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Pacific Northwest | October 24, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober, 24, home Home delivery

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Scary Stories
Trainers tell of bad form and fuzzy thinking
WELL-MEANING PEOPLE strain and sweat without proper form, a plan or perspective. In the spirit of Halloween, I asked some local trainers and fitness experts about the horror stories they see in the gym. Here's a sample of some of the responses:

“There is no exercise more satisfying to watch than the squat, especially the back squat. But too many have poor understanding of how to stabilize their back, sit back on the whole foot, squat to a thigh-parallel-to-the-floor position and then explode to vertical.

"I cringe when an athlete attempts to lift too much weight with no understanding of how to be solid and explosive. What I see is an athlete lowering the weight too quickly, going either too low or too high above parallel — and losing postural control.

"Be patient. Lift manageable weight, stabilize the back by contracting the transverse abdominal and other core muscle groups, proper breathing, whole-foot contact with knees behind the toes, and controlled explosive acceleration out of the thigh-parallel position to vertical."

— Rick Huegli, sports performance director of Velocity Sports Performance

“The one exercise that puts a grimace on my face is the old Roman chair — you know the one — (the apparatus) where you lie face down over a bolster with your feet under a fixed bar, and you fold in half, then lift back up arching your back into full extension. I see more back injuries from this guy. Perhaps the reason for the collapse of the Roman Empire?

"I tell people to do the exercise on the floor rather than use the Roman chair . . . To increase the intensity, I have people move their hands from their butt at first to behind their neck, to straight overhead as they get stronger."

— Neil Chasan, physical therapist and co-owner of The Sports Reaction Center in Bellevue

“The erosion of recess in our public schools is a modern fitness horror story. According to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, an estimated 40 percent of all elementary schools have either eliminated or are in the process of eliminating recess. While this practice allows us to increase test scores, it also sets young people up for a life of sedentary living, obesity and diabetes. It also teaches them to hate school."

— Frank Forencich,

“I saw one guy doing dips on the dip stand with three 45-pound plates hanging from his waist. He was on about his fifth high-speed ballistic rep when his pec tore away. He must have been on more than just steroids because he just looked down and said, 'Man that hurts' in a calm voice, picked up his car keys and left the club.

"I even saw one woman holding a book reading with one hand while doing dumbbell preacher curls with the other hand for about five minutes. I think she switched hands only because she got to the next chapter instead of a certain number of reps."

— P.J. Glassey, owner of The X-Gym

The following points may not reach the horror level, but the American Council on Exercise put together a list of some common missteps that spook folks away from lasting exercise:

• The all-or-nothing approach: Not having a full hour to exercise is no reason to skip your workout. Even 10 minutes of exercise can provide important health benefits.

• Unbalanced strength-training programs: A lot of people tend to focus on certain muscles, such as the biceps, because they have a greater impact on appearance or make them feel stronger. To achieve a strong, balanced body, you have to train all the major muscle groups.

• Bad form: For example, using momentum to lift heavy weights or not exercising through a full range of motion will compromise results.

• Not progressing wisely: Exercising too hard or too often is a common mistake. Rest and gradual progression are important components of a safe, effective program.

• Not enough variety: Unchanging workouts can lead to boredom, plateaus and, worse, injury or burnout.

• Focusing on other things: The importance of being "mindful" of the task at hand cannot be overstated. Reading or watching TV can literally slow you down.

• Not cooling down: Too many people head straight to the showers. Take a few minutes to lower your heart rate and stretch your muscles. This not only improves flexibility but also helps prepare for the next workout.

• Failing to be realistic: Over-ambitious or vague goals are among the leading causes of exercise dropout. The key is establishing a training goal that is specific and appropriate for your fitness and skill levels.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at


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