Pet Peeves – We’ve all got them! You know, those little annoyances that have the capacity to drive us absolutely INSANE. For some, it’s people who say “expresso” instead of “espresso”. For others, it’s couples who sit on the same side of the booth when there’s no one on the other side. For me, the list includes:
- When people use “your” instead of “you’re” or “their” instead of “they’re”!
- When people whistle off key
- When people are late
- When you’re stuck driving behind someone going slower than the speed limit
- (And saving the best for last….) When people exercise with INCORRECT FORM
For today’s post, I figure I should stick to discussing point number 5, because lord knows if I were to try and cover them all, I’d be ranting for days. And the exercise issue is DEFINITELY the most important, because it makes me cringe on a daily basis.
(Although, for those of you who don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, please seek help immediately at http://www.wikihow.com/Use-You’re-and-Your).
So let’s get down to business and talk about the importance of exercising with good form.
As many of you know, I’m a stickler for detail. I don’t believe in half-assed effort and am always looking to master the way I do things. Whether it’s figuring out how to improve the taste of my protein shakes or how to better the shape of my eyebrows, I’m always on a mission to step things up! Working out is no exception. In fact, I’d say working out is the one area of my life that truly benefits from my persnickety nature!
Day in day out, I see countless people at the gym lifting weights with little regard for proper form and technique. People are rocking back and forth while doing bicep curls, they’re rounding their backs while doing dumbbell rows, and they’re pulling on their heads while doing crunches. Yikes!
Now don’t get me wrong, you get a virtual “high five” if you’re incorporating strength training into your workouts. Way to be on a mission to build muscle and shed fat! But now that you’ve gotten things started, PLEASE take the time to ensure you know what you’re doing. Yes, the type of exercise you do is important. And yes, the volume and load you use is critical. But the most important element is the WAY you perform your exercises! While almost any form of exercise will stimulate strength and muscle development to some degree, improper form will hinder your results and put you at risk for major injuries!
So what’s with the poor technique and form?
The most common reason for poor technique is that people are lifting more than they can safely handle. I’ve had clients that think they should be doing 20 pound bicep curls, when in reality they should only be lifting half that amount! How do I know? It’s simple. When put to the test, the only way they can perform 20 pound bicep curls is by swinging the weights and using their shoulders and lower backs to assist! Now as you may suspect, bicep curls are only meant to work the bicep group – namely, the biceps brachii and brachialis. The back and shoulders aren’t meant share the spotlight and will only activate when you’re attempting to lift a load that is too heavy. All it takes is a little swing in the body to shift some tension away from your arms, and voila, suddenly things are much easier!
So how do you know if your weights are too heavy? The first step is to be vigilant about your form. If you’re swaying your body or arching your back right from the get-go, then switch to a lighter weight immediately. If your form is crisp for a few reps but slowly starts to deteriorate, simply switch to lighter weights mid-set to ensure your body isn’t using other major muscles to assist. “Controlled cheating” has its place at the gym, but keep in mind that you should only ever cheat at the end of a set to squeeze out an additional rep or two that wouldn’t have been possible using perfect form. If you’re cheating from the start, the only person losing is you!
Another reason that bad technique plagues the world of weight lifting is: improper instruction. Many people never actually “study” weight lifting techniques, rather, they simply learn by watching other people at the gym, who in turn likely learned from watching other people at the gym. And so the cycle continues! Bad form leads to more bad form. Even people who have personal trainers need to be careful about form and technique. You’d be surprised at how many training sessions I see where clients are performing exercises incorrectly right IN FRONT of their trainers! It’s terrible! I mean what’s the point in paying someone for their expertise, when their “expertise” doesn’t actually include knowing how to do things the right way. Many trainers also fail to explain to their clients which muscle groups are being worked in an exercise.
Take the classic dumbbell row as an example. You’d be surprised at how many people with trainers are doing sets of rows thinking that they’re primarily working out their arms! (Just to clarify – rows are considered a back exercise. The primary targets include the middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor and infraspinatus. Yes, you also use your biceps and your posterior deltoids during the exercise, but that’s not really the point)!
It’s IMPERATIVE to know which muscles you’re working with each and every exercise you do. By really focusing on isolating specific muscles and knowing how those muscles are supposed to feel when contracted, you’ll know whether you need to make any adjustments to your technique. Sometimes a slight change in an angle can make all the difference in the world! It’s critical to develop this kind of muscle-mind connection. Yes, it takes time and effort to get the “feel” for your muscles, but once you make the connection, you’ll see some obvious gains.
So now let’s get down to what proper technique entails:
- Slow Down
One of the most common mistakes I see is that people use speed and momentum to lift and lower their weights. By slowing down your reps, you can significant increase the amount of stress that your muscles are under. Try counting at an even tempo in your head! Lower your weights slowly and deliberately, to the fully extended position, and then change the direction by deliberating contracting your muscle. Don’t bounce or swing the weights because that won’t do anything but make your exercises less effective!
- Exercise The Full Range Of Motion
Evidence suggests that muscle fiber recruitment is optimized when a muscle is loaded from the fully stretched position all the way to the end of the peak contraction. Partial range of motion is a common mistake, particularly when doing bicep curls! I bet you’ve seen many people at the gym stopping their curls before they’ve extended their arms all the way down. What does this do? It works the upper part of the bicep instead of developing the full muscle. Yes, partial range of motion training has its place in weight lifting, but most people use the technique even when they don’t mean to!
- Don’t Lock Your Joints
“Locking a joint” is when you extend a limb until it just can’t straighten anymore. The problem with locking your joints while lifting weights is that you place an enormous amount of stress on your joints instead of on your muscles. What does this usually lead to? Injury! In addition, because you’re taking stress away from the muscle, you’re essentially giving yourself a mini rest mid-movement. This is a quick an easy way to make sure your exercises are less effective than they should be!
- Focus On The Negative
Most people are in a hurry to lower their weights – big mistake! Instead, you should concentrate on the negative portion of an exercise by lowering the weights at the same pace, if not slower, than you lifted them. Research has proven that the negative or eccentric portion of lifting is responsible for imposing the most amount of stress and micro-trauma to muscle fibers. Want to gain strength rapidly? Negative training is one of the absolute best ways to accomplish this quickly!
Your breath gives your body the strength it needs to perform exercises. Effective breathing involves inhaling during the portion of the exercise where the weight is moving with gravity, and exhaling during the portion where the weight is moving against gravity. Holding your breath or breathing irregularly can make it more difficult for blood to flow and puts extreme pressure on your heart, lunges, and arteries. Scary stuff!
So there we have it – 5 key points for you to think about the next time you’re at the gym! There are obviously many elements to consider when trying to exercise with perfect form. As a rule of thumb, each time you go to the gym, consider the goal of your workout, which muscles you should be targeting, and where you want to apply tension. Your muscles and joints will thank you. So say goodbye to swaying, bouncing, and arching that back!