How Understanding Form Will Improve Your Results
Proper form is an integral part of your routine. The way you engage your muscles can maximise the effort you’re putting into your training, and show you the results you wanted, faster.
Poor form can lead to injuries - from minor to serious - and there’s nothing worse than being put out of commission from a training injury. The recovery time needed can set you back weeks or even months of progress.
In this article, we’ll break down the do and don’ts, teach you how to be more conscious of your form, how to avoid the mistakes beginners make, and generally how to be more in tune with your body.
The Definition of “Form”
It would take many more pages to clearly articulate each exercise and it’s perfect form. There is a better way to define good form.
Good form is, by definition, the posture for a particular exercise that has two goals.
- Reduce the chance of injury for that movement
- Maximise the strength and muscles engaged to perform the movement.
If you’re avoiding an injury and using as much potential energy as your body can produce, that’s what good form is.
You don’t have to worry about having your toes pointed like a diver on your bench presses. You simply need to do the motion in such a way that doesn’t injure your body and works your muscle to their maximum potential.
The Pitfalls of Poor Form
When you’re operating in perfect harmony with your body, your muscles work together as a cohesive unit. You aren’t operating independent parts of your body, but using your body in its entirety. Your muscles are keeping your body stable and balanced. Your energy transfers effortlessly from one muscle group to another as you move, and you are in control the entire time.
Control is a good way to think about it. If you operate in good form, you have control over your movements, over the weight, and over your results.
But if you aren’t using optimal posture, you put your body at risk. If you’re unbalanced, you put too much strain on one muscle group. Your overworked muscles can’t transfer the load from one group to another. You are depending on one group of muscles doesn’t work other muscles, leaving them weak and underdeveloped. You can really do damage to your body if you aren’t aware of your body’s posture and movements. It won’t matter how much you can deadlift, if your lift ends up injuring your lower back.
Perfect vs Poor Form
Here are some examples of the common mistakes you can make in the gym if you’re not conscious of your form.
Let’s have a look at this squat.
On the left side, you can that his hips are in line with his knees and his back is straight, engaging his core muscles to keep him stable as he drops down and back up.
His back is rounded -he’s not engaging his core muscles to help keep him stable. His hips are above parallel to the floor, keeping most of the weight on his knees.
Let’s breakdown this deadlift:
In the correct form, his back is straight and his lift is coming from his hips and the explosive movement upwards. HIs hips act as a hinge, as the legs push upwards and he stands straight. As he reaches the highest point of the lift, his hips pop forward and the neutral spine keeps his glutes and quads engaged on the deadlift.
Notice that his back is once again rounded. He is putting a lot of this weight on his lower back, creating a risk for injury. This is the perfect example of why a poor form is so harmful. If he doesn’t maintain good form, it will injure his back. It’s not worth straining your back to get out an extra 5 kgs when an injury will completely stal your progress.
Now look at this squat.
See on the right, where his feet are planted to give him the best stability. His feet are directly underneath is shoulders, giving him a stable base and the power to drive upwards without injuring his body or straining his legs and knees.
In the poor examples on the left, his feet are either too wide or too close. This doesn’t give him any stability, and puts the weight in a perilous position.
Common Form Mistakes
Other poor form examples to watch out for include
- Flaring Out Elbows - During bench presses, overhead presses and pushups, your elbows should be pulled in to your body. Otherwise, this will stress your shoulders as they attempt to cover the load that your elbows aren’t.
- Using Pendulum Movements - If you can only do a curl by starting with some backswing, you aren’t in control of the motion. You might not be risking injury, but you aren’t training your muscles to their full potential either. Lower your weight and do it properly.
- Twisting Your Neck - Keep your neck neutral when performing an activity. Don’t look forward when doing a push-up. Look down. Keep your head level when squatting, not looking up as you push up. A neutral neck minimises your risk of injury on your neck and shoulders.
How to Practice Good Form
Good form is as simple as these four factors. The B.A.C.E. method is a good practice to remember for every lift you do.
Every movement you do in the gym, even if it’s a targeted motion like curls or lunges, involve your entire body. Keep your body in balance for the entire range of motion you are performing. Think about where your balance comes from. Your core muscles keep your entire body in check, from your diaphragm to your lower pelvic floor, to your obliques and abs. Keep these muscles engages as you work out so that you are maintaining a healthy balanced body
Balance is also about symmetry. Your body has the same muscles on either side of your body, so you need to work the muscles the same. Balance out your movements so that you aren’t relying on your stronger right side to do your overhead presses. Keep the same weights on the left and right bicep curls. Keep your whole body in balance with a symmetrical approach to every motion, doing the same sets on each side of your body.
Too many guys throw in their headphones at the gym and just go through the motions. Awareness is the key to keeping good form and performing your motions accurately and safely. How do you do that?
Start light. When you start to focus on posture and position, it helps to start with a lighter weight than you can handle. Much lighter. Focus on getting your movements as lose to perfect as you can before moving on to the bigger weights. Big weights tempt you to throw out form just to finish the set.
Get it Wrong on Purpose. Make a mistake of setting your feet too far apart. Cautiously lift a weight without using the right movements. Your body will tell you where the strain is so you can be aware of it. Get used to how it feels doing it wrong. When you attempt to do it right, you’ll be intune with your body’s warning signs that you are not lifting properly.
Lower Your Reps. 50 sloppy push-ups are worse than 25 good form push-ups. Every time. If your final few reps on a weight lift are sloppy, you aren’t getting the results you want. Lowering your reps forces you to think about your movements as well.
- Get Feedback. Set up a camera and record yourself performing the motions. Acting like your own coach, analyse the game footage to see how you can improve for next time. Pay attention to the beginning, middle, and end of your sets to see if your posture falters. Better yet, spend a few sessions with a personal trainer to get their expert opinion on your motion.
You should be able to stop your movement at any time along the way. Stop your curl halfway up. Stop your squat halfway down. A pause in the middle of a movement means that you are in control. This should tell your body that you have the right muscles engaged and you are maximizing your potential to lift that weight.
Slow down your movements as well. Take some time to do the rep at half-speed. If you don’t struggle with that, that means that you have complete control over the motion. Be deliberately slow in lifting the weight and lowering it down. You get benefits from both movements. These are the concentric and eccentric parts of the exercise and studies show they both matter to your results.
Being engaged means two things. It means that you have your muscles engaged in the movement from when you lift the weight until you put it down again. As you control the weight, you can feel the appropriate muscle groups working.. It’s like when you swing a bat or a golf club. Your follow-through is important to your form.
Being engaged also means not tuning out. Staying focused on your form ensures your not becoming unbalanced or shifting muscle groups. Losing focus for a second can put you at risk of doing damage to your body.
Remain engaged in your workouts and keep your mind on the task at hand. The better you are doing this, the easier it becomes.
Your Form Matters
From preventing injury to maximizing your gains, it matters that you perform each movement correctly. Take tutorials on new movements to gain some experience.
Keep your B.A.C.E. in mind as you workout, and your perfect form will pay off.