...those are the people in the gym that I see who become the most healthy, fit and experts in their own right).

There were a few incidents recently that stick out. I was actually working out at the gym in my condo association clubhouse for the first time (Its the size of a large closet)..I just finished my cardio and I went into the tiny weight room to stretch and get in some push-ups, planks and whatever else I could do without elbowing the person on the other side of the room. A guy walks in, probably early-mid 30's, 5'7 1/2 if I had to guess, Grateful Dead t-shirt, full beard (trying to give a visual), not really in the best shape from first glance, yet I admired his enthusiasm of getting fit, and spending his Saturday morning in the gym. He had two girls with him maybe his girlfriend and her sister or friend. He has a piece of paper on a clipboard and I think, great, he had a trainer give him a workout, or he has read some books and is pretty serious about working out! Fantastic! There are also very detailed posters on the wall giving the basic exercises for each body part including pictures so that was very helpful for anyone coming in that had no idea what they were supposed to do with those heavy metal bar things on that rack against the wall.

So, the one girl goes over to the weight bench with a pair of dumbbells and starts to do DB bench press, form looks good, yey! The other one looks a little lost, and starts to do overhead triceps press...which can be tricky, her form needed a little help on these to get the full benefit of the exercise (elbows in for one). I look in the corner at the guy and he is doing free standing squats, no weights, just body weight. Form is horrendous! His knees are coming like 4 inches over in front of his toes, hips and pelvis are pushed forward, heels are lifted, just God-awful stuff, I was cringing! I always hesitate when approaching a man about his form, ESPECIALLY when he is working out with women who are looking to him for advice (although the bench press girl who was going from the posters on the wall was doing OK) because they tend to get VERY offended or annoyed when the 109 pound girl comes over and corrects his posture while he's dead lifting 150 pounds in front of his wife that just joined the gym.

how to squat for beginners:

(at the bottom of the blog I will post an informative video further explaining this exercise. As I said, it is VERY common for people to do this incorrectly, even when shown, I see new clients all the time that I teach the squat to, and it takes patience, caution and time when performing this for the first time!)

So after his second set I couldn't help myself. I was ready to leave so I thought I am going to tell him, and I will leave and he can do with it what he wants. So, I said to him "Excuse me, you know its MUCH more beneficial if you try and keep your heels down, and sit back like there were a chair behind can really hurt your knees and your back if you keep coming forward like that" I said, I am a trainer, I do this for a living, its a common mistake people make when squatting, and you maybe can't see yourself but I wanted to let you know. Well, he was visually extremely, extremely annoyed when I said that. This is the guy when he first walked in the room gave me a very friendly smile and hello, in his Grateful Dead t-shirt (meaning seemed like a pretty "chill" person, not to stereotype but still). He said "That's okay", and I was like OK you want to have bad knees, fine. I just can not help it when I see someone trying to get healthy and exercise, when what they are doing is not going to benefit them, its going to do worse, harm them and result in injury, frustration from exercise, negativity well I didnt say all of that but you understand my point). I said, please let me show you, and I proceeded to demonstrate proper squatting, using the bench to show how you should act as if you were sitting in a chair. DB bench girl must of been the GF b/c she was rolling her eyes at me, but the other girl was taking in what i was saying and asked how her form was. (Glad she asked!), I showed her the proper way, and she said "WOW, I really feel it now!" "Before I didn't feel it in that area, OK, so those are the muscles I am supposed to be working, cool!". She said she was just going by the posters, which is fine, but if you dont read the poster, or even make sure you are doing it just like the poster says. So, I started to show her another good triceps exercise, that the form was easier to control for a beginner, and as I am showing her, sloppy squat form boy walks RIGHT in front of me, blocking her view of me, clearly on purpose, because HE was the "expert" that brought them to the gym, and I made him look bad I guess. Finally she was able to learn, and was appreciative, thanked me so much for helping her. She seemed newly enlightened as to the purpose of moving those 5lb things around.

In closing I said to her (in the closet size room, so everyone could hear me) "if you come and workout, and do not execute the proper form, or know the purpose of the exercise you are A. are not doing anything to benefit from working out B. going to injure yourself, and C. you simply are not going to get results and get frustrated." I said people may get annoyed (hint hint!) at me if I constructively criticize them and they think they have it down, especially men that don't know me, or what I do--but I have worked with collegiate male athletes who sought my advice, men in their 30's, 40's, 50's +, teenagers, post-menopausal women, you name it. Yes, its because they hired me and want my advice, but since it is what I am passionate about I can not look away all the time when I see someone that is going to hurt themselves. I feel it would just be wrong of me...but I do pick my battles.

