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Diakadi Fitness Tips: Five Big Gym No-Nos (and What to Do Instead)

By Mike Clausen

Welcome to another edition of Diakadi Fitness Tips, a new series of weekly features and interviews with Billy Polson and Mike Clausen, founders of the award-winning Diakadi Body personal training gym and creators of RealJock's 12-week Workout Programs. Have burning questions about your fitness that you want them to answer? Send an email to

Like any responsible trainer, when I walk through the gym, I can't help but notice when people are doing things wrong. They don't mean to—but some of their mistakes can be dangerous, or just go against gym etiquette. Whether it is an improper movement or something that is just disruptive, there are a few things I see repeatedly in the gym that I'd love to change. Here are the top five things at the gym that make me cringe, plus some better alternatives to help you make the most of your training time.

1. Neck Tweakers: Behind the Neck Lat Pull-downs
This may be the most incorrectly performed exercise on the planet. When you pull the lat bar behind your neck, you are taking your spine out of the neutral position, thus allowing other muscles to be involved in pulling the weight down. As your neck goes forward, your posture becomes compromised, and you must recruit other muscle groups to do most of the work, giving your lats a very minimal workout. What's more, the other muscles recruited in this position often aren't up to the workload and the angle—you risk injury to your neck and rotators. On the other hand, when your spine is in a neutral position (a straight line), the other muscle groups will work synergistically with your back muscles, allowing your lats to perform the pull-down without being blocked by your rounded back. The problem isn't you, it's the exercise. Unless you are extremely flexible, you cannot do this exercise without pushing your head forward. So, do a different exercise instead of trying to fix this one. The more effective way to do a lat pull down is to bring the bar to your chest, allowing for full range of motion that will not injure your neck or rotators, and will help build your lats (see a video demo of a front wide-grip lat pull-down).

2. Heavyweight Hulks: Using Too Heavy Weights
I really hate when I see people using weights that are obviously too heavy to be making any kind of positive impact. You know the guys who are using 40-pound dumbbells for their lateral shoulder raise? The guy who throws up the weight, using his legs, abs, arms—basically everything but the deltoids he is trying to work? Your workouts will be much more effective if you use weights that allow you to use proper form, so that you can isolate each muscle group you are working. It's also dangerous to use weights that are too heavy for you. When working out you want to make your body stronger while avoiding injuries. You are still going to build muscle while using a lighter weight—precisely because being able to keep proper form will allow you to keep your lifting within the targeted muscle. When you start swinging around because your weights are too heavy, you both take your lifting outside the muscle you want to work, and you dump that lifting onto your joints, your back, and your supporting muscles—all of which are easily injured. Just remember: Proper form is more important than lifting a heavy weight.

3. Floor Denters: Dropping Weights at the End of a Set
Let's talk etiquette for a moment. Dropping weights has to be the biggest no-no in a gym, and you see everyone doing it. Even some trainers allow their clients to do this. That really aggravates responsible trainers, because a good trainer will teach clients how to put down your weights without throwing them and possibly wrenching a shoulder. It doesn't prove a guy is tough if he throws down those 60-pound dumbbells after an incline press. It's both distracting and dangerous. If you're in the habit of doing this, you'll attract attention, true—but all of it bad. You also put yourself and others at risk of serious injury. The one exception is Olympic lifts on a platform—otherwise you should never throw down weights. Be honest, weight-dropping guy—your muscles are not so fatigued that you just can't hold the weights anymore. Instead of dropping, always bring the weights to a level where you can set them on the floor, or bring them back to the rack. If you really can't grasp the weights long enough to do this, return to number two. Time to lift less weight.

4. Page Turners: Reading Magazines while Using Cardio Equipment
You are at the gym for one reason—to get in shape. Reading books and magazines puts the focus elsewhere and is counter-productive. Trust me, you cannot effectively burn calories on the treadmill or stair master while trying to read. First, because your focus should be on your workout. Also, odds are that if you're reading something, you're also holding on for balance. This cuts the legs out from under your cardio workout—literally. You should always use cardio equipment hands free, therefore allowing your body to use its own balance ability to keep you upright. This gives you much more intensity—and recruiting more muscles to push you through your workout means more muscles being built and more calories burned. Reading encourages looking down and slumping, and you never want to be slumped over the machines while doing your cardio. For a better cardio workout, leave the US Weekly at home and plug in your iPod. Music provides amazing motivation—and it lets you stand upright!

5. Money Wasters: Paying an Inattentive Trainer
We have all seen it, but this is still something that makes me grit my teeth. The trainer on his phone, the one who is chatting with his buddies while you're struggling to lift the bar off your chest, the one constantly checking out the other clients…. A trainer should have 100 percent of his focus on his client for every moment during that hour. Look around your gym—you can quickly tell the good trainers from the bad by watching where they put their attention. If it's not entirely on the client, there's a problem. Inattention is, of course, dangerous. Your trainer is there to spot you, and catch those momentary lapses of form that can lead to injury. But it goes beyond that—if a trainer is inattentive, why should you think he or she has your best interests in mind? Good trainers aren't just working toward a paycheck—they believe in what they do, and in their clients. Your trainer needs to be 100 percent dedicated to you and your goals. If what I've said is making you rethink your trainer, help is at hand. See our piece on find a great personal trainer for tips on where to look.