Are you hurting yourself in the gym?

If you have to go court you get a solicitor, if you hurt your back you go to a physio, if have a problem with your sink you get a plumber. But, when it comes to exercise you look after it.

 Why is this the case?

Why do people think that with absolutely no training they are capable of performing movements properly in the gym? Even if you can perform an exercise properly you can still do more harm than good.

One of the first assignments we were given during my exercise science degree was to design an 8 week weight training programme. I was an 18 year old who up to this stage had only played Gaelic games with no structured strength programme in place.

What did I do?

I bench pressed 5X5 three days a week for 8 weeks. The results, pretty good. My strength in the bench press close to doubled from day one. The downsides? I started getting injury after injury, my elbows and shoulder hurt. I didn’t feel “athletic”. My chest was the strongest part of my body which is never a good thing.

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Why did I do this?

I just started frequenting the local gym and I saw the vast majority of big guys there bench pressing. If everyone is doing then it must be good, right?

If it is properly balanced with opposing exercises then yes. It is a multi joint movement so it is definitely beneficial as long it is synergistically programmed with complementary exercises.

The bench press is a pressing exercise.

Legendary strength coach Dan John states there are 5 movements and in order to function optimally all should be developed equally. It is similar in yoga.

Dan recommends:

  • Push – Bench press, overhead press, push ups
  • Pull – Pull/chin ups, rows
  • Squat – Front squat, back squat, goblet squat.
  • Hinge – Kettlebell swing, deadlift, good morning.
  • Loaded carry – Farmer’s carry, waiter’s carry, suitcase carry.
  • Everything else – Turkish get up, ground work.

In hatha yoga the programming is similar.

  • Forward bends – Padahastasana.
  • Back bends – Urdhva dhanurasana
  • Spinal twists – Ardha matsyendrasana
  • Inversions – Sirsasana
  • Standing balancing poses – Vrksasana
  • Seated poses – Padmasana
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 Balance your push /pull ratio

Seeing as most people out there are over doing the pushing movements – bench press and squats and underdoing the rest most coaches recommend a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 is best. This is because there is properly a large pressing imbalance already occurring.

So if you start your session with a back squat then it is best to do 2 to 3 hinge movements or pulling movements afterwards.

The same goes with the bench press.

 Sample 3-day routine.

Workout 1

  1. Back squat                         3×5

Rest 2 mins between set

B1. Pull ups                            3×8

B2. 1 arm press                     3×10

B3. Plank                                3×60 secs

Rest 30 secs between exercises/ 90 between sets.

  1. Kettlebell swings               30/30 for 5 minutes

Workout 2.

  1. Bench press                       3×5

B1. Seated row                      3×10

B2. Push ups                          3×12

B3. Facepull.                           3×10

Rest 30 secs between exercises/ 90 between sets.

  1. Farmers carry.                   3x30m

Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Workout 3

  1. Deadlift                              3×5
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B1. Bent over row                 3×8

B2. DB press                          3×10

B3. Mountain climbers         3×30 secs

Rest 30 secs between exercises/ 90 between sets.

  1. Pull ups                              20.

Complete in as few sets as possible.

As you can see all movements are covered and there is roughly a 1:2 ratio between push and pull.

I hope this will give you the tools you need to assess your current routine and an idea of how to structure your own workout.

If you have any questions or funny stories of training mistakes I would love to hear them.

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