Exercise Form Tips

Helpful Exercise Form Tips

All weight training exercises depend on the use of proper form to be the most beneficial. Think of the importance of form for two reasons -- to minimize the risk of injury, and maximize the potential effect of the exercise. When you use proper form, the movements the exercise require use only the intended muscles, instead of recruiting secondary muscles to help in the lift.

When performing any type of strength training the various joints of the body will be placed under stress. This is not a surprising realization as this is what strength training is. This being said, it is important that you learn to perform each of the strength training exercises correctly to reduce the probability of injury.

Since all strength training type exercises place stress on the joint, or joints, that are involved in actually performing the exercise it is important that all body parts be in appropriate alignment. For example, when performing the standing straight bar biceps curls it is important that your feet are approximately shoulder width apart, for stability, and that your back is straight and fully upright, to reduce the probability of a lower back injury.

Below is a list of several short-term and long-term injuries that are possible through the improper form when performing strength based exercises:

Immediate strength training injuries

  • Dislocations

  • Sprains

  • Fractures

  • Strains

  • Tendinitis

Long-term strength training injuries

  • Nerve damage

  • Rotator cuff damage

  • Bone stress-related injuries

  • Muscle overload

As your muscles fatigue, it's natural for your body to begin recruiting its other muscle groups to transfer force to non-fatigued muscles. While this might help you lift the weight, it also reduces the potential benefit of the strength exercise. In most strength training programs, working specific muscle groups to failure without employing secondary muscle groups in exercises is critical to success.

Warming Up Before Exercise

One of the best ways to improve your strength training form is to always warm up before any exercise session. In addition, taking the time to properly warm-up the body by increasing the blood and oxygen flow throughout all soft tissue will greatly reduce the probability of injury.

Warming-up on an Exercise Bike

Warming up provides a variety of benefits, including:

  1. Increased blood flow into your muscles, making them more flexible and ready to be exercises.

  2. Increased oxygen delivery to muscles and tissues, which gives you more respiratory stamina during your workout.

  3. Prepares muscles and joints for increased movement and the stresses that will be placed on them.

  4. Helps prepare your heart for physical activity, preventing dangerous spikes in blood pressure.

  5. Helps you prepare your mind for the exercise session.

  6. Improved reaction time and coordination.

  7. Primed nerve-to-muscle pathways.

But not all warm-ups are beneficial for your body, and some old misconceptions about stretches can actually do you more harm than good. One study performed at the University of Nevada in 2008 found that athletes who performed static stretches before a strength workout actually generated less force than athletes who did not stretch at all. Some experts have estimated that static stretching can decrease your muscle strength by as much as 30 percent.

So simply touching your toes and holding the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds can actually weaken your muscles and make you more susceptible to an injury, not less. Strained muscles will remain weakened for as much as 30 minutes after a static stretch. By the time your muscles return to their peak condition, your warmup will have done you little good.

A correct warmup accomplishes two key goals -- literally warm up the body, and loosen your muscles and tendons to allow an increased range of motion. When you're at rest, there's less blood flow to your tissues, and they tend to get stiff. To raise your body temperature, begin with something as simple as a light job, or some cardiovascular activity that increases your heart rate to about 40 percent of its maximum. Gradually increase your heart rate to 60 percent.

The cardiovascular warmup should last no more than ten minutes and precede your workout by no more than five. You can follow up your cardiovascular warmup with a set of dynamic stretches like the straight-leg march, scorpion, and handwalks.

While you should always focus on proper form while exercising, it's sometimes alright to let form slip a little bit on later repetitions in your exercise routine to promote strength gains. Stay safe with a spotter and never use improper form with free weights, as this can be dangerous. Learn to tune into your body and notice when secondary muscles are helping your perform an exercise.

Tips For Using Proper Form and Staying Safe While Weight Lifting

There are a variety of ways that you can make sure you always use proper form and stay safe during your regular weight training sessions.

    benefits of a weight lifting spotter
  • Consult a doctor. Check with a health professional to make sure you're fit enough for physical activity, especially if you are over age 40 and/or physically inactive.

  • Set reasonable goals. With the help of a trainer, you can set intelligent goals to help prevent overtraining injuries. Try to have a clear reason for each exercise that you make part of your program.

  • Breathe. Do not forget to maintain your breathing while performing each exercise. Weight training can cause large spikes in blood pressure, especially if you hold your breath during an exercise. As a general rule, you should exhale during the hard portion of the exercise and inhale during the easier portion of the exercise.

  • Aim for balance. Try to maintain good balance between muscles during workouts, not just by working different muscles on different days. If you work the front of your shoulder, don't forget to incorporate exercises that also work the back.

  • Lift the proper weight. For most strength training programs, the right amount of weight for you should be enough so that your muscles feel tired after 10 to 15 repetitions.

  • Don't overload on sets. One set of exercises to failure is almost always all that is needed for results. Extra sets serve only to waste your time and may cause overload injuries.

  • Don't try to rush. Avoid jerking the weight up. Lift and lower weight in a slow, controlled manner. This helps you focus on good form, stay in tune with your muscle groups by isolating them, and doesn't let you use momentum to "cheat" while lifting.

  • Be consistent. Three workouts per week helps build muscle -- two helps maintain it. Wear shoes. Never try to workout without shoes. Bare feet are more susceptible to injury and may harm your ability to balance.

  • Use mirrors. Try to workout in front of a mirror as much as possible to monitor your form. If there are no mirrors available, ask a professional or experienced workout partner to critique your form on a regular basis.

Weight training is an effective form of exercise for people with any number of goals. But don't believe the hype that muscle burns many more calories than fat -- it's simply not true according to the American Council on Exercise's Chief Science Officer, Dr. Cedric X. Bryant. According to Bryant, a pound of muscle only burns about 6 calories a day, not the 30-100 more than a pound of fat that you may have been taught.

Instead, strength training provides a host of other benefits for those looking to cut fat and build muscle for a healthier, more attractive body. These benefits include:

  • More after-burn. Weight training at high intensities can help you burn more calories even hours after you finish your workout.

  • Prevented lean-muscle mass loss. Calorie-restrictive diets can sometimes result in lean-muscle body mass loss. Weight training helps prevent this.

  • Changed body composition. You can help shape your body with more muscle and tighten skin after weight loss.

  • Strengthened tissues and bones. Stronger bones and tissues make proper form easier to achieve and help decrease the chance of weight training injuries.

  • spotter for performing squats
  • Improved health as you age. Adding weight training to your exercise routine can keep your body healthier as you age.

  • Improved coordination. Careful attention to form and addition muscle mass can help improve your balance, coordination and injury recovery/avoidance.

With proper form and attention to safety, you can enjoy the benefits of regularly performing a weight training routine over the long-run, as they are meant to be enjoyed. However, failure to use proper form can result in painful injuries, which can make long-term weight training difficult, if not impossible.