By Paul Roberts
Working out is important to your health. It is also dangerous to work out with poor technique. As one gets older, the risk of injury based on incorrect form gets worse. Two things are certain: not working out will lead to health problems and working out with flawed technique causes different health problems. Spend the time and resources necessary to learn proper technique for the type of exercise you do.
Use proper technique
All exercises have points of performance, which are techniques that describe the correct way to perform an exercise. While all exercises have different points of performance, there are several common principles to most exercises.
Maintain midline stability by maintaining your lumbar and thoracic spine in a neutral, braced position for most exercises. In general, you want to go from your core to extremities by moving or engaging larger muscles in your body before the smaller ones. So it’s hips before biceps and so forth. When lifting weights, you should maintain an even load across your midfoot.
Learn proper form
It can take months to become adept at complex exercises like deadlifts and kettlebell swings. When training in a public gym, you are constantly bombarded with examples of poor technique. You also likely don’t have a coach watching your technique to make sure it matches the standard or making adjustments to that standard based on your mobility. YouTube is great; just remember its benefits are limited and don’t replace an actual coach working with you.
Improve your muscle targeting
Utilizing proper form helps ensure that you target the correct muscles. If you are performing squats, you should feel the weight of the barbell in your legs: in your glutes, hamstrings and quads. If you don’t, you probably aren’t doing the exercise correctly.
Use proper form and stop wasting energy
Proper form places your body in its strongest position. In contrast, improper form decreases the efficiency of your exercises. Decreased efficiency means fewer gains and more risk of injury. When you lift with incorrect form, your body expends unnecessary energy and increases the risk for compensation injuries.
Choose your weights carefully
When you select weights that are too heavy, your body will recruit muscles that aren’t designed for that exercise. How heavy is too heavy? If you are new to weight lifting, 10 to 15 reps per set is a good minimum rep range.
Full range of motion is critical
Most inexperienced lifters tend to only work their mid-range. Working the middle of the range of the muscle contraction is easier because you are strong in this range. Working just the midrange can lead to loss of mobility and eventually injury. So if you are doing half-reps, you probably have too much weight on the bar. Check your ego and select an appropriate weight.
Breath control is important
Different types of training, such as yoga, weight lifting, bodybuilding and running require different breathing patterns. Breath work is even different in deadlifts versus kettlebell swings. So do your research and check with a certified personal trainer or strength coach on how to breathe for the exercises in your workout plan.
Balance your programming
Most people who lift on their own, without a certified personal trainer, have self-inflicted muscle imbalances. In many cases, this means the client has worked the muscles that he or she can see in the mirror: abs, quads, chest and biceps. In contrast, the same people generally have weak hamstrings, groin, glutes, lower back, triceps and neck muscles. Getting stronger involves strengthening all your muscles in the kinetic chain – not just the ones you see in the mirror.
Lift three times a week
In terms of improvement per hour, your sweet-spot is going to be a solid hour every other day. Alternating rest and workout days provides you sufficient recovery time. If you want to spend more time on your health and fitness, spend the time shopping for and prepping your food. On your off day, do some walking, light cardio or dancing.
Learn proper warmups
Warmups provide a host of benefits such as patterning, increasing blood flow, improving muscle plasticity and decreasing risk of injury. Warmups are probably the most important part of your workout — don’t skip them.
The writer coaches strength and mobility at Sand and Steel Fitness, located at 109 S. Alfred St., Alexandria, VA 22314.