Belts are viewed as more of a necessity, simply because your lower back is crucial to everything else you do. There are a lot of people who believe that by wearing a belt, you are limiting your lower back development, and that is true to some extent. But just like with straps, if your lower back is out of shape and you are a bodybuilder, you will want to offer it some additional training exercises with back extensions or lighter deadlifts to make sure the area gets the attention it needs. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Do not leave your belt in the bag because you think it makes you less of a lifter, though. It can be the tool that helps you train safer and for longer than guys who choose not to wear one.
Competitive bodybuilders usually train for symmetry and proportion in an effort to build an aesthetically pleasing physique. There are many individuals who go to the gym to build up their beach muscles, disregarding symmetry and proportion in designing their training programs. Instead of training opposing muscle groups equally, they sometimes ignore the muscles they cannot see (back, hamstrings, calves, quads) and focus on the muscles they admire in the mirror everyday (chest, biceps, shoulders and abs). Although training specific muscle groups more than others can create an unbalanced-looking physique, disregarding a muscle group over time can potentially lead to other problems that may subject the body to injury.
One common mistake with regard to balanced training is performing an unbalanced training program between the chest and back muscles. The amount of time, energy, effort, volume and frequency between the agonist chest muscles and the antagonists back muscles may not be equal, or even close. A simple example would be an athlete who performs 4 sets os four exercises for the chest (for a total number of 16 sets) and does only 3 sets of three exercises for the back (for a total number of 9 working sets). Following this unbalanced training regime over time will result in back muscles much weaker than the chest muscles. This imbalance may lead to a slightly kyphotic posture (forward/rounded shoulders) that can potentially cause shoulder problems because of the faulty posture. In addition to the stronger chest muscles (compared to the back muscles) pullong the shoulders forward, inadequate stretching of the chest musculature can further contribute to this problem.
For some people, training legs consists of quads and that is it. The disregard their hamstrings while training only the quadriceps. Exercises such as the leg extensions, hack squats and front squats place a large amount of emphasis on the quads. Although these exercises are great you need to do an equal amount of hamstring work with leg curls and romanian deadlifts to stress both muscle groups. Distributing attention evenly to both muscle groups can give you healthier knees and lower back, as well as fewer hamstring strains because of an unbalanced hamstring-to-quad strength ration.
A less obvious training error woth regard to balanced training concerns the shoulders. Overhead shoulder press, incline bench press, flat bench press and other chest and shoulder pressing movements are critical for maximal muscle development. However, these exercises focus on the major muscle groups such as the deltoids, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and other muscles known as prime movers. Often ignored in a training regime is the training or isolation of the smaller muscle groups in the shoulder known as the rotator cuff (the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) that are critical in keeping the upper arm in the socket of the shoulder. Failure to train these smaller muscles groups, two of which are not even visible can create an imbalance between the large prime movers and small stabilisers. This lack of imbalance in strength may result in bursts of bursitis, tendinitis or even rotator cuff tears in the shoulder joint.
It is not always wise to try and get a longer range of motion.
Keep you back flat for spinal safety.
There is really only one exercise that would allow you to round your lower back in a bent-over position, and that is during the stiff-legged deadlift (SDL), but that is primarily a lower-back, not a hamstring or a glute exercise. The trouble is that the SDL and the romanian Deadlifts (RDL) are closely related at first glance. Knowing how the two exercises differ and when to attempt them is critical. Our focus is to correct the romanian-style deadlift, for which there is never any rounding of the lower back, period. The RDL is a glutes and hams specialty move done with a flat back. If you round your back, you not only remove emphasis from the hamstrings and glutes, but you could also risk injury.
The best way to correct an improper RDL is to go through a series of steps as you get into position. First, begin the RDL from a standing position. You can adjust your knees (unlocked to slightly bent), low back (flat and tight) and chest (up/big) all at once. Then as you bend over, you need to keep thinking “chest up, back flat, knees bent”. Along with a flat back and bent knees, the path of the bar is different during the RDL and the SDL. During the RDL, you need to keep the bar very close to your legs throughout the move. Conversely during the SDL, you actually allow the bar to drift away from your body. So as you can see, even though both are bent-over barbell moves, ther are dramatically different in technique and target muscles.
Stand upright holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with a pronated (overhand) grip. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees, with your chest up, abs tight and the natural arch locked in your lower back.
Keeping your back flat, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. As you lean forward, keep your arms straight and slide the bar down your thighs towards the floor until the bar reaches your shins. At the bottom, keep your back flat, head neutral with the bar very close to your legs. Flex your hamstrings and glutes to raise back up while pushing your hips forward until you bring the bar back to the start position.
