Take a look around at the gym, what do you see? Is it the tight muscle-tanks and too much skin? Is it the blonde bombshells with 3 days of make-up caked on to look good for their workout? Or is it the fact that everyone is there to “be there” but actually as no idea what they’re doing? I’m going to go with the last one.
You’ll notice that just about everyone has something in common – sloppy form. Most small gyms have a greater population of uneducated athletes that are trying to improve their body but over time never see results. What could this be? Too many sets? Not enough reps? Too low/much weight? It could be all of these things combined, but one of the most common reasons- lack of appropriate form.
This could easily be the reason that you are looking the same, month after month, despite the work you are putting in at the weight room.
When one uses improper form, the exercises aren’t really doing what you think. Improper form shifts the emphasis away from the target muscles and onto either smaller synergistic muscles or worse, passive joint structures like tendons, ligaments, or even bone, which could overall lead to injury. The reduction in target muscle contribution also significantly decreases strength in the lift.
Lat Pull Downs – do you ever wonder why you’re not seeing the gains that you deserve after doing numerous sets of this specific move? Instead of initiating the pull by squeezing your shoulder blades down and back, you’re just tugging on your elbows with your biceps. This shifts the focus from the targeted muscle (lats) onto the synergistic biceps, which is fine for building biceps, but it prevents your lats from ever reaching their muscular potential. This is an example of why your improper form is preventing you from building specific muscles!
Front Plank – This exercise seems easy enough, until you notice that many people actually perform it with reckless abandonment. Rather than utilizing their abs and glutes, they allow their lower back to arch and they begin to rely on bone-to-bone contact of the vertebrae within their spine. This isn’t just front planks, either. The function of the core in pushups, military presses, and even pull-ups all mimic a plank, just with additional moving parts. Over time, it’s mistakes like these that can also result in pain and injury, which will obviously limit one’s subsequent ability to lift and grow.
So why does the lousy technique spread to so many lifters? One of the most obvious answers – ego. Many lifters are more concerned with putting more big plates on the bar instead of performing exercises correctly, with full range of motion, slow and controlled tempo, and stacked joints. Another reason this occurs – lack of knowledge about muscle groups and how the machines or free-weight moves actually work. Some innocent gym-goers are showing improper form simply because they were not shown how to do the move correctly!
A lifter may be physically incapable of doing the exercise right, even if they know what the right form entails. The problem could be out of their control, too. For instance, their anatomy may actually prevent them from getting into the necessary positions. Or it could simply be a result of weakness, in this case you should lower the weight that you are attempting. Either way, a regression to an easier (or at least different) version of the exercise is warranted.
Cues to remember
Maintain a flat back
Keep a neutral neck
Keep your core tight, exhale on each rep
Pause briefly at the peak of each rep, slowly releasing back to center
Keep your elbows at 45 degrees when performing certain moves
How do you figure out the proper form?
There are many resources available for you when it comes to researching proper form. YouTube is a great first source that delivers videos and verbal cues step by step explaining how to do specific moves. FitnessBuddy is an app that allows you to watch a character video perform the move in front of you with step by step instructions as well. Most importantly it is key that you do your homework before entering the gym and doing moves that you aren’t used to. A back injury because of too heavy of weights and improper form during a squat is the last thing that you want!