Form: Checkedy Check Yourself B4 You Wreck Yourself

Starting up an exercise program  is a great way to get fit and reach your goals. But in order to make sure that you don’t get hurt and unlock the full benefits of exercise, it’s important to use proper form in all exercises you perform. There’s a lot involved in proper form across all exercises, but luckily there are a few simple concepts to remember that work across most exercises.

1. The Right Angle

In general, the body loves 90 degree angles. Sticking to right angles in your movements prevent your joints from over extending or contracting past their natural range of motion. Going past this range can lead to damage and injury, especially when adding weight and resistance into the mix.

Another good way to measure this is to aim to keep things either parallel or perpendicular, or both. For example, let’s examine the basic squat. While everyone squats differently because of hip construction and mobility, there are basic tenets for the perfect squat. First, the goal is to get the thighs as close to parallel to the ground as possible. Second is to aim to get the shins and back parallel to each other. The goal is to get the knees to end up above the heels or the middle of the foot, rather than in front of the toes. By doing all of these, the back and shins will be close to perpendicular as possible, keeping them nice and straight and vertical. Then we stand back up, nice and straight, perpendicular to the ground.

For the deadlift, we have similar conditions. Bending at the hips is key, with that angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. Here the knees should be directly over the heels, with shins completely perpendicular to the ground, and back as close to parallel to the ground as possible. Again, we straighten out our body on the way up, standing straight and tall.

2. Embrace The Core

Bracing the core before and during an exercise is a great way to ensure proper form. By squeezing in across the core, as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach, you engage the transverse abdominus. The movement is more effective by tightening up the central area of the body, giving you a solid base to perform the movement. The act of bracing can also decrease the chance of a hernia and works to improve core strength along the way.

3. It’s All In The Hips

Muscle imbalances in the hips can be a big cause of lower back pain, neck pain, a loss of mobility, and greater chance of injury. Imbalances throughout the posterior chain can lead to improper pelvic tilt, knocking your posture out of whack and sending your body into chaos. The hips are like a bucket of water. Tilt them too far back, or too far forward, and you can spill the water and do some damage to the spine.

Check yourself out by standing sideways in front of a mirror, to see what your pelvic tilt is like. and taking note of what your lower back and posture is like. Many people have what’s called anterior pelvic tilt, where the pelvis tilts forward, and the butt sticks out, spilling that metaphorical water out the front. This can happen as a result of tight hip flexors and back muscles, as well as weak glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles. Test this by contracting your glutes and abdominals to even things out, and straighten out this area. If your hips tilt backwards, so your lower back curves too much inward, and that metaphorical bucket is pouring water out the back, you may have posterior pelvic tilt. This may happen as a result of tight glutes and abdominals, and weak hip flexors and lower back muscles.

Remedying either direction tilt can help improve back health, decrease pain, and increase mobility. Working to strengthen the weak muscles, and stretching the tight muscles and connective tissue can go along way to improving your situation. Remembering to reduce pelvic tilt when performing any exercise will help with muscle memory and strengthening your weak muscles, improving muscle imbalances and ensuring safe execution of your exercise of choice.

4. Pack the Shoulders

The shoulders are a complex multi-joint area, with a lot of potential for injury and imperfect form. Bringing the shoulder blades down and back, or packing them, engages the muscles around them, protecting the shoulder girdle and rotator cuff.

While all of these steps can still seem overwhelming, it’s important to start small and slow. Make sure to use proper progression in order to stay safe and really let the form habit stick. By following these principles, you’ll be working out safely and efficiently in no time.