Small details can mean big results in the gym

December 12, 2015

Weightlifting is all about angles. How you align your body during exercises can make a huge difference in whether you will get results, so be sure to pay particular attention to small details and you will be amazed at how much more productive your workouts can be.

Below are four simple tweaks that can radically change how you isolate the muscles being worked and will surely affect the results you get for your hard work in the gym.

Elbows in for triceps

The key component for all triceps exercises is making sure your elbows are turned in as close to the sides of your body as possible and maintaining this posture through the whole movement. This simple change places the brunt of the load on the back of the arm or triceps and reduces the amount of help the chest and shoulders can give to move the weight. This technique holds true for tricep pushdowns, close-grip bench press, skull crushers and dips.

Shoulders back for chest

When doing any type of chest press or fly, it’s important to squeeze the shoulder blades together and pull them back slightly with your chest out so that your front deltoids - front shoulders - are minimized and your chest is taking most of the pressure. Make sure you don’t slouch forward to lift heavier weights because you won’t be effectively working the chest and you will risk overdeveloping the front deltoid, making you a more likely candidate for a future rotator cuff injury. It's also important to remember not to completely lock your arms out at the top of any pressing or fly movement because once you do, you bring the shoulders back into play, reducing the pressure on the chest.

Chin back for crunches

A big mistake a lot of people make while doing abdominal exercises like crunches, reach crunches and bicycle crunches is pulling their neck forward, bringing their head closer to their knees to take the pressure off their abs, which traumatizes their necks. To do these exercises correctly, lie on the floor with your feet bent 90 degrees and your hands locked behind your head and tilt your head and chin back so your face is parallel to the ceiling. Now lift with the abs, reduce movement above the shoulders and the pressure will be squarely placed on the abdominal muscles you are trying to work. If you still tend to pull on your head or if your neck is weak, grip the ends of a small towel, wrap it behind your head and with your elbows tucked toward your body, lift with the abs while using the towel to support the neck. Remember to keep your chin back and your face parallel to the ceiling.

Foot position for legs

The muscles in the front of the leg are called quadriceps because they’re a combination of four different muscles. All these muscles work together but can be targeted separately for optimum results. To shift the focus of the exercise and concentrate on the outer quad, use a narrow stance with feet less than shoulder width, 6 to 8 inches apart. This can be done with close-stance barbell squats, leg press or front squats and leg extensions. To isolate the inner thigh, place your feet wider than your shoulders with your toes angled wider toward the corners of the room. This technique works best with exercises like plie squats, side lunges, wide-stance barbell squats and leg extensions.

Remember, small details can dramatically change results, so try the above techniques to get maximum results for your time invested in the gym.

Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has trained a wide variety of clients. To send a question, email or check out


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