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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 17 October, 2018

It's all about technique! 4 of the most common exercises performed incorrectly

Personal trainer David Last on the mistakes he often sees in the gym.

Image: Shutterstock/kurhan

IT’S ALL WELL and good hitting the gym on a regular basis, but performing exercises correctly is another thing.

In a previous article, we looked at the five most common mistakes people make in the gym and today we’re going to stay with that theme and develop on one of the points a little further.

The aim of this article is to highlight the most common exercises I see performed incorrectly on the gym floor over the last 10 years and the goal here is to help you achieve better technique and bring in some better alternatives for you.

The movements mentioned are basic functional movements and they can provide you with a big bang for your buck when done right. A lot of the time I see these movements executed incorrectly and it’s down to a number of reasons.

  1. You have had little to no real guidance and you just weren’t taught right.
  2. Your mobility is restricting you perform the movement right.
  3. The movement, load, volume or even intensity you are currently working under isn’t quite right for you just yet.

Here are four of the most common exercises I see performed incorrectly:

1. Back squat

This is the king of all exercises and is a movement everybody has the ability to perform correctly. If I only a handful of exercises for most people to do, this movement would be included.

There isn’t a better exercise for the development of full-body strength, improving core strength and lower-body muscle development.

However, you’re not going to reap the full rewards if the movement is done wrong and this happens quite a lot. There are a couple of reasons for this, including your mobility and technique.

The video below will show both the correct movement and the most incorrect common signs of a poor back squat.

Source: David Last/YouTube

My advice here is simple.

Go source a trainer that has the ability to fix your technique or guide you towards a better alternative. It might mean spending some time on working on your basic mobility.

Having tight hip flexors, stiff hamstrings or even tight ankles could be the reason why your technique isn’t looking as good and is restricting your movement.

Or another tip would be to revert back to goblet or air squats. The picture below covers a few basic simple cues you need to look out for when sitting in the bottom of a squat.


2. Straight bar deadlift

Another big compound movement that I like to see in most people’s gym programme is the straight bar deadlift; a super posterior chain exercise that can increase overall body strength and help develop glutes and hamstrings.

Unfortunately this movement is the most common exercise on the gym floor I see being done poorly and this can lead to many issues down the line, particularly injury to the lower back.

The demo below shows both two types of bars; straight bar and a trap bar.

There are many variations of the exercise, including the kettlebell deadlift, straight bar and the hex bar deadlift.

I use the hex bar myself and with 80-90% of my clients, while the other 10-20% use a straight bar as they have a great range of motion in their hamstrings which allows them to pull from the floor in that position.

I sometimes hear of people complaining of lower back pain after deadlifting. This could be down to something as simple as not bracing yourself before your set up, poor technique by not knowing how to hinge correctly, going too heavy, or perhaps you should be using a hex bar as you’re not mobile enough to find the correct position at the bottom of a straight bar.

As an alternative, the kettlebell deadlift is a great example or you could even veer towards the trap bar.

If your gym doesn’t have a trap bar then perhaps look at performing the straight bar deadlift off an elevation like a set of blocks or a rack if your mobility doesn’t quite allow you to pull from the floor just yet.

3. Kettlebell swing

The kettlebell swing is an excellent exercise. The bell itself is something I recommend for everybody to have about the house.

It’s perfect for a home workout and is very versatile and quite easy to bring on the road as you can perform so many movements with it.


Both the American and Russian swing are great exercises. The American swing is the image above and the Russian is pretty much the same except you don’t finish as high with the bell.

The principles stay pretty much the same but this is where a lot of people go wrong with the movement. The kettlebell swing can be quite complex for a newbie and needs some initial coaching.

Most people don’t get this coaching and the swing really ends up looking quite ugly. It’s another exercise that can cause injury if you don’t get the basics mastered.

The video below includes a couple of tips along with the normal mistakes I see with most beginners who haven’t been taught right at the start.

Source: David Last/YouTube

4. Push-up

A basic upper-body exercise that everybody has the ability to work towards and perform correctly.

Basic teaching points are important here. I see people on their knees, performing it with an incorrect hand position, elbows flaring out and midlines collapsing. The list is endless but the fixes are simple.

The video below includes many of the errors I mention above but it also includes plenty of fixes on how you can go about working towards your first full push-up.

Source: David Last/YouTube

I hope you’ve found this information useful and if you need any more advice you can pop me a direct message from the links below.

David Last is a personal trainer based in Dublin. For more information you can follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. Or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here.

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David Last

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