3 Ways To Know You’re Doing An Exercise Wrong

3 Ways To Know You’re Doing An Exercise Wrong

I’ve been training clients remotely since 2010, and prior to launching RNT, one of our biggest frustrations was the lack of concise and effective exercise demonstration videos.

If you’re stuck on what an exercise is, or what the ideal form is, a YouTube search typically brings two types of videos. The first would be a 10 minute documentary on how to perform a biceps curl, while the other would be just a random set filmed from someone’s workout.

No one has time for the former, and the latter doesn’t provide much value. Which is why when setting up RNT, we wanted to create an exercise library where each video could provide the main takeaways within 30 to 45 seconds. Nothing had been done like this before, and I really believe it’s been a game changer for our clients.

Each exercise is filmed from two different angles, and with each video, there are three main cues to take into account when performing them. Nothing overly complicated, just simple, easily applicable information to help optimise exercise execution in the gym.

The hardest part of online training is the ability to monitor a client’s technique in real time, but with the combination of our exercise library, video feedback and our general content, it’s almost become a non-issue.

To continue to educate our clients on how to pay attention to the body’s feedback, movement and positioning to different exercise, I asked one of our RNT coaches Nathan Johnson to help put together a three step process to figuring out whether an exercise is working for you or not.

The more you can learn this, the better feedback we can receive as coaches to allow us to make any necessary tweaks to the plan.

  1. Pain

In training, you’re going to get good pain and bad pain.

If the ‘pain’ you feel is within the target muscle, and it builds as you go through your workout, then you’re on the right path.

If however, you have pain or discomfort in your joints and not your muscles, then you may have an issue.

If you have pain in your knee, shoulder, hip, lower back, etc, and it’s not in the belly of the muscle, change the exercise. No exercise is indispensable, and there’s usually always a way to work around the issue.

Remember, you want progressive overload with perfect form in exercises that work for your body.

It’s also worth noting that this may not happen after one workout. It can often be a build up over the weeks and months of continual pressure applied into an area that later manifests itself in tendon issues or other joint problems.

One of the most common examples of this is with triceps extensions. When you perform these with your elbows flared and continue in an up and down motion, a lot of the strain will be taken by the elbows and less so by the triceps. Instead, the triceps work best trained in a straight line.

  1. You Can’t Contract the Muscle and Feel It Work

‘Position is power’.

This is something Nathan drills into his clients’ heads.

The skeleton, muscles and body are all part of a biomechanical mathematical equation. If you can get in to the most advantageous position for that muscle to work, it will work 95% of the time.

For example, like the triceps, the biceps work in straight lines, so when you curl the dumbbell up, if your wrist or elbow (and consequently your shoulder) moves out of  the straight line, your contraction ability in the biceps will reduce. 

If you can’t feel it work, the first port of call is to focus on contracting the muscle without any weight during your warm up sets. Really try to feel the muscle, and get into the right technical/biomechanical position to replicate this with heavier weight with your working sets.

Here are some upper body examples on how you can try to activate your muscles prior to your working sets.

Chest – Put your hands straight out in front of you and try to press your hands and elbows together. Squeeze as hard as you can for 8-10 seconds to really activate the chest.

Lats – Sit on a bench, put your hands straight down to the side of your body and slightly behind your back. Point your thumb in towards the body and try push your upper arm against the side of your body. 

Side Raise – While seated, hold your arms straight out to the side and raise them slowly until you feel the medial delt working hard to hold you there. 

Rhomboids / Mid Back – Lie face down on the floor and try to bring both your shoulder blades back together. You can do this with your arms in a T position or by your sides.

  1. You’re Not Getting Stronger Or Bigger

While we titled this article as ‘3 ways to know you’re doing an exercise wrong’, the word ‘wrong’ could arguably be better replaced with ‘inefficient’.

If your technique, positioning, mentality and recovery are all dialed in, your body should be progressing, whether it be neurologically or mechanically.

If you’re an inefficient technical lifter, you’ll simply utilise other muscle groups, or other mechanisms for lifting weights like bouncing, or very fast reps to complete an exercise.

While this may work (superficially) in the short run, there will come a time, and maybe not straight away, that these other mechanisms will have sealants and won’t be able to help any further.

These ‘cheats’ in progression will only cause injury, and will ultimately be a case of half a step forward, five steps backward. If you finding yourself adopting one too many of these poor habits, it’s critical you spend time re-educating yourself on the ‘right’ way to execute the movements.

That way you can avoid pain, feel the right muscle, and ultimately, ensure any progressive overload is taking place on the target muscle.

This is why it’s so critical to keep video record of your progress in the ‘indicator’ lifts. For example, whenever I go for a PB on a floor press, RDL, hack squat or bent over row, I’ll make sure I video the set to ensure I haven’t introduced any ‘sealants’ to the equation to trick myself into thinking progress has been made.

You want your form to remain pristine as you progress loads.

Keeping this combination of pain-free exercise choices, proper muscle activation, and timeless exercise technique is a sure fire way to more strength, muscle and a better physique.

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Akash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.