Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…Part I

Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…Part I


Do you ever wonder if the training program you are on is the best program to help you reach your goals?

If you answered no, you are lying! I don’t mean to call you out, but I myself ask this question quite often. 

It is human nature to wonder if there is something out there that is better, quicker and more effective. We all want results now. Actually, we all wanted results yesterday. 



With that, what you are really wondering is if the exercises, exercise order, sets, reps, rest periods, etc. are structured in a way that are going to get you the biggest bang for your training buck. And while these considerations are important, and something that coaches like myself spend years trying to learn and perfect, it is not the most important consideration that determines a successful training session.

Whether you are an athlete looking to enhance overall performance, an adult looking to lose fat and gain some muscle, or someone who just enjoys being active without pain, the best program is one that is executed properly!

And by executed properly, I am referring to the exercises themselves, and more specifically, where you feel the exercises working.

There is a HUGE problem we see, even with a program that looks absolutely rock solid, has tons of research backing the methods included and is being “followed to a T” (if you ever wondered where that phrase came from, check this out after…

That problem is that the individual training does not understand where he or she should be feeling the work take place. And when this happens, even if the movement looks pretty good, compensations can (and most likely WILL) arise. 

This will lead to overuse injury, or at the very least, lack of results. 



Why, you may ask!

Because when we are simply completing movements rather than understanding and targeting the proper musculature to do so, we are placing stresses on certain joints, and overusing certain muscles to a greater degree. 

We are also not creating the necessary local fatigue to muscles that we are trying to hypertrophy (grow) and because we are not utilizing the most appropriate movement patterns we will fatigue more quickly, thus reducing the amount of work we can complete…not good if muscle growth and fat loss is a goal!

So what you need to do is understand what the exercise is targeting and make sure to create a “mind muscle” connection when performing the movement. <—Ya, bodybuilders hit this one right on the head.

With that, let’s go over some common exercises that we see athletes and clients performing and feeling in the wrong areas…and let’s make sure you know where you should be feeling them work!



The Squat

Whether you are banging out reps of the goblet squat, upping your front squat or working through the traditional back squat, there are a few areas where you should feel the squat working…and not working!

First, most of the time when asked, “Where do you feel that,” the common responses include the lower back, quads, hamstrings and groin. 

While the squat will essentially work every muscle group, you need to focus on keeping the core engaged to reduce the pressure on your lower back. This means focusing on “shrink wrapping” your spine by contracting your obliques and rectus…envision pulling your zipper up towards your ribcage. 

Next, you will feel the squat working the quads and hamstrings, but you want to make sure the glutes (your butt) is your main driver. You can accomplish this by making sure to keep the majority of your pressure through your heels, and you can think about “screwing your feet into the ground” as well as trying to “rip the ground apart” between your feet. 

Read this article I wrote for T-Nation a while back for a more in depth look on getting your glutes activated during squats and deadlifts –> 3 Ways to Power Up Your Glutes

This helps you to engage all three main actions of the glutes (extension, abduction and external rotation) which helps increase the work of the glutes and decrease the work of the quads and hamstrings.  



Lastly, envisioning actively pulling yourself to the floor while sitting in between your hips helps to get the glutes going. 

So focus on keeping the core engaged and then driving through the hips (GLUTES) when performing the squat. You will feel the quads, hamstrings and groin working, but if you are feeling the lower back, quads, hamstrings and groin without the glutes, you may be working your way into some unwanted compensations!


The Deadlift

The deadlift and all of its variations (conventional, sumo, trap bar, etc.) are designed to strength the hip hinging pattern. 

While the different variations will target musculature in a slightly different way, there are still some constants that you must understand in order to optimize the deadlift.

First, if you have been told that the deadlift is a low back exercise, please smack whoever told you that and forget they ever said it!

The deadlift IS NOT a low back exercise. Yes, you will be utilizing the musculature of the lower back, but you do not want to finish your sets and feel your low back on fire. If you do, you will likely have trouble walking the next day with out the old man limp, and down the road you will be more likely to experience chronic low back pain from overuse.

Instead, you should feel the deadlift working the glutes (yup, there they are again!), the hamstrings and the upper back. 

In order to do so, make sure your back stays neutral throughout the lift and think once again about “shrink wrapping” your spine with your core. 



Be sure to focus on hinging backwards with the hips as you fold over in order to feel a stretch occurring in the hamstrings and tension building in the glutes. Keep the upper back engaged to prevent it from rounding forward.

When you initiate the pull, like the squat, think about driving the heels through the ground as you “screw” your feet. At the same time focus on bringing the hips forward to unfold, do not simply lift your chest or you will be primarily targeting the low back. Finish the rep tall and squeeze the hell out of your glutes…imagine a walnut between your cheeks and crack that thing!



The Row

Although every rowing variation will target the biceps and shoulders to some extent, you do not want your rowing exercises to feel like they are mainly targeting your biceps, and not the front of your shoulder…even a little bit…not an smidge…nothing…nill…natta! 

If you are completing your rows by driving with the arms (biceps, etc.) you are not allowing the shoulder blade to move appropriately. When this happens you will likely end finishing with the shoulder blade tipped forward, the elbow too far behind the body and you will likely feel pressure in the front of the shoulder…and this is no good!

The pressure is the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) gliding forward in the shoulder socket. When this happens other structures such as the biceps tendon, joint capsule, etc. are compromised and can be irritated or injured. 

This dude probably has some anterior shoulder pain!



So if this happens you need focus on driving the row through your shoulder blade. Think about initiating the row by pulling your shoulder blade across your upper back and towards the spine. This will engage the upper back musculature, and you should feel most of the work taking place in the upper back (between the shoulder blades).

Lastly, you need to focus on tipping the shoulder blade back and finishing with the elbow in line with the back, not behind it. This ensures that you are finishing the row with the back musculature, and not finishing with the shoulder blade and joint in a compromised position. 


Part II Is Up Next

For the next part of this series we will go over the push up, reverse lunge and lateral lunge. With that you will have a pretty good understanding where you should be feeling some of the major exercises work in order to maximize results, and keep yourself from running into overuse injuries…stay tuned!

And if you want more specific help solidifying your exercise technique, all of the videos I use for my online coaching clients go through the exact cues I use with my in person athletes which helps them ensure they are doing the exercises correctly. Just shoot me a message (FACEBOOK) if you are looking for a program that is designed specifically for you and your goals and utilizes these videos to help take your body to the next level!

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