Leg Remedy: Romanian Deadlift
There are very few exercises that have as much going on as the romanain deadlift, which is why going through a mental checklist is your best bet to secure good habits. Besides form, many athletes try and take the bar so far down to the ground in an effort to increase the range of motion (ROM) that they are either forced to round their backs, or if they do keep their backs straight, they actually touch the floor with the plates. (In fact, some people do a hybrid of an SDL and an RDL, in which they try and bounce the bar off the floor at the bottom, which can wreak havoc on your joints and is not recommended.) If you are doing an SDL, allow the weight to settle on the ground, hence the “dead” part (but that move is not specifically for legs, so we will not discuss it here). Second, during a correct RDL, the bar never touches the ground. So, go through your checklist, stay strict and smooth for the best RDL possible.
Excessive range of motion can contribute to lower-back soreness or injury.
Behind the Blunder
We have all made this blunder at some point or another, and many of you probably still do. When lifting the hips off the leg press pad, you are doing much more harm than good. First off, if you are stuck in this habit, you are probably not controlling the weight as well as you should. The key to any exercise is being able to completely control the negative portion of the repetition, since its during the eccentric path that much of the damage to the muscle fibres occurs. So you definitely don’t want to rush or waste this contraction in any way. In addition, if you use momentum or rush the weight on the downward phase by trying to bounce out of the bottom with your hips, you end up losing many of the benefits the exercise has to offer. Second (this might not resonate with younger athletes), if you allow your hips to rise, you could be putting too much stress on the disks in your lower back.
Instead of allowing your hips to lift off the seat in order to target your hamstrings and glutes to a greater extent, raise your feet a little higher and wider to make up the difference. Then, as you slowly lower the weight, do not try and force knees to your chest, but gradually stop the momentum before that point, so you will not lose the tension in the quads. Finally, try lowering the weight just a bit, not all the way. Anytime you compensate form to accomplish a heavier load, the strict adjustment could be a shock, so take a couple of plates off and get used to doing it right.
Sit squarely in the leg-press machine and place your feet on the sled, shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the back support, carefully unlock the weight from the safeties.
Bend your knees to lower the weight, stopping before your glutes lift off the pad. Smoothly reverse direction and then extend your legs to press the weight back up, stopping just short of locking out your legs. Squeeze your legs hard at the top then repeat for reps.
Leg Remedy: Leg Press Corrected
One thing to remember before climbing into the leg press is that there is no better exercise for the quads then the leg press, specifically for the teardrop (medialis). But you don’t need to bring the platform so far down to accomplish the machine’s best task. Stay controlled, stopping the momentum just before your hips are forced to rise upward. In fact, you even lose tension the further you lower the weight. So don’t worry, when you stop the weight before your hips lift off the bench, you are not stopping short on progress.
1) Find Your Footing:
Positioning your feet wide, like a sumo squat, will target the glutes and inner quads. A narrow stance will focus on the outer area of the legs and develop more quad sweep.
2) Head In The Game:
Never look down, because glancing downward will flex your cervical spine and put pressure on the disks in your neck.
3) Watch Your Weight:
Do not trade form for weight. A bunch of plates jammed onto the bar might boost your ego, but it will not improve your legs. Go lighter and perfect the mechanics until your form is perfect.
4) How Low Should You Go:
Descend until you upper legs are parallel to the ground. Stopping short of that position can detract from full upper-leg development.
5) Ramp up the Reps:
Consistency with reps could short-change growth. The majority should fall into the 8-12 rep range. The legs respond well to higher reps, but don’t hesitate to ramp it up to 15 reps if you feel inclined.
6) Rest Remix:
Two to three minutes rest between sets should be plenty of time to recover. Just as you do with reps, mix it up. Shorter rest periods of a minute or 30 seconds will exhaust the muscle, allow for a larger build up of lactic acid and cause the body to release more growth hormone.
7) Wrap It Up:
In the past, it was widely believed that knee wraps prohibited muscle activity, because of the reliance on the wraps’ elasticity. A Study conducted by a University in Georgia, shows that wraps do not interfere with muscle growth and may even allow you to go heavier.
8) Belt It Out:
Use a weight belt when squatting up to or exceeding 80% of your one-rep max. An added benefit of a belt is it can further increase pressure in the abdominal cavity for better stabilisation of the spine.
9) Knees and Toes:
You’ve heard it all before. Extending your knees over your toes will cause injury. Not necessarily. A new study shows that trying to prevent this actually placed more stress on the lower back, and that the knees experienced less stress when they did extend past the toes.
10) Partial Squats:
Develop bigger teardrop muscles by performing only the upper half of the movement with heavier weight, as this is when the muscle receives most of the stress. Do two or three sets of these before moving onto full squats.