If you don't know your way around a weight room, heading to the gym can be intimidating -- and even dangerous. But paying attention to a few simple rules of proper technique can make you slimmer, stronger and healthier all over.
We spent an afternoon at Equinox with trainer and manager Rebecca Woll, learning the ins and outs of some of the most popular strength-training machines.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing Woll's thoughts on the biggest mistakes we all make while building muscle, plus her tips and tricks for better form. This week, we're focusing on the thighs.
The Faux Pas: Fitness experts tend to agree that the popular hip abductor/adductor machine is actually one worth skipping. It's easy to load up the weight on this machine and feel like you're making progress, but it isn't a "functional" movement, says Woll, meaning it's not a movement that replicates anything you do outside the weight room. Lifting a heavy load on this machine can strain the spine, she explains, and can make the IT band so tight it throws the knee cap out of place.
The Fix: Instead, Woll recommends more "practical" bodyweight exercises, she says.
One option is a modified version of her solution to the torso rotation machine. Make sure the hand closest to the machine is on the bottom, then do a set of lunges, alternating legs. "This is a really good alternative," she says. "Your core fires, your hamstrings, your quads, your glutes. We're challenging your balance and getting your whole lower body. There's no reason to put huge amounts of weight on individual joints when just five pounds is doing that to all your [lower body] joints."
Bridges are another good option. Lie down with feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart and squeeze a yoga block between your knees. "You'll feel the insides of your thighs firing, essentially what you would be doing on the machine," says Woll. Press into your heels, tuck the pelvis slightly underneath and press up, working the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Make sure the back is flat and you'll feel your abs working, too, she says.
Tell us how it goes in the comments below, and be sure to check back over the following weeks to fix your form on the row machine, the shoulder press and more.
Check out more in our Fix Your Form series below:
Photos by Damon Dahlen, AOL
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