No matter what kind of exercise you’re doing, you need to think about your form – in other words, your posture and body movements throughout the exercise. Good form is essential to minimize your risk of injury and maximize the effectiveness of your injury, but “good form” is a generic and sometimes unhelpful term.
What is it that separates good form from bad form? How can you tell if you have bad form? And what should you do to correct your form?
The Importance of Form
Good form is important for two main reasons: safety and efficiency.
From a safety perspective, good form allows you to ensure you can support weight properly and minimizes your risk of injuring yourself. For example, when bench pressing with dumbbells, it’s generally recommended that you hold your arms at 45-degree angles; if you bench at 90-degree angles, you could put undue stress on your shoulders, eventually leading to a shoulder injury.
More egregious violations of proper form can lead to much more serious injuries; for example, if your spine is improperly aligned while squatting, you could end up with a grievous back injury, or you could end up dropping a massive amount of weight.
From an efficiency perspective, good form ensures that you’re working the appropriate muscle groups you want to target and allows you to maximize the value of each repetition. Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are designed to target multiple muscle groups simultaneously; with bad form, you might end up neglecting one of those groups.
So how can you determine whether you have good form and how can you eliminate bad form if it affects you?
Step One: Understand Good Form
The first step of the process is understanding what good form truly is for each exercise. There are several ways you can do this:
- Work with a personal trainer. The fastest and most efficient way to do this is to work with a personal trainer. Personal trainers are professionally educated and experienced, meaning they have the knowledge necessary to instruct you on proper form and they’ll be capable of reviewing your form in person to make sure you’re doing things correctly.
- Observe videos and read guides. If you don’t have the budget for a personal trainer, or if you want faster feedback, observe videos and read guides. Many gyms have diagrams and charts to show you the proper form for various exercises. You can also conduct a search for any exercise and quickly figure out what bad form and good form look like for it. Make sure to look at multiple sources to verify that your information is accurate.
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re in a public environment. Most gym regulars would be happy to help you perfect your form.
Step Two: Monitor Yourself
Once you understand what good form looks like, you can start monitoring yourself.
- Important signs. There are several important physical signs you may notice when you have poor form. For example, most squat exercises recommend that you keep your feet shoulder-width apart; when you notice that your feet are too wide or too narrow, you can make adjustments.
- Mirrors. You should also make good use of mirrors; this is one reason why gyms usually have full-length mirrors throughout the environment. For example, when looking in a mirror during an overhead press, you may notice that your hands are misaligned, or you aren’t standing up straight.
- Video recordings. If you don’t have access to mirrors, or if you’re in a position where mirrors aren’t going to be helpful, try setting up a camera and video recording yourself. You can review the footage when you’re done with the exercise and see what it looks like from an external perspective.
Step Three: Watch for Signs of Bad Form
If you have bad form, you may be able to notice with the following signs.
- Pain. If at any point in the exercise you feel physical pain, stop. Most pain, aside from the general muscle tension you experience when lifting weight, is a result of poor form. Other types of pain may stem from personal injury, which is also a sign to stop temporarily.
- Strain in unintended areas. Do you notice muscle strain or other tension in an area where it shouldn’t be? This could also be a sign of poor form.
- Changing posture with increased weight. When you increase weight for a specific lift, do you notice your posture changing? Slipping could be a sign that your form is deteriorating.
Step Four: Get an Outside Opinion
If you want to take form seriously, consider getting an outside opinion. Just because it feels like you have proper form doesn’t mean you do. It’s a good idea to talk to an expert who can give you an unbiased viewpoint and more experienced perspective. Personal trainers are your best bet here, but you could also talk to people who seem to know their way around a gym.
Correcting Bad Form
If you do notice yourself having poor form, don’t fret – it happens to most people when starting a new exercise regimen.
- Start light. Relearn the exercise and start out with a light, easy weight. You can even work with resistance bands before progressing to heavier weights.
- Focus on perfection first. Before you try to increase reps or increase weight, master your form; it should be your highest priority.
- Keep monitoring. Even after you feel like you’ve mastered form, keep an eye on it – there’s always a chance you could slip back into bad habits.
If you’re concerned that your form isn’t correct, or if you just want to maximize your safety while working out, don’t leave anything to chance. It’s a good idea to work with a professional personal fitness trainer, at least at the beginning, to make sure you’re doing things right.
If you’re ready to get started, or just want some more information, contact me directly today!
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.
Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.
To work with Nathan directly on your personal training goals, contact him today!