This post discusses the importance of proper form. I will cover what proper form is, the benefits of using proper form, as well as what could occur if you do not use it. And finally, I discuss some tips on how to maintain proper form in exercise and in your daily life.
Have you ever tweaked a muscle while working out, or wondered if your doing an exercise correctly? I’ve had these experiences a long time ago, when I started working out for the first time at age 14. Fortunately, I had experienced people around me to help correct what I was doing wrong. After 21 years of hitting the weights, cross training, running, cycling, kayaking, Yoga, Tai Chi, various other activities, and reading numerous books on athletic performance, I developed a good understanding of Kinesiology (the study of the mechanics of body movement).
On recent trips to the gym, I have seen people lifting too much weight. This sacrifices their form, in some misguided attempt at trying to get results fast, trying to look cool, or perhaps they simply didn’t know any better. Regardless, they were not going to achieve any of their intended objectives. Most recently, I witnessed what appeared to be a father teaching his teenage son how to lift weights. When they exercised together, they were both performing the movements so horribly incorrect, it made me cringe. I was tempted to walk over there and give them some pointers, but since the dad was doing the dad thing, I didn’t want to be that guy. After seeing so much of this, I decided to write this clarification, in hope that it will help people work out with better form, and achieve their desired physique more efficiently.
What is meant by proper form?
Proper form is a specific way of performing a movement, often a strength training exercise, to avoid injury, prevent cheating and increase strength. With a simple description of how to stand properly, one may glean the purpose of proper form. From a standing position (arms down), proper form is when you have vertical alignment of your spine (your spine has a natural curve, so as straight as you can manage), your shoulders are back and sloped down, your head is positioned back (so your neck is vertical) with the crown elevated and your chin slightly down, chest is lifted, hips are tucked in, gluts are flexed, feet are shoulder width apart, knees are slightly bent, with a small effort to separate your knees (which assists in maintaining a proper stance and arch of your feet).
Also, your lower back and neck are areas that can easily be compromised. For example, when performing a triceps exercise above your head, it is best to be in a seated or lying down position, in order to minimize excessive stress on these two parts of your body. The biomechanics involved when raising your arms over your head, makes your lower spine want to follow by curving more. This curvature can also strain breathing, which translates to higher blood pressure, decreased performance through the exercise movement, and a diminished result.
Benefits of Practicing Proper Form
Maximizes Positive Results
Correct posture in movement not only decreases or eliminates chances of injury, it also maximizes your results. Being in alignment allows you to breathe properly (very important), and allows your blood to circulate energy (cell material, Oxygen) and Qi efficiently. With oxygenated blood circulating freely through your musculature, your body is in an optimal state to perform a movement that requires effort. The movement that follows, when done correctly, will eventually push the muscles to fatigue. If done incorrectly, secondary muscles will participate in the movement, preventing the primary muscles from fatiguing to an ideal state. This in turn maximizes strength and size gains.
Your optimized circulatory system will also lend itself to a state of mental clarity, which in turn can help facilitate a better workout. When you are more present, you can focus more on your muscular contractions. Being more present also increases your safety, because you will be less likely to drop heavy weights.
Prevents Asymmetrical Muscle Development, Knots, and Injury
Proper form also allows you to exercise with your maximum range of motion. Utilizing your range of motion throughout an exercise is important for the development of the muscle fibers as a whole; thus allowing strength to develop from one end of the fiber to the other. This in turn builds strength and grows ones control through all increments of a movement.
Restricting the movement or range-of-motion (ROM) can be done intentionally, for the purpose of fatiguing a certain aspect of a muscle group. This does not negate proper form, because even though ROM is restricted, the body is still performing the movement properly. Some studies have revealed that a shortened ROM can actually increase strength gains for a muscle group opposed to full range of motion.
