Off the bat I want to acknowledge writing an article addressing the vanity of working out and lacing it with pictures of me working out is quite ironic. But frankly, I haven’t been able to find anyone who does these exercises correctly, so I had to take matters into my own hands.
Believe it or not there are times in the gym when keeping check on the man in the mirror is actually counterintuitive to your progress. This can be a hard concept to grasp. Since your inception in the gym you’ve been told to use the mirrors as a tool to keep your form in check, which quickly evolved to using them as a tool to peep the girls in the cardio section. But after you’ve made some serious gains the mirror became a high-definition flat screen LCD monitor displaying your favorite show- YOU.
#1: INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS :
This is a tempting exercise to try and sneak a mid-set glance at your creation under some serious poundage. But looking at yourself in the mirror can actually make this a less effective exercises from an anatomical perspective.
The image above is how it looks when performing the incline dumbbell press when looking in the mirror. Make a mental note of the depth of the elbows in relation to the torso, as well as the shoulders position relative to the bench. The forward flexed position, which allows for me to see myself actually limits a full range of motion.
The incline dumbbell press is intended as a “chest exercise”, more specifically the pectoralis major; a muscle that attaches to the clavicle, sternum and articulating cartilages to the humerus.
But in this position there is also considerable usage of the pectoralis minor, a lesser trained, often forgot about muscle, which runs deep to the pectoralis major and attaches the coracoid process of the scapula to the upper ribs 3-5. Activation of the pec minor causes that forward flexed, anteriorly tilted scapula which aids in allowing the lifter to lean forward enough to have a good view of his set. This forward flexed position limits the amount that the elbows can travel into extension and external rotation, which is paramount in placing the muscle under optimal tension and a full range of motion during the set.
The Image below shows me NOT facing the mirror during my set; the differences are subtle but crucial. In the further reclined position the scapula should be parallel with the incline of the bench and allow for further motion of the humerus into extension, as well as external rotation, both motions that enhance the stretch of the target muscle during the exercise
#2 POSTERIOR DELT FLYS
I could write a whole article on the bad bro-science that surrounds the posterior delts. But I’ll try and stay on topic as it relates to this article. The poster fibers of the deltoid muscle act on the humerus as it articulates with the scapula. Its primary actions are extension of the shoulder as well as external rotation; these two motions come together to make the posterior dumbbell fly.
This muscle, due to its origin on the scapula, is best trained in a position known as scapular protraction, which is to say- shoulders rolled forward. But often enough when people are attempting to admire their set a lot of the subtlety of the movement gets lost.
You’ll notice above that in order to look in the mirror I must extend my cervical spine, and in doing so I begin to retract my shoulder blades (squeeze them together) as I initiate the movement. Seeing as the posterior delts have no articulation between the scapula and the spine, any motion of retraction is putting load onto the rhomboids, and taking the load off of the target muscle.
The picture above shows me performing the exercise with a neutral cervical spine, and not looking into the mirror. This posture allows for proper protraction of the scapula, which will minimize (hopefully eliminate) any scapular motion during the exercises, ensuring that the humerus motion in respect to the scapula is being performed by the posterior delts with no assistance from the action of the rhomboids.
#3 INCLINE DUMBELL CURL
The incline dumbbell curl is the middle child of bicep exercises- it has so much potential, but rarely lives up to it.
Above is how you’ll commonly see the movement executed: cervical spine flexed, scapula tilted anteriorly, rib caged depressed, and a flat lumbar spine. All designed for the lifter to have the best seat in the house to watch every rep of the set.
To uninitiated lifters this set-up above might look spot on, but the devil is in the details when it comes to bicep training. So for a perfect rep you’re going to have to check your ego at the door, layback, and feel the difference.
In the picture above I have assumed the correct posture for performing incline dumbbell curls. The main difference comes from the position of the shoulder, and the angle of the scapula, which was made possible by allowing my cervical spine to stay relatively neutral in relation to the incline chair. The scapular position allows for the two origins of the biceps head (supraglenoid tubercle and coracoid process) to distance further from the insertion, thus allowing for a deeper stretch of the muscles and greater range of motion through the biceps.
Admittedly these changes might seem trivial on the surface. But due to the bodies biomechanical lever systems and the exponential force required when creating a lower mechanical advantage, these minute changes can have drastic effects on muscle growth and performance. So as you prepare for your next workout, be sure to check the ego at the door to try these no-look exercise modifications.