6 Gym Mistakes Guys Make

by Michael on October 25, 2010 · 2 comments

I miss mom too...

A fitness club is more than a good place to start your road to a healthier life. It’s often like a community center and spa as well. You can meet your neighbors (or colleagues), encourage each other as workout buddies, and in some clubs have a post-workout sauna. But as with any micro-society, there are those who throw a monkey wrench into the works.

I encourage you instead to grease the wheels of society, project an image of a considerate man who pays attention to his surroundings, and in a few cases perhaps even make a good impression on that hottie on the elliptical. It’s simple, and in most cases it’s just common sense, to avoid these gaffes. (I’ve also included a bonus tip to help you not strike out with that hottie.)

1. Hanging out on the equipment between sets

If you’re following the Simple Starter Workout Plan, you won’t be doing this at all, but you’ll see it often: the guy at the one preacher curl station who does one set, then sits there for five minutes—sometimes reading or texting—while his fellow gym rats hover waiting for him to finish.

It’s better for you to keep moving between sets, so get up, take a drink, shake your muscles out, and if anyone looks like they’re waiting for the equipment, offer them the opportunity to “work in.” You might even make a workout buddy!

2. Dropping weights

There are gyms where dropping loaded dumbbells and barbells is part of the accepted protocol. Your local consumer fitness club isn’t one of them. Knowing how to “ditch” the bar will save you from injury when you start doing heavy Olympic-style lifts, but dropping weights at the end of each set means you’re not doing it properly. It’s highly distracting to the members around you (and under you), and can damage the floor (hardcore lifters use a “bumper,” a rubber plate slightly larger than the largest metal plate, to prevent damage and reduce noise). You could even end up injuring yourself.

If you’re using the proper weight for the exercise, you should be able to set the weights down at the end of each set without dropping them. A common exception is the dumbbell chest press: the weight that maximizes your muscle gain might not be easy to set on the floor beside the bench. One answer to this problem is to place the dumbbells on your chest at the end of the last rep, then sit up, sliding the weights down to your lap from which you can then smoothly set them down. Another answer is to employ a spotter to help you. A spotter will also enable you to squeeze out one or two more reps.

3. Forgetting to wipe down the equipment

This one is probably the most common gym gaffe, and there are occasions when I can see not thinking of it: namely, when you’re not sweating at all. Likewise, it’s not required to spray down the handles of every dumbbell you use. But once you’ve started perspiring, grab the disinfectant spray and a small towel and just give the seat or bench a quick wipe after your final set.

After catching numerous viruses from my fellow members who didn’t wipe down their equipment at all, I started instituting a rule of thumb: I wipe it down before I use it, then again after. That goes double for stretching mats.

4. Leaving weights on the barbell

When you next visit your local gym, go over to the free-weight section and note how many barbells are loaded with plates but have no one using them. There’s almost zero chance that the next person to use that bar will be pushing the exact same weight, meaning they’ll often have to remove the weight before they put their starting weight on. Make those plates 4-6 45-pounders and that next person a 110-pound girl, and you get the picture.

When you’ve finished a set of squats, bench presses or other barbell exercises, take the plates all off the bar and put them on the nearby storage rack. If someone’s waiting to use the bar after you, ask if they want you to leave anything on the bar.

5. Leaving towels on the floor or benches

I know, this seems obvious, right? But it’s surprisingly common to find towels lying pretty much wherever they were last used. In fact, when I needed a photo for this very article, I didn’t have to wait long to find exactly what I was looking for, and it’s far from the worst recent example I’ve seen. To top it off, when you find a towel lying in a random walking area or bench, it’s almost invariably wet, adding another layer of yuck. And why some of these guys are using two or three towels is anyone’s guess.

Every changing room has a receptacle for used towels. Use it.

6. Walking around the locker room soaking wet

This often goes hand-in-hand with the above. Most locker rooms have carpet, and by the time you’re a gym veteran it’s guaranteed you’ll have stepped with your bare or stocking feet in a wet spot created by someone who didn’t think to dry off before exiting the shower area. To up the ante, a select few walk to their locker wet, then put a towel down on the bench and sit on the towel.

Even if there’s a line for the showers, dry off before you exit. The other guys will understand. You don’t have to do a perfect job, but make sure you’re not dripping.

Bonus: Chatting up every attractive woman on the floor

This is another guy you’ll see at any busy gym: he usually shows up at the busiest time of day. He does one set of an exercise, then saunters over to where an attractive woman is working out and “checks in” with her. After 5-10 minutes, she finally tells him she needs to continue exercising. Some of the hotter female regulars can’t walk from one station to the next without running a gauntlet of guys wanting to know “how’s it goin’?”

This is the reason more and more gyms are creating women-only areas, and that’s sad, because there’s often no better inspiration to squeeze out that one last rep than watching a goddess in spandex walk by.

I’m not going to tell you never to talk to women at the gym. What you need to do is time it right: instead of going out of your way to catch her, say hi as she passes you. Then if you’re somewhere you can say a few more words, like the water fountain or front lobby, do so then. It’s a good practice in any situation to be the one who has to get back to what he’s doing, but it’s especially important at the gym. Plus you’re here for a primary purpose: don’t compromise your workout!

