This is something that is not practiced nearly enough in my opinion. Just about every day I see people incorrectly using equipment or dumbbells for the muscle group they are trying to work. And I am not writing this to “pick on” these people. I just want to say that it is important to think about the muscle we are trying to work before we even start the exercise. Even if your form is correct it is important to really try to feel the muscle working during the set. Some muscles can be isolated better if we take out the force we are using from incorrect muscle groups.
For example, when doing a curl we should be hinging at the elbow and using our bicep to initiate the curl. Now, I’m not going to say an old fashioned cheat curl isn’t ok when really trying to eek out a heavy set and get some growth. But aside from that, I see a lot of people swinging the dumbbells and bringing the elbow away from the side and up towards the chest. This is incorporating too many other muscles and is not going to give your bicep the workout that it should. Same goes for triceps. Hinge at the elbow so the tricep is getting worked. I see people using their back and entire upper body trying to pull the weight and it isn’t effective.
Another I see almost daily is incorrect form on the pulldown machine. I’ve seen people lean back too far, arching the back, using their arms and not their back, pulling the bar down to the lap and forward. This exercise is extremely beneficial if done correctly. People always ask how I have gotten my back so strong and I always say pull ups or pull downs (same concept). What I always try to remember when doing pull downs is to keep my core tight, back straight, and pretend that my elbows are tied to the bar with a string. So pull with your elbows and engage the back muscles when pulling. Think about your lats working as you are pulling. If you can’t do it you most likely need to lower the weight so you can get the correct form. If you are yanking the bar down with your arms your back won’t be getting much work done. Trust me you will be glad you made the change when you see those back muscles popping!
Any kind of shoulder raise (front, lateral, rear delt), same concept. Think of really getting the work done through the shoulder. It’s easy to use momentum and swing you arms around but then your shoulder isn’t getting worked much. Once again, lower the weight and focus on feeling the shoulder burn. You can worry about lifting heavier as the shoulders get stronger over time. This will help prevent injury too!
I feel like I could go on and on but I don’t want to bore you. You get the idea. We all need to focus on the muscle we are trying to work so we can get the growth we want! Sometimes it is just the smallest tweak and it can really fatigue the muscle so much more. It sounds so simple but it really is effective to apply this to your every day workouts! Give it a shot next time you lift!