Before you head out to the gym, be sure you're packing more than just a towel. You'll also need an understanding of proper exercise technique to optimize benefits and avoid injury. Here are some tips to get you started.
Warming-up and Stretching:
No matter your fitness level, a warm-up and stretching routine is required prior to any workout.
Your warm-up should consist of about 10 minutes on any piece of cardio equipment. The key is to push just hard enough to elevate your body temperature and increase blood flow to the muscles.
Another option is to park a 10-minute walk from the gym, which can be a welcome change of scenery on sunny days.
Once you have warmed up, you should follow a pre-set flexibility program. The order is important because soft tissue flexibility increases with skin temperature elevation, and following a carefully planned stretching routine helps to prevent neglect of any major muscle group.
Also, as a type of ongoing warm-up, always begin each new exercise with one set performed at only moderate weight.
The Main Cause of Poor Form:
Poor exercise form almost universally stems from attempting to lift too much weight. This still too common mistake leads to limited range of motion and engagement of the wrong muscle groups, thus reducing physical benefit and increasing the risk of injury.
If your goal is to improve strength, do not overload or sacrifice form; instead, lift at your maximum comfortable limit, but also lower repetitions to approximately six and allow more time for rest between sets.
What Good Form Looks Like:
You will know good form when you see it because it is slow, smooth, and complete with the full intended range and no jerking to begin or finish the movement. For instance, many initiate standing barbell curls by using the momentum of their shifting body weight to swing the bar to their chest and then end by letting the weight drop back to their legs.
On the contrary, good form entails controlled, steady motion throughout with no movement in the body. Another common flaw in form is utilizing unintended target muscles. For instance, when performing cable pull-downs, many use primarily their arms, shoulders, and, again, even their body weight to move the cable, despite the fact that this is really a back-muscle exercise. This generally leads to underdeveloped back muscles and over-trained, often injured, arms and shoulders.
Proper exercise technique also means discussing preexisting injuries with your physician, as exercises for these areas should likely be performed only within your pain-free ranges of motion.
Shaun Karp is a certified personal trainer. For more info, call 604-420-7800 or visit www.karpfitness.com.
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