Any fitness expert will tell you that 5 repetitions of any exercise done with the proper form is better than doing 15 reps the wrong way. This is because working out incorrectly can cause injuries, and get you into dangerous habits that can be hard to break.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to research the right way to do any type of exercise before you start, or to ask a professional trainer to guide you as you learn it until you can safely move forward on your own.
Below are 7 basic tips for proper workout form to help anyone avoid making these common exercise mistakes:
1. Don’t Forget to Breathe—
This may seem obvious, but many beginners to the exercise game tend to hold their breath during the difficult parts, which can lead to dizziness, headaches and achy muscles deprived of the oxygen they need for a satisfying workout.
Remember to breathe in through your nose during the resting phase of a move, and blow air out through the mouth during the highest point of exertion for maximum benefit.
2. Lift with the Legs—
If you’ve ever worked a job involving lifting and carrying heavy objects, you’re already familiar with this mantra, but it applies to exercise as well: lift with the legs, and not the back. This requires awareness and concentration because most of us instinctively bend at the waist to pick something up, rather than squatting.
Especially if an activity that involves weights, a kettlebell or any type of lifting is required, rather than bending at the waist, bend at the knees and let the big muscles of the thighs do the work.
Also: Activate the abdominal and core muscles for support when you lift. Your back will thank you.
3. Keep the Spine Aligned—
While doing any type of exercise, it’s important to keep the spine in the proper position to build the correct muscles and avoid injury.
This good posture can be achieved by holding the head up straight, keeping the shoulders back, and knees slightly bent. By working out in this good form, you will reinforce your excellent posture by building up the muscles that keep you standing tall.
4. Don’t Lock the Joints—
Locked- up joints during exercise end up taking the pressure off the muscles, which are what you’re trying to strengthen, and can make the bones hurt or even cause injury.
When doing standing exercises of any type, keep the knees slightly bent at all times to force the muscles to do the work and prevent knee pain.
When exercise involves the upper body, be sure to keep elbows slightly bent, even during arm extensions. Remember that by locking your joints you’re only causing unnecessary joint strain and cheating the muscles.
5. Take It Slow—
This advice applies to all exercises, whether strength training by nature or cardiovascular. If you push yourself too fast too quickly, you’re not making progress, you’re risking a pointless injury that might set back your workout program for weeks.
When lifting weights, or doing any other type of controlled movement, be sure to go slowly, avoid rapid or jerky motions, and control all exercises on the way down as well as on the way up.
It’s common to want to drop the heavy weight quickly once you hit the peak of a repetition, but if you do this you’re missing out on valuable progress made when the muscle has to maintain control on the way down. This is lazy lifting, and laziness has no place in the world of fitness.
6. Squat a Lot—
One of the best things to learn for proper form is how to squat correctly when needed. Many different types of activities require squatting, and for the well-being of the knees and back, it’s something everyone should know.
Fitness trainers will often tell you to pretend you’re sitting down in a chair, which is a great start, but it’s also important to remember to keep the thighs even, and push out the rear end as you sit down in your invisible chair.
When you look down mid-squat, your knees should be just over the toes, with the body still leaning back. And don’t go so low you reach the point of no return, as this can cause loss of balance and knee joint disorders.
7. Don’t Lift with the Neck—
The neck is a surprisingly delicate part of the body, considering it holds up our heads for a living. But there are many small and easily-tweaked little muscles and tendons residing in the neck, making it important to avoid straining. Those who’ve pulled a neck muscle are well aware of what a huge inconvenience this can be, as we try driving without being able to turn the head to either side, and spend the day dreaming of the moment we can finally lay our suddenly too-heavy head down on a pillow.
Neck strain commonly happens during crunches, sit-ups, and other ab/core work, but can be easily avoided by engaging the proper muscles during such exercises.
Be sure to lead with the upper body rather than the head, and when doing any type of torso lift, pretend there’s an apple between the chin and chest to avoid injuries caused by tucking in the chin.
The above are only a few of the most common tips on proper form, so if you’re considering a new type of exercise, be sure to ask those already in the know how you can work out safely without injury. By working out smarter and not rushing through activities haphazardly, you’ll see better results and less setbacks on your way to achieving your fitness goals.