If you don't know your way around a weight room, heading to the gym can be intimidating -- and even dangerous. But paying attention to a few simple rules of proper technique can make you slimmer, stronger and healthier all over.
We spent an afternoon at Equinox with trainer and manager Rebecca Woll, learning the ins and outs of some of the most popular strength-training machines.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing Woll's thoughts on the biggest mistakes we all make while building muscle, plus her tips and tricks for better form. This week, we're perfecting the lat pulldown.
The Faux Pas: "One of the most common mistakes is to take the bar and pull it to the back of your head," says Woll, which puts a heavy load on your spine rather than working your muscles, and can hurt your shoulders if you don't have a big enough range of mobility. But even in a smarter position (more on that below!), Woll notices another mistake: shoulders that sneak up toward the ears.
The Fix: Start off by positioning your body correctly on the bench, with feet flat on the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees, in line with your hips, she says. Your legs should just touch the padded bar above them so that when you lean slightly back, your quads hit. Once the bench is positioned, stand up and grab hold of the bar where it bends and sit back down. "Lean a little bit back from your hips, bring the shoulder blades back and down and pull right to your chest and in a little," she says, then send the bar right back up. That slight lean means your core muscles will also be working, taking the pressure off of the lower back, she says.
And as for those shoulders? "We want them to come down as much as possible," says Woll. As you raise the bar up, focusing on "sending everything down toward the ground," she says.
Tell us how it goes in the comments below, and be sure to check back over the following weeks to fix your form on the row machine, the lat pulldown and more.
Check out more in our Fix Your Form series below:
Photos by Damon Dahlen, AOL
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more