You’ll find that even in an environment where testosterone reigns, someone who shows consideration is more respected. And respect, like a healthier body, builds confidence. Now go get it on!


The Bicep Workout

by Michael on October 8, 2010 · 0 comments

muscle with ink

Of course, you could always just disguise it. (Photo by Let Ideas Compete)

As you may know, I’m not a fan of isolating body parts in a workout. It’s most important to remember your primary goal—to lose fat, build lean muscle or improve overall fitness—before embarking on a focused abdominal or bicep workout. That said, the most visible evidence of a muscular guy is the look of his guns.

When I first set foot in a gym, I had the weakest biceps you could imagine. I hadn’t done a curl in my whole life. It was kind of embarrassing, to tell the truth, to be using the same 10-15-pound weights the ladies at the gym were using. So I made the decision to put extra emphasis on my biceps. Long story short, over the years since, various girlfriends have mentioned, completely unsolicited, that they like my arms.

Rules for a Bicep Workout

Before we get to the exercises, here are a few points to remember:

Don’t overwork. Doing bicep curls every day will hurt more than it will help. The best way to target your biceps is with additional training on the days you normally do bicep exercises. If you’re following the Simple Starter Workout, that’s every 3-4 days, which is perfect.

Work the triceps too. First, it’s important in the balance of your arm to work both opposing muscle groups. Second, well-built triceps make your arms bigger too, and in less total time than it would take building biceps alone. So if you’re working the biceps hard, show some love to your triceps too.

Use your arms only. The biggest mistake I see guys making with bicep exercises is when they lean back, brace their elbows against their torso, and use their legs to help get the weight up. That not only takes the load off their biceps, it also can potentially hurt their back. Stay straight, keep your abs rigid, and let your biceps do the work. Remember to squeeze a bit at the top, and don’t lock your elbows at the bottom of the movement.

Stay in proportion. You’ve no doubt seen photos of guys with grotesque “Popeye arms,” way out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. It’s easy to get carried away, just work them a little harder, and when you see results just wanting to get them a little bigger. A rule of thumb is that your upper arms should be roughly the same circumference as your neck and calves. If you find your guns getting larger, cut back on the extra bicep workouts and maybe put more effort into your shoulders.

The Bicep Exercises

Since you should be doing this in addition to an overall workout plan, I’m going to assume you’re already doing some sort of standard curl. The following exercises are designed to either put more load on your biceps or work them from a different angle than a standard curl. You should work in one extra exercise per session, and perform it until failure (you can’t squeeze out another rep). Adjust your weight so that you can do 8-12 reps before failure, and do three sets. Also select an additional tricep exercise to alternate with each set of biceps.

Incline Curls: The incline position better stabilizes your torso and upper arms, and minimizes the swinging that can occur in the upright position. You’ll also get more resistance at the bottom of each rep. The incline should be about 45-60 degrees from flat.

Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Just what it sounds like. When you can focus on one arm at a time, you’ll be able to lift more, and lifting more makes you stronger faster.

Hammer Curls: Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them like two hammers (your palms in). Now perform curls as you would normally, but with the weights remaining in that “hammer” position.

Reverse Curls: Hold a barbell with an overhand (palms down) grip. Now perform normal curls. Remember to keep your elbows close to your body, but not touching your torso.

Preacher Curls: These are done on a piece of gym equipment that keeps your upper arms stationary as you curl a barbell up. If you don’t see a preacher curl station, ask the floor person or another patron where it is. This is excellent for making sure you’re not recruiting any additional muscles.

The Tricep Exercises

I would be failing you if I didn’t also include some tricep exercises, for the reasons I mentioned above. Same rules as the bicep exercises, although when you work the triceps don’t bend your arms further than a 90-degree angle (to protect your joints), but use a full extension (squeeze the tricep muscles) at the other end of each rep.

Lying Tricep Extensions: You can use either dumbbells (in “hammer” position) or a barbell (palms facing away from you, called a “skullcrusher” for reasons you’ll see when you try it). Lie on a bench with your arms holding the weight(s) straight up in the air.  Lower the weight slowly until it’s 6 inches above your head, then raise it again. Keep your elbows pointing straight up at all times.

Upright Tricep Extensions: This is simply a standing version—hold two dumbbells (or one heavier dumbbell with both hands) straight up over your head, then lower them back behind you until your arms form a 90-degree angle. Raise them back to straight up.

Dips: The dip uses your own bodyweight for resistance. For beginners, most gyms have a Gravitron or other machine that uses counterbalance weights so you’re not forced to use your entire bodyweight. Start with your arms locked straight, holding your body up, then lower yourself until your arms reach that 90-degree “L-shape.” Then push yourself back up.

Off to the Gun Show

That should be plenty to give you the kind of bicep workout that will blast your upper arms. Remember to listen to your body, rest (sleep helps muscles grow) and eat nutritious, protein-rich foods to help your muscles grow without packing on fat around them. Get out there and have fun with it.

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