Every person on this planet is unique. While trainers can harp on you for not having textbook perfect form, the truth is that what is proper for them might not be “proper form” for you. Depending on genetic and musculoskeletal factors, your ideal position in a squat is going to look completely different from the dude next to you. But regardless of what the most mechanically correct position is for you when working out, you need to be aware of it. Proper weight lifting form is more than technique, it’s an essential piece of the formula to working your body right and avoid injury so you can continue to improve.
The Importance of Proper Form
In terms of functional movement, or the motions that you perform every day, proper form is the most correct position you can put your body in to properly execute a specific movement. If you want to lift more while preventing injuries, you need to understand proper form and how to incorporate it into your lifting technique.
There are multiple benefits to using proper form:
- Hitting the intended muscle groups in an exercise
- Exercising for extended periods without pain
- Avoiding muscle imbalance and injuries from improper muscle mechanics
- Progressively enhanced strength
Imagine for a moment that you are doing a bodyweight squat. If your knees continuously collapse inward towards the centerline of your torso rather than remaining in line with the ankle, you could end up with knee problems, a stiff lower back, and even injured hips. Now, think about what would happen if you added weight to that. Your muscles would fail to fire properly, and you might end up severely injuring yourself to power through the lift.
Without proper form, you not only lose the benefits of working out, but you also risk debilitating consequences.
Tips For Achieving Proper Form
If you want to achieve the fullest effect of a workout, then you need to pay attention to your form. Here are some tips to help you maintain proper form that is also correct for your body:
- Warm up. Leaping right into a workout is never a good idea. You need to loosen up the ligaments, tendons, and joints with some aerobic exercise, such as jogging or a few warm-up sets of the exercises you plan to do.
- Think about it. Get yourself in the mindset to perform your best. Focus on what you’re doing instead of getting distracted by the bros and people taking selfies. You’re doing this for you.
- Breathe. Remember, holding your breath is a bad thing and is improper technique. Exhale through the effort.
- Use your muscles, not momentum. Rather than flailing uncontrollably, you should focus on recruiting your muscle throughout the entire contraction and release. Go slower if you have to and visualize the muscle working through the whole movement.
- Keep good posture. Straight, long spine. Shoulders down and back. These are just some of the cues to help you keep good posture.
- Listen to your body. Never do something that causes you pain. There are modifications.
- Don’t try to lift too heavy. You won’t be able to maintain good form if you can’t handle the weight for more than a single rep.
- Quality over quantity. Again, you need to keep good form throughout the rep range. If you start swinging the weight or using momentum, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
- Select the correct weight. This means choosing a weight that is 75-80% of your 1RM.
- Start with bodyweight movements if you’re a beginner. That will help you establish proper form.
- Research proper form or hire a trainer to help you out. There are plenty of resources online that can help you find the right placement for your body in specific exercises. Trainers are also available to give you advice.
- Also, check out our tips below.
Common Problems With Form & How To Avoid Them
Oddly enough, the exercises that people have the most trouble performing correctly are the ones involved with functional movement—squats, planks, deadlifts, and push-ups. Knowing how to move through these motions correctly, though, will be a game changer for your workouts and life.
Squat & Deadlift
Common issues that happen in squat and deadlift include knees collapsing inwards, knees moving beyond the toes, hips not shifting back far enough, a spine that rounds/curves and tucks the pelvis, and improper weight distribution in the foot. These problems can add undue strain upon the spine and cause other issues over time.
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For squats, only go as deep as your knees will allow you to go while keeping your weight centered. Never let the knees go past the toes. For men, your toes should be pointed almost straight. Women can have their toes angled out more diagonally, given the shape differences of the hip bones.
For deadlifts, you should never hyperextend the spine or the hips as you move to standing. Keep your core engaged, spine long, and shoulders away from the ears. Drive through the hamstrings, rather than the quadriceps. Avoid hyperextending the backs of the knees as well.
The main mistake with push-ups is caused by a range of motion issues. You should only lower down to the point where you feel no pain in the shoulders or wrists. Though the aim is to get your chest touching the ground, a lack of flexibility could keep you from doing this without sacrificing form. Other issues include hunched shoulders, lifted hips, and an inactive core. Keep the spine straight, draw the navel in towards the spine, and use the backs of the legs to help lengthen the body. Wrists should be in line with the shoulders, as well.
Since push-up moves through the plank position, you can use the tips from the previous section when holding a plank, too. But with the isometric component in plank comes more problems. Most beginners hike the hips up too high, taking the load off the core. Also, you might start to tense up and scrunch the neck. Keep the shoulders down and the shoulder blades moving in towards the spine. Always engage the core to keep the hips in line. Use a mirror to check your form.
With that, you are on your way to working with proper form all the time. The technique used for squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and planks are found in other exercises as well. You always want to keep your posture as upright as possible, and engage the core whenever you want stability in your directional movement. By doing that, you can work more efficiently and see better results and fewer injuries.
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