Mistakes in the gym: Exercise selection

November 9, 2008

I got my first real exposure to strength training in high school phys ed (in grades 7/8 I used to dabble in some bodyweight training but this wasn’t based on any real instruction). When I was 16 and started playing baseball for a travel team, I started working out at the local gym on my own. In those early years…all the way up until I started educating myself more about strength training and pursuing my first personal training cert at a YMCA, I did some pretty bonehead things. So this post is about some of the mistakes I’ve made in the gym before I “saw the light” regarding (poor) exercise selection…are you making any of these?

  • Smith Machine (bench press, shoulder press, squats,…anything): I used to use this because working out by myself back in the day, I figured it was safer than risking embarrassment in front of the buff gym guys that I looked up to at the time. Unfortunately the smith machine, which essentially eliminates the need for the body to recruit stabilizer muscles, creates a dangerous environment once free weights are used because your body forgets how to stabilize the weights. I used to do smith machine squats with 250 pounds on the bar when I was 17 or 18…when I tried free weight barbell squats, I could barely stabilize 185 pounds…and that was for a quarter squat! The big problems with this apparatus is that is has little carryover to real-life activities and it inflates the ego!

    The worlds most expensive coat rack...

    The world's most expensive coat rack...

  • Concentration curls and Triceps kickbacks: This doesn’t require an extensive explanation, just there are many exercises that are far more effective at promoting muscle growth in the arms!!
  • Leg extensions and other leg machines (leg curl, leg press): The first thing to consider was I was training to become a better baseball player (or so I thought); these however machines do not carryover to sport performance. What I should have been doing is lots of single-leg exercises and learning how to squat and deadlift properly.
  • Trunk rotations: In the gym I first worked out at (a community centre gym by my house), they had this torso training machine where you sit down and rotate against a load to your left or right. Batting and pitching have significant rotational strength/power components so I thought this was something I HAD to do (caps intended). Knowing what I know now, it was probably one of the dumbest things I did. Those torso rotary training machines train rotation at the lumbar spine (lower back), what happens in batting and pitching though is largely a combination of thoracic spine (upper/mid back) rotation and hip internal/external rotation. So here I was training rotation in my lower back because I thought “rotation is rotation, so this thing will work” when really I wasn’t training rotation as it happened in the sport I played. Now, I haven’t even mentioned the injury risk associated with lumbar rotation, and I won’t re-hash that in this post. Bottom line: don’t use it!
  • Sit-ups/Crunches: Yup, some more misguided core training!! I used to perform sets of 200 crunches at the ends of my workouts. Now this wasn’t for improving my swing or pitching velocity, strictly aestethics: what high school kid doesn’t want six-pack abs and the propositions from girls that went with said 6-pack?! What I didn’t know then was that a) core training can make your stomach look good (if you are lean  enough there) AND improve athletic performance and that b) that doesn’t involve endless crunches or sit-ups. What I should have been doing is a lot more core stability exercises: planks, side planks, etc. Look at gymnasts…they have 6-packs and 8 packs, and what does their sport require?? A lot of core stability!!! They weren’t born with some insane core stability though, they had to develop it through training, which involved exercises that are far more practical than sit-ups and crunches!

    Some insane core stability!!

    Some insane core stability!!

That’s my list of mistakes…which looking back, pretty much covers the entire training program I did at that time. Part of the reason I pursued that first personal training cert from the YMCA and a career in fitness, and have interned and worked at SST during my summers, has been because I didn’t accomplish my goal of getting an athletic scholarship to play baseball in the States, so I learned from my mistakes so that I could help others accomplish their dreams and not make the same mistakes I made.

These mistakes that I listed are pretty much the norm in commercial gyms here in North America; I see it all the time in every commercial gym I’ve walked into. Just realize that because these things are seen as the “popular” or “culturally accepted” way to train, doesn’t mean they are the right way to train.


5 Responses to “Mistakes in the gym: Exercise selection”

  1. Chris Brown Says:

    Natasha, thanks for your kind feedback!

  2. evattenom Says:

    Great info: Will definitely come back again soon

  3. Chris Brown Says:

    Thanks, glad you liked it!

  4. at home, we use those wooden coat racks and also the newer stainless steel coat racks*.`

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