Everyday I work with dozens of clients, all at varying experience and fitness levels. And everyday, I correct these 5 things with most, if not all, of my clients, regardless of experience, strength or body awareness. I even have to check myself on these things when fatigue sets in.
- Momentum. Momentum is great when your trying to move with minimum effort, but your workouts should be maximum effort. That is if you want maximum results 😉 Let’s take basic squats for example… Most people will sit into their squat and stand up as quick as they can using momentum to bounce up and down. While increasing the speed of an exercise can increase the heart rate, it can also increase strain on the joints and decrease the work in the muscles, bummer. Keeping strength exercises at a moderate speed and actively engaging the targeted muscles ensures a full rage of movement, maximum benefit to the muscles and minimum pressure on the joints. It’s like I always say “Squeeze your glutes or no one else will want to”. Save the speed for your cardio intervals.
- A$$&$ and ELBOWS. Most trainers will coach the angle of the knees or shoulders to coach form, which is not a bad thing at all! But many postural misalignments can be addressed by the position of the hips and the elbows, yes the elbows (those knobby things in the middle of your arm). Again, think about a squat, but this time, with a weighted bar on your back. Pushing your butt backwards and pulling your elbows forward will push your weight into your heels and straighten your spine, automatically correcting the angle of the knees. Pulling your elbows in the right direction in a row will keep the work in the back rather than the neck. And keeping the hips in line with the shoulders and the elbows tracking close to your ribs and pointing toward your feet will create the perfect tricep push up.
- Belly Flops. Letting it all hang out isn’t something we want to do at the beach or during our workout. Keeping the core tight, but not sucked in, protects the low back, helps keep you in alignments and you get the added “Belly Bonus” of a stronger core, even without core specific exercises. Let’s go back to your squat. Now that you have your hips and elbows in the right place and you’re focusing the work in the muscles, it’s time to be mindful of your middle. Imagine someone is about to throw a bowling ball at your stomach and brace for it, just don’t hold your breath.
- To get lighter, you can’t lift lighter. Most people (especially women) don’t lift heavy enough weights. While there are some occasions where minimum weight is required (post injury or surgery for example), most of us should lift a weight that fatigues the muscle quickly while still able to maintain proper form. You want to feel the “burn” around 10 reps and be totally wiped out by 20 reps. If you’re not making really crazy facial expressions and sounds towards the end of your set, you’re not lifting heavy enough. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK! A few questions to ask yourself to put it into perspective… “How heavy is your purse?”, “How heavy is the child that you carry around on your hip?”, “How much weight do you lift/use during body weight exercises?”. My guess is that those things are far heavier than the 5 lb dumbbells you typically reach for.
- How low can you go? On rare occasions I have to correct clients for going too far while doing squats (usually those who have previously attended a Crossfit gym) or other exercises. But for the most part, clients stop short of “full range”. There is a very specific “sweet spot” when it comes to the range of an exercise. With lunges, squats, push-ups and other “push” exercises, you want to create a 90 degree bend in the working joint(s). For example, a perfect squat stops when the top of the thighs are parallel to the floor. When it comes to “pull” exercises make sure to fully extend. In a bicep curl, for example, the arms should extend completely each rep. I often tell clients to touch the dumbbells or bar to their thighs each rep to ensure they are not stopping short. When you think you’ve gone low enough, go another 1/2 inch (unless you’re an ex-crossfitter, of course).
Do these five things with every strength exercise and you’ll see strength gains and muscle definition faster, plus you’ll likely avoid strains and pains along the way 😉
A few pro-tips:
Use a mirror! Cheesy gym selfies and pampas meat heads give gym mirrors a bad image. (See what I did there, mirror…image, AHHAHAHA) But seriously, gym mirrors are there for a reason. We aren’t always fully aware of our body, especially if we are tired, so mirrors can help you see what’s going on with your form or range. Use a full length mirror at home too. Even your reflection in the nearest window is helpful, after all, you’re checking your body alignment, not those stray eyebrow hairs.
Learn how it’s supposed to FEEL. Pay attention to where you are feeling the “burn” of the exercise. If you’re doing squats but your low back is screaming, something is not right. If something feels too easy, it’s probably not right! “If it’s burnin’, it’s workin’.”