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Maintaining Proper Form

Updated: Mar 17

When strength training, your body is being put through strenuous activity, so it's important to maintain proper form during your workout to avoid injury and to get the best out of your workout.

When strength training, your body is being put through strenuous activity, so it's important to maintain proper form during your workout to avoid injury and to get the best out of your workout. But what is proper form exactly? This will guide you step-by-step to what proper form really means, giving you a more efficient and effective workout.

First things first, before you go to the gym and start picking up weights, get with a friend or trainer who is experienced at exercise. They will show you how to do a proper squat, chest press, shoulder raise, bicep curl, triceps extension and so on. You will be surprised at how easy it is to go through a workout thinking you are doing it correctly just for you to find out that you haven’t been engaging your abdominal muscles or keeping good posture the entire time. Not only can this lead to injury, it can lead to muscle imbalances and a waisted workout. 

Maintain Good Posture

One of the first things to focus on is posture. Here are the basics: stand tall with your chest lifted and your arms naturally at your side. Keep your shoulders rolled back, down away from ears to relieve any tension in your neck. Now, keep your core engaged by tightening it while thinking about keeping your belly button tucked in toward your spine. The stronger your core, the more effective you will be at lifting weights. 

Use Strength, Not Momentum

In your next exercise class, you will hear the instructors' cues throughout the session to keep your core engaged, knees behind your toes during your lunges and squats and so on. You will also notice some exercises move quickly and as you keep up, you might find yourself swinging the weights around just so you can complete that final rep. That is a big, “No no.” Momentum will not help you gain muscle, but only put pressure in places other than the muscles being worked. For example, if you are swinging the weight during the last couple of reps during a bicep curl, your low back may try and help out, eventually leading to low back pain

As a rule of thumb, use weights that will challenge you for 12 -15 reps. This weight should begin to make your muscles fatigue right around that 12th rep, and you should then leave the next couple or more reps in the "tank." If the weight is too heavy to get to 12 or too light, then you will know. Slow and controlled is also key here. More is not always better; keep your curling, standing, pressing or pulling phase last four seconds, hold for two seconds (isometric), and then one second back to start.

“By utilizing slower eccentric and isometric actions, more demand is focused on the connective tissue and stabilizing muscles, preparing the nervous system for future functional movements,” according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Breath Correctly

Your breathing matters here, too, which is a common mix up I see a lot with my clients.  Proper breathing has a big effect on your performance. Plus it can lead to more fatigue or even dizziness if not done right. Breathing correctly will also help slow down muscle fatigue by ensuring that your muscles receive the oxygen they need. You want to inhale deeply through the nose and exhale fully through the mouth.

When you inhale and exhale the right time during a strength workout and even while running, biking or hiking, you are getting oxygen to your muscles more efficiently meaning you can push harder and get better results. So here is how to remember the right breathing pattern: 

Think: inhale as you lower, exhale as you push, pull, press or lift. I always tell my clients to exhale on the hardest part of the exercise to help them to remember and get used to that same breathing pattern. So, the exhale should happen with the concentric part of an exercise (the resistance/effort) and inhale with the eccentric part (the yielding part). For example, if you're doing a shoulder press, you want to exhale as you press the dumbbells overhead and inhale as you lower them.

Note: Many people get poor posture from their daily careers such as working and sitting all day at a desk, or constantly leaning forward trying to clean or change dirty diapers. Or maybe you work in construction and are constantly reaching up. Try working on the muscles of your upper back while stretching your chest muscles. Take breaks at work to prevent upper-cross syndrome (or a slouch/rounded upper back). When you are constantly in the same position for most of the days, this causes some muscles to get weak and over stretched while the opposing muscles get tight. Your trainer will be able to see this in your evaluation so you can work on correcting muscle imbalances and get your poster back where it should be.

Important Points to Keep in Mind

Your trainer will guide you through the motions and cue your form (engage your abs, stand tall, roll shoulders back, chest forward, etc.). Here is why it's important:

  • Improper form can lead to injury

  • You won't gain benefits of exercise

  • Proper form will help you reach your full range of motion, gaining all the benefits.

  • Improper form places unnecessary stress on our joints and tendons.

Ask your trainer to help you with your form! Head to to find a trainer and get started.

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