I cannot express to you how often I see people at the gym who execute moves using very heavy weights with poor form. Even worse, I have witnessed people executing moves with poor form under the instruction of their workout buddies! In this scenario, unfortunately, if your teacher uses poor form, you will be educated in poor form. This is one of the many benefits of hiring a professional trainer; they can teach you form and function as well as be your cheerleader (I’m not saying go out and spend money on a trainer, but if you have no formal training in an exercise, at least do some research and watch some visual demonstrations by professionals! The internet is an amazing resource of knowledge if used correctly.)
To compound this, there are also people who have poor body awareness or sensory input as they are performing exercises (This isn’t something to be ashamed of or find fault in. If you don’t know what you are supposed to be feeling, being aware and practicing proper sensory input can be difficult!)
Some examples of things I see on a regular basis…
Dead Lifting with the back,
Squatting on the toes,
Chest exercises performed with elbows 90* to the body,
Lunges emphasizing the quadriceps muscles and calves,
Just to name a few …
Performing exercises with poor form or lack of body awareness can lead to serious acute and chronic injuries that you can end up paying for ten-fold later in life or even immediately.
But wait just a minute now Ferret, I’ve been “Lifting improperly” according to you for a while now and have not experienced any injuries or chronic debilitation's that you are claiming.
Unfortunately, the damage you are causing will not always be immediately apparent (and in some cases can take a very long time to show at all!)
Like Carbon-Monoxide, improper lifting injuries will creep up on you slowly. Why? Well consider the following…
When you are first learning to walk, write your name, or ride a bike, the motions are shaky. The brain is trying to decipher and execute complex signals to the various muscle tissues in an effort to create stability and balance. Eventually, with enough repetition and practice, the moves become smoother and refined. The muscles and brain communicate with ease as the pattern becomes so pronounced it’s more like a move on autopilot than a concentrated effort.
This applies to improper form just as much as proper form. The brain starts to form the patterns of that motion, and like a rope being gently scraped across a rough surface, eventually the wear and tear will become too much for the structural integrity to support a load and,
That’s all she wrote. Game over man. Game over.
Proper form avoids that gentle wear, by distributing the weight along the axis and points of the body that are DESIGNED by nature to support load. It’s physics of the human anatomy and how we function against gravity.
When you fight nature and physics, you will always lose in the end. Ask anyone who’s fallen from a height and broken a bone.
Well now I’m scurred to lift heavy!
Don’t fret; there are ways to educate yourself and practice proper form with body awareness that don’t involve shelling out money to a professional to teach you.
Do a little research on the exercise you are trying to perform. The key points to take away are…
1.) Understand What Muscle(s) the Exercise is Supposed to Work
By understanding what muscle it is you are working, you can keep focus on that, and if you feel the tension leaving that muscle or it not activating at all, you may be performing the exercise incorrectly.
2.) Find Visual, Written, and Or Aural Presentation of How to Perform the Exercise
Many people fall into only one of the various methods in which they learn best. Be it a visual learner, reading learner, or auditory (hearing) learner, by exposing yourself to all styles you will be more opt to retain and understand the information.
3.) Keep It Light!
I know for some of us this seems wimpy, or like a waste of time. After all, go big or go home right? No! By keeping it light, you allow your body to not only go through the entire range of motion, you will be able to identify ranges at which your muscles are weak and strengthen the muscle and signal from the brain along the entire length of the muscle, not just one specific portion.
4.) Flex Those Muscles
I’m sure you’ve done it in the mirror, at home, or anywhere when you were sure no one was looking. You flexed your muscles without lifting a weight. By tightening and contracting the tissue you “warm” the brain up and tell it specifically where to send signals. Before starting any exercise, you should take the muscle through a “dry run” with just your bodyweight or no weight at all by flexing the muscle as you move it through the range of motion you will be using. This gets the brain focused, and will help your body awareness.
Whew! Now that that’s out in the open, I hope it will inspire you to check your form, and that of your friends! Friends don’t let friends lift dangerously.
The last thing I want to touch on quickly is some sensory input dialogue: Performing certain exercises sans shoes.
What now? No shoes? You crazy!?
Well … Yes, but that’s beside the point. Ever seen someone deadlifting or squatting bare foot?
There is in fact a method to the madness! Going barefoot gets you in touch with how weight is ACTUALLY distributed through your legs and feet. Being in shoes displaces the load from straight down, out to the sides as it creates an unrealistically wider surface than your foot actually is.
Granted, there is nothing wrong with performing these lifts in foot wear, but from personal experience, I can honestly tell you that transferring the weight to a natural position feels much better on the body; bones and muscles included!
Give it a try. If you don’t like it, no one says you have to keep doing it!
Take care everyone!