Fitness Focus with Sami Szydzik

Sami Szydzik demonstrates good bench press form at the Wallace Creek Fitness Center at Camp Lejeune on May 29. 

Sami Szydzik is a certified personal trainer, a certified fitness nutrition specialist and a group exercise instructor who teaches primarily at Wallace Creek Fitness Center on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Some of the group exercise classes she teaches include indo row, tabata, cycle circuits and TRX (Total Body Resistance Exercise) classes. Functional fitness, a type of training that focuses on preparing your body for daily movements and tasks as opposed to stationary lifting, is one of Szydzik’s personal favorites.

“The more I can train someone functionally the better, because your body doesn’t work in one plane all day,” said Szydzik. “It makes no sense to just work in the one plane all the time.”

Many of the common mistakes Szydzik sees in the weight room include people putting their knees over their toes and increasing the weight they are lifting too quickly, which often results in poor form. The fundamentals of your exercises are the most important thing to remember when working out, according to Szydzik, whose husband is a sergeant in the Marine Corps.

“You should have the foundations down before you start pushing yourself, because it’s just going to lead to injury,” Szydzik said. “Those will forever be the main thing you need to have, proper alignment and proper form, if you’re going to do your lifts; otherwise, you’re just going to hurt yourself, even with functional movements. It’s dynamic, but you need to have your back straight, your chest up, your knees behind your toes, regardless of what the movement is.”

If Szydzik sees people slacking off or getting lazy during a workout, she won’t hesitate to make them do what she calls a “refresher workout” where they go back to a foundational workout in order to emphasize the basics. Szydzik also recognizes that it is important for people to remember that everyone works at their own pace and that the key to a successful workout is to keep consistent form throughout.

“I preface all my classes with, ‘You’re working at your own level. Don’t compare yourself to whomever else is in the room,’” Szydzik said. “You can be swinging 45s and you can be swinging a 10, but as long as your form is fine, it’s the same workout.”

Whenever energy levels drop during workouts, Szydzik likes to give her classes’ attendees challenges by playing different team games and competitions to keep things interesting. When there is winning and losing on the line, Szydzik says people have much more fun and go harder because they don’t want to lose. When it comes to personal workouts, Szydik likes to get to know her clients and what motivates them in order to figure out how to interact with them in the gym.

Here are some bench press basics from Szydzik.

Bench Press Steps:

1: When you sit down on the bench, place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, almost like you’re doing a squat.

2: Lay back and position yourself so that the bar is centered almost directly above your nose.

3: Using a medium-width grip, align your pinky fingers with the groove in the ribbing of the bar, and lift the bar from the rack. Hold it straight over you with your arms nearly locked, wrists over elbow, and elbows over shoulders. This will be your starting position.

4: From the starting position, breathe in and begin to lower the bar, coming down slowly, until the bar touches your chest. Be sure to keep your elbows in line with your shoulders.

5: After a brief one to two second pause, push the bar back to the starting position as you breathe out, keeping the weight in your palms. Focus on contracting your chest muscles as you push and again at the top of the motion. Hold for a second and then start coming down slowly.

For beginning clientele, Szydzik recommends a basic strength series of 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with a moderate weight.