For most, especially those starting a strength routine, it is much easier to work the wrong muscles than the intended ones. These are called compensation patterns. Take the bench press for example. Most do not have the flexibility to touch the bar to the chest with a flat back without shrugging the shoulders or jutting their head forward. Benching like this turns the synergist muscles(upper traps, posterior shoulder) into the primary mover. So while you may feel sore the next day in your chest, you are certainly not getting the most out of the exercise and probably adding joint stress. Now, take the bench press again but this time puff out your chest, roll your shoulders down and back and keep a slight arch in your lower back. You are now in a much better position for the chest and shoulders to “pull” and you will not lose tension at the top of the movement. If you have a bad back just put your feet at the edge of the bench.
There is more to all the traditional exercise than just getting under a barbell and push or pull. Instead of explaining the compensation patterns on every exercise, I will give the best cues to get the most out of each movement.
1.) Bench press: chest up and drive the bar to the ceiling
2.) Squat: chest up, sit back and drive head to the ceiling(keeps back straight)
3.) Deadlift: chest up and drive feet through the floor
4.) Lat pulldown: lift chest to the bar instead of pulling down
5.) crunch or sit up: drive chin to the ceiling
6.) barbell curl: pretend there is an egg in your elbow and crush it
7.) Shoulder press: ribs down and drive the barbell to the ceiling
Lou Kornfeind, CPT is a has been an NFPT Certified Master Trainer since 2007. He has worked with hundreds of clients ranging from 12-84 years old, both both men and women, helping them achieve their wide range of goals.