Increase your performance and see results faster by doing exercises the right way
- Proper form helps to avoid both immediate and long-term injuries
- Learning proper form will increase results and boost your performance
- Don’t compare yourself to others in the gym and take things at your own pace
If you’ve ever been to a class at the gym or done a YouTube workout video at home, you’ve undoubtedly heard things like, “Keep your chin up and your shoulders back” or “Engage your core. Don’t let your lower back cave in.”
You listen and try to correct whatever it is you’re inevitably doing that the instructor just said not to do. But have you ever thought about why fitness instructors around the globe repeat these phrases all the time? Some great instructors will talk through the reasoning behind keeping your chin up and engaging your core so that you know what you’re achieving by correcting those errors.
However, if you are new to fitness or the instructors you’ve worked with don’t explain those things, then it’s important to understand why proper technique and form is critical to your fitness improvement and overall fitness goals.
You will hear the words “technique” and “form” used interchangeably in the fitness world, but there is a key difference between them. Techniques are the various ways you perform an exercise to target a specific muscle group. Wide pushups versus triceps pushups and wide grip chest press versus close grip chest press are perfect examples.
Form is the posture, position, and method you choose to perform that exercise. This is what we’ll focus on moving forward.
Why proper form matters
If you’re a fitness buff, understanding proper form can help correct exercises you may be doing improperly. If you’re new to fitness, it’s important to start off on the right foot and develop good habits.
This is probably the most common reason people cite for using proper form. Bad form combined with too much weight can often lead to immediate injury such as a pulled or strained muscle.
However, bad forms such as running on your heels instead of the balls of your feet may not manifest right away but can develop injuries in the future due to continuous stress in the wrong places.
Improve workout effectiveness
Going to the gym for three hours a day doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll see results, especially if you’re doing exercises incorrectly. Focusing your effort on doing moves the right way will target the muscles more effectively to give you better results. This often means slowing things down or using lighter weight, which is difficult for many people to do. But it’s worth it!
By dedicating time to proper form, you will see better results. The correct muscles will develop, you will avoid injury, and you will start to improve quickly. This means you can run longer distances, lift heavier weights, or squat a little lower than you did before. Using the wrong form may lead to little or no development, injury, and overall frustration.
Examples of improper form and how to fix it
Let’s explore some common exercise mistakes that can be easily corrected to take your fitness to the next level.
- Squats: Collapsing the upper body, letting the knees cave in, and not squatting low enough are the most common mistakes made when squatting.
- To achieve proper form, push the hips back, keep your chest up, and sit back until the thighs are parallel to the floor. If you can’t get that low yet, it’s OK, but try to sink lower as you go. Keep your knees in line with your toes and push your knees outwards, so they don’t collapse.
- Crunches: Crunches are a classic workout move, but they are easy to do incorrectly from fatigue or inexperience. Most importantly, avoid pulling on the neck. This can be painful and lead to injury. Also, don’t use momentum to rock back and forth as this will hardly work the abs at all.
- To do a crunch properly, rest your fingertips on the side of your head or behind your ears, lift your shoulders off the ground, hold at the top, and release.
- Plank: A proper plank requires a straight line from head to heels, elbows directly under the shoulders, and core braced. This is also an easy one to do incorrectly. You’ll be surprised how it will feel like you’re doing it the right way only to find that your hips are way up in the air or your hands are far in front of your shoulders. It’s a good idea to practice planks in front of a mirror to correct your form and see how the movement feels in different positions.
- Bicep curls: When doing bicep curls, make sure your elbows are behind your shoulders. They can creep forward after a few reps, which puts a strain on your shoulders instead of targeting the biceps.
- Another common mistake is to swing the weights or barbell, using momentum to complete the movement. This takes the tension out of the exercise and makes it much easier. Control raising and lowering the weight, keeping the biceps contracted and engaged the entire time.
- Cardio machines: As hard as it is to believe, the handrails on the side of stair climbers and treadmills are not there to hold you upright and support your entire body weight while you work out. Stand upright on cardio machines, only using handrails to help you balance. Don’t hunch over and hold the rails beneath or behind you. This causes strain on your lower back and removes weight from your lower body, which you’re trying to work in the first place. If you feel like you need to hold on to the rails for dear life, you may need to slow down and build up to a faster pace.
- Neutral spine: In any exercise, it’s important to maintain a neutral spine by keeping your eyes forward. This means no looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor. The former collapse the back of your neck, which impedes the neural connections to your muscles. The latter strains your neck, shoulders, and lower back.
- Running: Most of us walk on our heels, so it only seems natural to run the same way. But pounding on the heels for an extended period can lead to pain and stress in your ankles, knees, and hips.
- Try running as quietly as possible, which should translate to running on your toes and the balls of your feet instead of your heels. You’ll find you can run longer distances with less effort this way. Your future self will thank you for not having to deal with shin splints and knee pain.
One of the most difficult pieces of advice to follow in achieving proper form is not to compare yourself to others. This is easier said than done as the second you step into a gym, you’re tempted to keep up with the people doing the most impressive moves, which are often the most complicated or use the most weight.
Stay focused on your goals and your abilities. You may not be on the same level as your gym’s strongest and fastest yet, but taking the time to focus on the fundamentals and slowly improve your performance will get you there the right way.
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