Imagine if the barbell came with an autocorrect function. One that instantly perfected your form -- no cheating allowed. Yes, you would likely have to remove some weight. But you’d also slash your injury risk while giving your targeted muscles the maximum challenge. As a result, you’d reap the greatest possible benefit from every set.
Turns out, that autocorrect feature already exists -- you just have to choose the right moves. I first learned about these moves, known as self-limiting exercises, from Gray Cook, P.T., whose analysis of human movement patterns is used to enhance his clients’ performance and prevent injuries. Cook notes that barefoot running is a self-limiting exercise: If you don't use proper form or aren’t in shape to run, the pain in your feet is your body's way of warning you to stop before you injure yourself. Makes sense.
That’s why I apply this concept to the exercises we use at Results Fitness, the gym I own in Santa Clarita, California. By choosing movements that are nearly impossible to do without correct form, our clients have boosted both their strength gains and their fat loss. Here are five self-limiting exercises you should add to your workouts. Now if only your diet had an autocorrect function! (In the meantime, watch out for The Worst Chicken Dishes In America.)
Exercise 1. TRX Inverted Row
Why it’s self-limiting: You’re relying on your upper body’s weakest link to pull yourself up. If your upper back, arms, grip, or core aren’t up to the task, they simply won’t allow you to complete another rep.
How to do it: Attach TRX suspension straps to a chinup bar so the handles are about 4 feet above the floor. Hold a handle in each hand and lie beneath them. Your arms should be straight and your body should be aligned from ankles to head. Brace your core and glutes. This is the starting position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, pull your upper arms down, and bend your elbows to row your body upward. Pause, and then lower yourself to the starting position.
Exercise 2. Kettlebell Windmill
Why it’s self-limiting: If your core or arms tire, you won’t be able to hold the weight overhead -- it will fall to one side or you’ll drop it. (To ensure your core is up to the challenge, check out The New Ab Exercise You Must Try.)
How to do it: With a kettlebell in your right hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly left. Hold the weight straight above your right shoulder, your left arm at your side. This is the starting position. Keeping your right arm straight, right leg stiff, and eyes on the kettlebell, lower your torso to the left, bending your left knee and lowering your left hand until it touches the floor. Return to the starting position. Finish your left-side reps, and repeat to your right.
Exercise 3. Reverse Goblet Lunge
Why it’s self-limiting: You have no choice but to keep your torso erect throughout the exercise -- if you start to lean forward, that means your core is tiring and you run the risk of falling flat on your face. (For a great routine you can do without weights, check out The Body-Weight Workout You Can Do Anywhere.)
How to do it: Hold a dumbbell vertically in front of your chest with both hands, cupping the weight by the head (the “goblet hold”). Keep your torso upright and your elbows pointed down. This is the starting position. Take one step backward with your right leg and lower yourself until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Push yourself back to the starting position. Complete all your reps with one leg, then repeat the move with the other leg.
Exercises 4 and 5. Single-Arm Farmer's Walk and Kettebell Bottoms-Up Press
Why they're self-limiting: For the single-arm farmer's walk,the challenge is that you have to stay completely upright as you perform this movement. If your core tires, you’ll start leaning toward the side holding the kettlebell or dumbbell, creating uncomfortable torque on your spine that will force you to stop the exercise. Or if you lose your grip, you’ll drop the weight. Watch the video to see how to do it. You'll see that to make it harder, you can grasp a kettlebell in a "bottoms-up" position -- essentially holding the kettlebell upside down.
From there, you can add the kettle-bell bottoms-up press, which is another great self-limiting exercise. For this, if your grip, arm, or core tires, you won’t be able to push through the lift by overcompensating with any other muscle group; you’ll need all three. You really can't imagine how difficult doing this press can be until you try it. So give it a shot! And for full-color photos of 600 more exercises -- along with dozens of workouts for every goal -- check out The Men's Health Big Book of Exercises and The Women's Health Big Book of Exercises.
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