3 things you're doing wrong at the gym

Equinox Trainer Philip Easley laments the gym faux pas that keep him up at night.

The human anatomy is complex. It’s not something to throw around any way you see fit or abuse by doing things you see others doing. Chances are you’ve been contorting your body in unnatural and uncomfortable ways for all but the first two years of your life, so don’t come to the gym and do the same thing. The more properly and efficiently you move, the better you will look. Here are the most baffling non-exercises I commonly see people doing on machines. Improper movements can be dangerous, they can actually defeat the purpose of the exercise entirely, and they can merely be pointless wastes of energy. Here’s my hit list:

Lat Pulldown

What I see:Guys sitting on the seat and pulling the bar behind their head.This flub is incredibly common—partly because it feels like it’s doing something (nothing that goes along with anatomical design however). The intended target is the latissimus dorsi (lats), which is a very important postural muscle, and when performed correctly, this machine can strengthen the lats a great deal. However, pulling the bar behind you actually has the opposite effect and causes the head to jut forward even more.

What I want to see: After you’ve grasped the bar, try to think of this movement in two parts. First, drop the shoulders down away from the ears without bending the elbows. Second, lean back slightly keeping the abs engaged, head in line with spine, then pull the bar to the upper part of the chest near the collar bone, keeping shoulders back and down. Once your body understands the two-part movement, combine into one fluid motion.

Chest Press/Reverse Fly

What I see: Guys will sit down facing the machine (chest against the back support) grab the handles and literally let it fly, as if the goal is to touch the handles behind their backs. That is a complete waste of time. If you're able to go further back than straight out at shoulder height, you are either using too much leverage, not isolating the rear deltoid (the intended target and another very important postural muscle), or the weight is too light.

What I want to see: Position the seat so that the handles are at approximately shoulder-level, elbows straight, shoulders pressed back and down. Concentrate on using only the rear deltoids (the backs of the shoulders) to move arms back until they’re straight out at shoulder height. Then Stop! If you go any further the rear delts turn off, the shoulder rotates inward and the upper traps and rhomboids kick in to assist, weakening the exercise.

Assisted Pull-up

What I see: Sometimes I think people do this just to mess with me. Someone will sit on the top step of the machine, sometimes even wrapping his ankles behind the bottom step. He then grasps the bar you’re supposed to stand on behind his back and performs some kind of bastardization of a triceps pressdown.

What I want to see: Adjust the weight first (50 percent of your body weight is a good place to start, and remember, the more weight you add, the more assistance you get), then stand on the step and hold the hand grips. Pull up in three counts, and lower down in three counts. The slower and more controlled the movement, the more effective it is.

So, the moral is this: If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, stop and ask a trainer.