As you go about your business in the weight room, have you ever glanced over at a personal trainer during one of their client sessions and idly asked yourself something like, Dang, I wonder if they ever happen to notice what I’m doing over here? Good news! While your gym’s fitness professionals obviously can’t leave their charges to deliver you some kind of stern pro bono talking-to, they do see you, and they have a lot of feelings to share about…the myriad things you’re doing wrong. (Perhaps this is, in retrospect, one of those questions to which you didn’t want to know the answer.)
Fortunately, a few trainers have generously agreed to share with us the most common and most aggravating habits they see gymgoers developing—and a little free advice on how to fix them. This is, in effect, money in your pocket. Today: triceps.
Right angles are the right angles
Skullcrushers are a great triceps exercise, but many people don’t get much out of them thanks to poor shoulder mobility and/or incorrect elbow placement. (Your elbows should be directly above your shoulders. If they’re anywhere else, you’re doing it wrong.) If this sounds like you, I advise trying single-arm cable pushdowns and pulldowns instead—changing the grip like this helps to target a different part of that coveted horseshoe. Always keep your shoulder steady and your elbow tucked tight against your ribcage, and stop your arm when it reaches a 90-degree angle before straightening it again in the downward motion. —Ben Booker, Second Chance Fitness
Many people fail to isolate the triceps during the pressdown and instead use momentum to…well, press the weight down. With the rope attachment set at about chin height, set your body a few feet away from the cable stack. Think about making short T-Rex arms, with your elbows tucked into your body and set slightly in front of your shoulders. This allows the triceps to stretch, since the elbows are forward and pointed downward. Press your palms toward your toes—not directly downward—and make sure your elbows stay in front of the torso. Stop just short of lockout to keep tension in the muscle, and hold the movement at the bottom before fluidly returning to the original position. —Mike Dewar, J2FIT Strength and Conditioning
Set those shoulders
I often see people bend or destabilize their shoulders when lowering the weight during the skullcrusher. This is supposed to be an isolated triceps exercise that uses only one hinge on your body—the elbow—and so it works best when you allow the three heads of the triceps to achieve a full range of motion. Bending at the shoulder prevents that. In my opinion, the skullcrusher should be performed for hypertrophy—do 8-12 reps to failure, and don’t try lifting as much weight as you can here. I have seen people in the gym tear their triceps by overloading the bar and attempting a one-rep-max-style set. —Devan Kline, Burn Boot Camp
In case this isn’t obvious, if the skullcrushers you’re doing are causing elbow discomfort, you’re trying to use too much weight. I recommend using dumbbells instead of barbells for those experiencing elbow pain, since dumbbells are much easier on the joints and provide for better elbow traction. If this still doesn’t do the trick, though, switch to a standing cable triceps extension until you feel that the elbow pain has subsided. —Josh Cox, Anytime Fitness