A common phrase I tell people in the gym is to “remember what you are trying to do.” There is a difference between moving as much weight as possible and trying to work a specific muscle. Many of the people I train have two main goals:
- Be really strong.
- Look really good.
I think it is safe to say that most people who workout would share these ideals to some degree. For this reason their workouts are often divided into big strength movements and exercises for a specific muscle. We can say compound and isolation exercise but at this point I think most trainers and trainees know that you cannot really “isolate” a muscle. Here are a few examples.
Bench Press – a great exercises but I don’t always consider it a “chest” exercise. There are too many factors. It is an upperbody strength exercise. It will vary how much it actually stressed the pectorals based on how you are built and how you perform it. In most cases my clients are trying to move the bar on the bench press from A to B. Not to really focus on the chest. Sure it is a great exercise to use for bodybuilding purposes but it is silly to use it to try to isolate the chest. I teach people to use as much muscle as possible in the bench press. Use your legs, use your back. Move the bar.
Cable Fly – this is a specific chest exercise. We are trying to work the pectoral muscle specifically. I correct people and tell them to use their chest to move the weight. Don’t use the weight of your body to help. Stretch and contract the pectorals. Your chest should bring the weight across the body. Here you are working the chest. Weight isn’t as relevant. Remember what you are trying to do. Use the chest. Don’t cheat.
Single arm Dumbbell row – A great rowing movement often performed wrong. Yes you are trying to row the weight to your torso but you can do this using the wrong muscles. Are you pulling with your arms or your latisimuss dorsi or “lats”? If you pull with your arms you elbow with bend first. What you want is your shoulder to be pulled back first as the muscles around the scapula contract. You aren’t just pulling a dumbbell up. You are pulling it up with your lats. Performed correctly the dumbbell will end up closer to your hip than if you pulled with your arm. If you have been doing this wrong which most of you have, then you will need to use less weight than you are used to. You have been just accomplishing a motion instead of working a muscle. Remember what you are trying to do.
Lateral Raise – This exercise is used to stress the medial head of the shoulder primarily. Along with dumbbell rows one I see performed incorrectly most often. Hold your hand out in front of you so your thumb is up. Now watch your shoulder as you rotate your hand so your thumb is down. Notice how the shoulder moves as well. Since the strongest head of the deltoid is the anterior head people tend to try to use this subconsciously when performing lateral raises. If your elbow drops and your hand starts rotating so your thumb is up when performing the exercise then you are doing it wrong. At the top of the motion your palm should be facing the ground. You are trying to stress a very week and specific part of the deltoid. Remember what you are trying to do. (Side Note: This is NOT called a “side lateral raise”. That doesn’t make sense. Side=lateral. If you are trainer and have been calling it this then give yourself a mild corrective slap in the face from me.)
You don’t have to be an exercise expert to workout but you do have to know what you are trying to accomplish. Think a little about each exercise to keep yourself in check and you will have much greater results.