Bryce Hastings, Les Mills International choreography consultant and physiotherapist, outlines the latest technique guidelines for the triceps, biceps, chest track and shoulder track.
The chest track
- Range of motion - One of the most common injuries from resistance training would have to be rotator cuff strain of the shoulder, with bench press being a major contributor. The key to preventing these injuries is a carefully selected range of motion. The bar should stop at least fist distance from the chest in the eccentric (downward) phase of the movement. Bringing the bar down any lower creates excessive stress on the cuff tendons as the elbows migrate back beyond mid-frontal plane. The elbows should be bent at approximately 90º at the bottom of the movement. Therefore the bar is held with the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Wrist position - The weight of the bar should be taken through the heel of the hand, not further up the hand towards the fingers – this results in hyperextension of the wrist and can compress vulnerable joint tissue.
- Back position - The spine should be in neutral when lying on the step bench. To measure this, slide the fingers under the curve of the lower back at the level of the belly button. Your fingers should fit snugly under the back up to the level of the knuckles. An excessive curve where the hand can slide right under the back will destabilise the lumbar spine during the press action. Once a neutral spine is achieved, the lower abdomen is drawn in to activate the inner unit, which will support the spine.
- Foot position - The feet should be positioned flat on the floor approximately shoulder-width apart. If you find your back is excessively arched you may find it easier to place your feet on the edge of the bench, which will help to reduce your lordosis.
Front raise - Although a controversial exercise, frontal raises certainly load the anterior deltoid and are commonly seen in gyms all around the world. The elbows must be bent to reduce the length of the lever arm, making it easier for the shoulder girdle stabilisers. Each phase of the movement should be carefully controlled to avoid trunk sway. The bar or plate should be lifted no higher than the shoulders.
The keys to safe execution include: only lifting the bar to the lower chest; keeping the elbows slightly forward directly over the bar and the hands approximately hip-width apart. The upper back stabilisers must be engaged to allow the shoulder blades a free passage to assist the movement.
The elbows are once again kept slightly forward in the plane of the scapula. This allows a greater contribution from the rotator cuff, creating stability at the shoulder joint. The elbows are bent once again to reduce lever length and shoulder joint stresses. The movement stops when the elbows reach shoulder height. The lateral raise is often combined with a lateral rotation action to gain further stability from the rotator cuff.
- Tricep press - The press action for triceps is performed with the hand placement narrower than that for bench press. The bar is held in a shoulder-width grip. Care is taken to avoid hyperextension of the wrist as mentioned in the bench press section. The bar is lowered in an arcing movement until the elbows reach the level of the bench.
- Dips - When executing the dip, the buttocks are kept close to the bench to avoid hyperextension at the shoulder. The chest is elevated with the elbows pointed to their rear of the bench.
- Kickbacks - Care must be taken with kickbacks to again not over-extend the shoulder – this is prevented by inclining the trunk forwards. Kickbacks are therefore performed kneeling or while resting the opposite elbow on one knee. The elbow is extended with maximum resistance achieved when the forearm is horizontal.
Bicep curls are executed with the elbows maintained in a fixed position next to the trunk. The bar is held with the hands slightly wider than hip-width to allow for the natural carrying angle at the elbow. The curl movement is performed in a controlled manner with careful weight selection to minimise trunk sway.