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Form is a 4-letter word

I believe that it’s important to have good form in everything that we do. As a certified Spinning instructor and personal trainer I watch the folks I work with like a hawk. There’s a great saying: It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. In one Spinning class a participant said, after being nagged by me about his form, “Form is a 4 letter word beginning with F”. It’s easy to guess his true feelings about my nagging. Still, poor form can get us into trouble, especially when it comes to exercise.

It is a little easier to get away with poor form in cardio activities like running or cycling but when it comes to weight lifting in can be the difference between getting stronger or being sidelined. There are a few factors that contribute to working with good form. They are:

  • Start with a weight that is much lighter than you can lift. It’s true that increased strength comes from lifting an amount that will tax your muscles but until you can lift well, lifting too much is dangerous.
  • Take the time to educate yourself on the proper way to do a weight lifting exercise, then work with a buddy or a mirror for feed back. Working with a certified personal trainer is also an option.
  • Moving slowly is always important. This is true not only when you’re learning a new exercise but when you’ve mastered it and are lifting heavier weight. The muscles have to work harder when the action is slow. Try it!
  • The safest range of repetitions is 10 – 20. If fewer than 10 reps can be completed, the weight is too heavy. When you can safely lift a weight 20 times it is okay to add some weight and start the process again.
  • Never, ever feel pain in a joint. That includes wrist, elbows, shoulders, knees, hips or ankles. Did I miss anything? If you do, something is wrong with your form.
  • If at any time during a workout you find that your form is failing, stop what you’re doing. You’ve had enough. Another saying comes to mind in this moment: Quit while you’re ahead.
  • Always build in a 48-hour rest period between weight workouts of specific muscles groups.

While all of these factors are key to a safe and productive workout the most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s your workout. It’s not a competition with anyone else, so don’t look at the person beside you at the gym and think you should be able to do more than them. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be a competition with yourself either.  Every day is different. Pay attention to how your body is feeling and push it just enough to make it feel better than it did before you walked into the gym in the first place.

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