4 Exercises Most People Butcher (And How to Fix Them)

These mistakes are way too common.

I like the motto from Original Strength: ‘good, better and best.’ Because some movement, no matter how poor, is often better than no movement at all.

You start at good, then get better and then comes best. There’s no set timetable here: mastery can be an endless pursuit.

But some exercises are performed so poorly that they may cause pain and injury further down the road. It’s a line ball decision on whether the movement is good or dangerous.

According to these 4 coaches, the following 4 exercises are butchered regularly. And rather than roll their eyes and smack their head against a brick wall, they’ll tell you how to fix it.

Each section is comprised of text from the coaches themselves, so you’re getting your info straight from these horses’ mouths.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

1. Birddogs – Dr. Bo Babenko 

When performed correctly the birddog will save your life, as in help you avoid potential spine surgery… no biggie.

But the main mistake I often see with the birddog exercise is a lack of tension. This can often be seen with a lumbar over extension and/or a lifting leg that goes too high.

Here are 3 fixes (as seen in the video above) to correct lumbar extension and to focus on hip extension. They are

Fix #1 Using a band to create tension through the body.

Fix#2 Touching your elbow to your opposite knee. I want to make sure you are bringing your elbow to your knee as much as possible, if you can’t quite get there, keep inching closer with every rep.

Fix #3 Use a human to help you reinforce your position.

How many reps should you do? A few million is ideal but start chipping away with 10 reps per side every single morning, consistency is your best friend. Get 1% better at birddogs, get 1% better at life.

2. Kettlebell Swing – Dr. Travis Pollen

The kettlebell swing might be the most butchered exercise of them all. It’s supposed to be a ballistic hip hinge, but instead it often looks more like a combination of a squat and a front raise.

This video shows a good hinging swing on the left and a not-so-good squatty swing on the right. On the left, the movement and power come from the hips, with just a slight amount of knee bend. On the right, the movement and power come too much from the knees.

The first step to avoiding a squatty swing is to learn a proper hip hinge. A good hip hinge won’t always guarantee a good swing, though, given how much faster the swing happens.

If, after mastering the hip hinge, you still find yourself squatting your swing, one quick-and-dirty trick is to swing with a short foam roller between your legs.

The foam roller serves as a cue to hinge at the hips and keep the kettlebell above your knees during the downward arc. If you knock the foam roller over, it means you’re squatting your swing.

[Related: How to Do Picture Perfect Kettlebell Swings]

3. The Deadbug – Tony Gentilcore

In my experience, I find the most butchered exercises tend to be the seemingly simple looking ones. Take the deadbug for example. Admittedly, it’s a very inane looking thingamabob.

I mean, all you do is lie on your back, move your arms and legs up and down, and, well, that’s pretty much it.

What’s it even do (and work) anyway?

Well, for starters, the deadbug is one of thte best core training exercises out there. What’s more, it’s only as effective as its execution, and that’s the point…

… it’s much more than just flailing your arms and legs up and down.

The deadbug is all about “cementing” a stable pelvis and spine while resisting or offsetting the movement of the limbs.  This is the epitome of core control and stability.

Unfortunately, if you watch most people perform the exercise you’ll see the exact opposite:

  • The lower back loses contact with the floor.
  • The ribs flare up.
  • No “control” of the movement.

What are we even doing here?

In general, the fix is to just slow… things… down. To do so, I like to emphasize a full exhale with every repetition. Doing so encourages a ribs down position in addition to a bit of posterior tilt of the pelvis — known as a canister position.

In other words, the ribcage is stacked over the pelvis, The idea is to then “own” this position throughout the duration of the set as you move your arms and legs.

Invariably, when you slow down and add the exhale you then feel the exercise. 

Those are your abs. You’re welcome.

[Related: 3 Deadbug Variations You Should Try]

4. Rows – Dean Somerset

Rowing movements are tricky to nail down properly in terms of technique.

There’s a lot of moving parts with big muscles driving them around, and since the movement is all happening behind your back it makes it a challenge to know what’s going on and where everything should be going.

When doing a row, the best thing you could get to happen is to have the shoulder blade direct the movement, starting in a slightly protracted position, and then wrapping around the rib cage as you move it into a retracted and depressed position.

The old “back and down” cue plays a big role in getting this movement to happen, but it also means your shoulder blade needs to tilt to make things happen properly.

One of the big technique faults I see regularly is when the upper back starts in more of a flexed position, and the shoulder blade winds up dangling off the individual’s ears like a fancy set of earrings.

This elevation shrug pulls the shoulder blade into the neck, and makes the upper trap do more work than ideal, leaving the lat to twist in the wind.

Another issue is not getting sufficient retraction from the shoulder blade, making the movement come almost entirely from the elbow with next to no lat movement.

To fix this, get the back out of hump city and extend the spine like you’re proud of your chest, and think of stretching the pec as you pull the shoulder back, drawing the shoulder-blade down across the ribs versus up into the neck. 

You should have a stretched collarbone and longest neck in the world at the top of the contracted position.

Wrapping Up

It’s difficult to know you are making technique mistakes unless a coach points out your errors. Record yourself performing the movements and compare yourself to these videos above. Now that you have been set straight with these 4 exercises, you now know better.

Because meat should be the only thing that’s butchered. 

Featured image via Lyashenko Egor/Shutterstock 

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

Leave a Comment