For instance I was in the gym yesterday, my regular health club I workout in...and this couple walks in that I never saw before. They go over to one of the lat pull down machines, and I am working on the same tower finishing my workout with some triceps extension on the cables. The guy has his wife/gf doing alternate lat pull downs, but coming only half way down? OK? Now, if I am wrong and there is a exercise physiologist out there that reads this, you can tell me the purpose of this...BUT its my understanding that you execute FULL range of motion in this exercise. The guy starts doing it, he's all serious, his wife looking all determined eating up his every word...and he does them, coming only half way down, it looks like he has on too much weight and cant pull the bar all the way to me! So to impress his wife/ gf he makes up this "new" exercise of coming 1/2 way down so she thinks he's all big and strong and can lift all this weight. Well, I was looking for someone who can share in the inquisitive interest I took in this the meantime, I wanted to do some cable press downs with the rope, which was right next to this couple. So I muted my ipod so I can hear what this guy was telling his wife/ gf. So he starts philosiphying about how "now I don't want you to come all the way down, because then you are going to start relaxing the muscle" I couldn't help but chuckle to myself a little bit, but I learned mylesson with squat boy, and THIS guy had his whole "theory" on why, and he was obviously trying to impress this woman with his knowledge, so me correcting him in any way would not be welcomed. Besides, there were trainers that worked at this gym around, so if they felt like getting involved, they would. I dont think he was necesarily going to injure himself, but they definitely looked ridiculous, and from my understanding and experience I never saw this before, so I dont know how it was even doing anything. If I had to guess, I would say he thought they were doing a biceps exercise...which in lat pull downs, especially alternate lat pull downs (grip in close in, knuckles facing you instead of a wide grip, palms forward) your biceps are getting of the stabilizer muscles used are the biceps. During rows or lat pull down biceps are getting worked, like in an pushing or pressing movement the triceps are going to get worked. Although Pull downs are a latissimus dorsi exercise (large muscle in the center of your back), there are several other muscles that produce movement at the shoulder joint during this movement and pulling the bar all the way down will not "relax the muscles". And all the variations of this exercise have been shown to measure different rates of activity in the other muscles used based on your grip. Note- NEVER EVER perform this exercise by pulling the bar behing your head! Never! It is an old, now contraindicated exercise that does more damage than good. It is not a natural position for your cervical spine (neck) & is NOT more beneficial for your back muscles when performed this way. I still see someone doing this from time to time, and its the ultimate "cringe" for me when I see this.

Back to the gym guy's philosophy-- sitting and pulling 1/2 way down is not making it an effective biceps may feel it there, but you are not properly working that muscle. The primary actions of the biceps are flexion and supination of the elbow--when you are focusing on working primarily the biceps the "curling" exercises biceps curl, preacher curl, hammer curl...hitting at different angles to work both the long head and short head. But again, as I said earlier the biceps are getting worked when you are performing pulling and rowing exercises for the larger muscle groups. I like to combine smaller upper body exercises with lower body exercises to get my heart rate up and burn some more calories!

Thats my advice--take it or leave it...but educate yourself, read books that are focused on form, proper mechanics, and information that will help you reach your goals constructively. Would you take your life savings invest it in something you know nothing about? Or would you educate yourself on the best way to reach your retirement safely & comfortably. Well, your body and your health are just as important--its quality of Life! preventing disease like type II diabetes, being in chronic pain, having bad joint pain. So, again CHECK your pride at the door!

Which will bring me my point, why I told you these two stories...just because you see someone doing something in the gym DOES NOT mean it is right. Most of the time people will mimic someone else in the gym, and this incorrect movement will spread. And, even if it is correct, it may not be for you...if you are a beginner, it could be something more advanced, or if you have any kind of under lying injury, it may be bad for you also. Always get clearance for exercise from a doctor if there is any medical condition you are being treated for, or if you have any musculoskeletal limitations of movement, get that checked out to see what you can do--and if there is any type of rehab you can do to help.

Above all, be safe...and get your workout on! Don't get discouraged against working out, its the BEST preventative medicine there is! Do research, talk to professionals, and don't give up!

A good source for article and exercise information is there is an exercise library on here too! If you are unsure about how an exercise is performed you can find videos online also to show you proper form and explain what muscle group you are using. You can go on like I posted above explaining the squat. Here is a site that has videos of exercises, you can type in the exercise you want to do, and they will show and explain step by step how to perform it

PS- you don't need to join a gym to get an amazing workout either! I didn't mention before that I do workout at home as well! Plus, home workouts are what I do for a living, and I have seen MANY clients get AMAZING results!...I feel they can be more challenging when given the right instruction!
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