However, an exercise done improperly, with restricted movement, could cause asymmetrical muscle development and knots (Myofascial Trigger Points or hyper-irritated areas of muscle/fascia). Prolonged asymmetrical muscular development from improper form and posture, can also influence your skeletal alignment (more particularly with your spinal column). Improper form exerts excess pressure on the material between the bones, and wears it down over time. This leads to misalignment and pain. Proper form ensures an equivalent exertion of effort is applied to both sides of your body, resulting in equivalent development.
Not moving correctly when bending over, lifting weights, or even sitting and standing, can make you experience prolonged pain and discomfort. Excessive strain from improper form can over tax the ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscles, leading to a pull, tare, disconnection, strain, sprain, or even hernia. Restricted and/or strained breathing resulting from improper form can create excess pressure in your cranium, which can cause a blackout, or even cause an aneurysm rupture.
From Head to Toes, and Your Emotional State
Time and age wear down all things organic. If you eat right, stay away from substance abuse, stretch, and stack your skeletal system appropriately, you can set yourself up with a comfortable body in your advanced years. It’s like an investment plan. If you don’t put the work in, you’re not going to have much of a body to help carry yourself around later on.
There are few feelings that compare to standing in front of the mirror and being impressed with the progress you make with your body, especially after a challenging workout. To know you performed the exercises properly, to make progress, and to physically and mentally feel terrific, is a wonderful sensation. It’s these things that keeps me going, day after day, and exercise after exercise. For me, proper form and alignment go far beyond just working out. It is something I have integrated into every aspect of my life. After doing Yoga and meditation for almost a decade, and recently taking up Tai Chi, using proper form in all my daily activities lends itself to being in the moment and present. Being aware of how my body articulates itself as it resists earth gravitational pull, and breathing with mindfulness, makes me more self-aware, facilitates the flow of Qi, and enriches my personal interaction with reality. Something that has helped me greatly is the ability to listen to my body. If one pays attention to what their body tells them about movements and effort, a greater cooperation between your mind and body can be forged. Just remember, if you don’t feel like working out, but know you should, tell yourself every day I am improving, every day I am getting better. Eventually, these affirmations come to reality. As the old saying goes, Rome was not built in a day, and neither was your body. So be patient, know your limitations, be persistent, be safe, and try to enjoy yourself.
Tips to Reduce the Chance of Injury and Move Better
- When lifting weight off the ground, it is crucial to bend at the knees and lift with the legs, opposed to bending over with your back. If your feet are shoulder width apart, you can keep your toes pointed straight in front of you. The wider your stance, the more your toes should angle outward, as illustrated in the following pictures. The only deviation to this rule is when you are stretching.
- When the knees pass the tip of the toes, undo stress is being exerted on this support structure (muscles, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons). With arms extended in front of you, or if you have weights to help counterbalance your body, you to perform a sitting movement, as if a chair were underneath you. Crouching down with this method allows you to keep your knees from passing the vertical plane of the tips of your toes. Of course you can still hinge at the waist. However, you should maintain as much of a flat back as possible.
- When bending incorrectly and lifting weight, you can exert excess strain on the disks between your vertebras. Over years of doing this, the material between your bones will wear, effectively cinching nerves and causing chronic pain. Appropriate stretching is also a terrific means of preventing injury. If you would like to know more about how to warm up and stretch, please click here. I would highly recommend Yoga to facilitate deep stretching and strength building for stabilizer muscles. Thai Chi is also great for building muscle strength in your posture muscles, and to develop body awareness.
- If you have poor posture with forward sloping shoulders, you can do some stretches and exercises to help correct this. Massaging a tennis ball on your pec-minor will help stretch the muscle that has drawn your shoulders forward. Rolling on a rumble roller for your upper back, and doing lat-pulls will help loosen and strengthen the back muscles to hold the shoulder in place. The neck on the other hand is just a matter of being conscious of it and making an effort to keep it back and vertical.
That’s all I have for you on this post. I hope you found it helpful and informative. Please check out my other relevant posts. And don’t forget to follow me through my social sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook; links are provided on the side menu.