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Military Muscle: Fix your form

Avoid injury and get the most out of 4 popular lifts

Apr. 19, 2012 - 02:57PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 19, 2012 - 02:57PM  |  
Army 2nd Lt. Alan Adkisson, 23, is a military intelligence officer who will complete Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., before going to Fort Bragg, N.C. Adkisson, a certified personal trainer, studied at the University of Texas. In these pictures, he's working out at Vida City Vista in Washington, D.C.
Army 2nd Lt. Alan Adkisson, 23, is a military intelligence officer who will complete Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., before going to Fort Bragg, N.C. Adkisson, a certified personal trainer, studied at the University of Texas. In these pictures, he's working out at Vida City Vista in Washington, D.C. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to email him.

Poor lifting technique can lead to mediocre results at best and injury at worst. My mentor Don McKeen taught the following techniques to get the most out of these popular exercises.

Purpose: Excellent shoulder exercise that combines both the front and lateral deltoids. Designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Correct technique:

1. Start with dumbbells at chest level with forearms angling outward so the dumbbells sit outside the shoulders, palms facing you.

2. Make a circle with the dumbbells as you drive them up over your head (engaging the lateral delts), rotating your palms out.

3. Continue with the circle until the dumbbells are overhead and angled down toward the center of your head. Don't lock your arms, keeping the stress on the delts the entire time.

Errors:

• Holding dumbbells directly in front of your chest, elbows in at sides and palms turned toward you.

• Driving the dumbbells straight up above your head and rotating the palms away from you. This never gives you a chance to engage the lateral muscles of the shoulder.

Back squat

Purpose: One of the best overall strength development exercises. Focus is on all lower-body muscles, as well as engaging the core.

Correct technique:

1. Bar crosses the curve of the shoulder.

2. Wrists are straight when grasping the bar.

3. Stance is slightly wider than shoulder width, feet turned out slightly. Adjust wider if you can't keep your feet firmly on the floor during the lift.

4. Chin just above level.

5. Hips under the shoulders during the movement, allowing a slight flex at the hips. The lift should bottom out where your quads are parallel to the floor. If you can't do this, stop sooner or pick another exercise. Go slightly below parallel to focus on strengthening the knee joint (but beware — this is a hugely contentious issue among trainers, orthopedists, etc.).

6. When you start out of the squat, imagine the force vector going through the middle of your feet: This will help you keep your feet planted firmly.

Errors:

• Bar placed too high on the upper back.

• Wrists hyperextended.

• Stance too narrow.

• Heels come off the floor.

• Knees move inward at any time.

• Back flexes forward too much.

Bench chest fly

Purpose: Works the pectoral muscles and the rhomboids (upper back).

Correct technique:

1. Extend the dumbbells out to your sides at the chest line. You will feel some stress on the pectoral muscles.

2. Move your elbows back toward your shoulder line, engaging your shoulder blades and activating the rhomboids. Chest line, upper arms and forearms will form an L.

3. When you execute the exercise, imagine you're hugging a tree.

4. Finish about 12 inches above the chest, keeping the oval wide and continuing to stress the chest muscles even deeper.

Errors:

• Raising the dumbbells on a straight line from the side of the chest to about 2 feet above the chest.

• Shoulders are depressed the entire time and rhomboids are not engaged.

Bench triceps extension

Purpose: Called skull crushers or nose breakers, they develop the triceps muscles. Executing on a flat bench — the traditional method — requires two lifts: Bringing the bar to the forehead works two of the three "heads" of the triceps; lowering the bar behind the forehead works the third.

Improved technique (both images):

1. Use a decline bench so that your body is angled down. Keep your arms at a 90-degree position to the rest of your trunk (same as if you were flat — you're just at another angle).

2. Touch the bar to your forehead and then extend vertically, keeping your arms in that 90-degree position. This develops all three heads of the triceps, and keeping your feet on the floor forces more core stabilization.

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