Gym rule #3 – Proper technique

Both this post and the next one are going to be real quick. We will wrap up the conversation on the “rules of the gym”, and then we will move on to a much juicer topic: getting the gym outfit right.

When I went back to the gym after five years of pause – five years of pause?… clap clap clap… Let’s start again, without the round of applause this time around…

When I went back to the gym after five years of pause (no applause please), on one side I had forgotten part of my previous knowledge on proper technique, on the other side I decided to do things seriously this time around, and in my workout routine there were some new exercises I was not familiar with.

It would have been better to have someone knowledgeable explaining these things to me in person, since even in our wonderful Information Age, nothing beats real-life explanation and feedback from someone who knows what they are talking about. But for a series of circumstances, I didn’t have that opportunity: I didn’t speak the local language to start with, there were no coaches in the weight room for me to ask questions to, and you can’t really ask a myriad of questions to one of the “gym bros” training there, otherwise you will just get yourself a “clueless newbie who is possibly even hitting on me” stamp on your forehead.

As such, I went to the Internet to learn proper technique, and my reference point was the “exercise guides” section of bodybuilding.com:

https://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises

You select the muscle of interest, and then for each muscle there is a nice collection of relevant exercises, each of which comes with an “efficacy” rating and some instructions of proper techniques, both in written text and in video format. It’s ideal to get you started, and also to understand which exercise is “better” than the others for the specific muscle you want to target. For full disclosure, my impression was that the written instructions were more on-point than the videos, and I found that the videos weren’t exactly up to scratch for some specific exercises.

With the help of those guides, I reached what I considered to be a good lifting technique on all exercises except one: the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) with dumbbells. No doubt the RDL is the most effective hamstrings exercise of the them all, and now that I do it correctly, I have hamstring soreness for three days straight after the training session (good), without any lower back pain at all (great). Now that I do it correctly that is. Back in the day, I didn’t seem to get around to understanding how to do it properly, and even if I was lifting feathers just to get the proper technique down before increasing weight, I kept having lower back pain straight after the sets and for days afterwards. Hardly what I wanted.

I also asked about it to a friend of mine who was training at the same gym, and to another dude training there who seemed to know his stuff, but I just couldn’t get it, even with their explanations. Thinking about it now, the dude was using one of those “weightlifting belts”, and he said that “it was normal to have lower back pain”.

Suuuure…

I moved the quest for understanding how to properly execute the RDL to YouTube, and that did the trick for me. The number of videos for each exercise is just huge there, and as with anything else in life, with all those “coaches” it’s key to understand which one knows what they are talking about, and which one doesn’t. I watched a few videos, and finally the way a woman explained it did the trick for me. I remember what she said in the video word by word:

You start the movement from the hips, and you move them backwards as if you were following a hypothetical horizontally line, trying to go as far backwards as possible, while still remaining on that horizontal line. You keep the back straight, and let it follow the movement of the hips. When you have moved your hips as far backwards as possible, you proceed to move them back to the initial position, still following that hypothetical horizontal line. 

Guys, that did the trick for me: I finally understood how to do the exercise properly, and the lower back pain was gone for good!

I reached a point when I thought I was executing all exercises with proper technique, by then I had been training constantly for one year, and the last few months I was training in a gym with coaches physically present in the weight room. But still, at some point I went back to my home town for a week, I joined a local gym to train during that one week, and while I was doing the dumbbell press the coach came to see me:

You are doing it completely wrong, most of the weight is being lifted by the shoulders and not by the chest.

Initially I had a WTF moment, since I thought I had grown out of the beginner’s phase, and I thought that I knew my stuff by then, but after an initial moment of internal resistance, I started listening to what he was saying:

Reduce the weight first, then do the movement again, this time keeping your elbows not aligned with your shoulders but rather halfway between the line of your shoulders and your body.

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I did as he said, and boy was he right: I could actually feel the chest being targeted real nice like that. If on one side I was happy to have finally learnt the proper technique for that exercise, on the other side I was disappointed that none of the coaches at my regular gym ever said anything about my improper execution. Having considered this latter point, while I was at that gym for the week, I had him oversee at least once all of the exercises I was doing, and I took on board all of his recommendations.

Real-life feedback, from someone who is more knowledgeable than you on that subject and is happy to share his knowledge with you, that kind of feedback is simply put invaluable. If you get the chance, make sure to get the maximum out of it. A low-status person would fight the feedback back, since “he knows best” (sure), but luckily we are much better than that in here.

Related Posts:
• Gym rule #1 – Don’t injure yourself
• Gym rule #2 – Warm-up
• Gym rule #4 – Progressive overload

• The Daygamer’s gym outfit
• Maximising your Looks

The Essentials:
• Fundamentals
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