As a strength coach, I love body-weight exercises. They challenge your muscles and kick your heart into high gear. You can do them for free—anywhere, anytime. They're as wonderful as unicorns, puppy dogs, and Kate Upton.
But what I don't love is when I see guys performing them wrong. Just because you're moving sans iron, doesn't mean you can use poor form or perform an exercise variation that puts you at an increased risk for injury. Here's my list of five popular body-weight exercises most guys are doing wrong—and the best way to fix them.
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1. Triceps Dip on a BenchYour triceps make up more of your arms than your biceps do, but most men pay their triceps less attention. At most, they may head to an empty bench and knock out a few triceps dips at the end of their workout. Unfortunately, that's one of the worst moves you can do to build fuller, stronger arms. The exercise puts your shoulder joints in an unstable position, overloading the small muscles of the rotator cuff. And if you injure your rotator cuff, it'll be painful to lift your arm above your shoulder, making even the most minuscule tasks—like washing your hair, grabbing the milk from the fridge, hanging up your coat—difficult and awkward.
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The alternative body-weight solution is a move called the plank-to-triceps extension. Start to get into a push-up position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Without allowing your lower back posture to change, contract your triceps, press your palms into the floor, and lift your elbows off the floor until your arms are completely straight. You should now be in a push-up position. Slowly lower to the start position. Do 15 to 20 repetitions with perfect form.
2. Mountain Climber
The mountain climber is a stability exercise that trains your entire core, including your abdominal, lower-back and hip muscles. But most bootcamp instructors treat the mountain climber as a conditioning drill, directing their clients to crank out reps as fast as possible. I hate to break it to you, but only exceptional athletes can do that while maintaining perfect form. For the average gym goer, a fast pace usually leads to sloppy form, including piked hips and rounded lower backs. These mistakes can compress your spinal discs and increase your risk of back injury.
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THE FIXTo get the full core-hammering effect of the mountain climber, perform each rep slowly and deliberately until you can master the exercise. Here's how it's done: Start in a push-up position with your arms completely straight. Brace your abs, and hold them that way for the entire movement. Without changing your lower-back posture, lift your right foot off the floor and raise your knee as close to your chest as you can. Touch the floor with your right foot, and then return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg. Alternate back and forth for 30 reps total. If you perform a cross-body mountain climber, raise your right knee toward your left elbow, lower, and then raise your left knee to your right elbow. Minimize the rotation in your lower back as you alternate back and forth.