Every person’s body is different and, for that reason, proper form is hard to define. For example, one person’s “proper” squat can look much different than another person’s squat because their range of motion (ROM) and flexibility levels vary. Some individuals can squat well below the height of their knees due to flexibility in their hips, knees, and ankles, while others have resistance in one or more of those areas preventing them from getting lower — which plays a big role down the line when it comes to proper weightlifting form.
No matter your strength or flexibility, it’s possible to exercise with proper form — our 8fit app will show you how! Once you start workout out with 8fit, you’ll also notice that we suggest warming up before and stretching after your HIIT workouts to ensure you’re continually improving your ROM and flexibility.
Why proper form is important
Proper form is always fundamental, but it’s especially important when you add weights or resistance to your workouts. That extra load forces your muscles to work hard to get stronger, but it also makes them more susceptible to injuries. Before we dive into proper weightlifting form tips and tricks, let’s talk more about exercise form, in general.
The most significant benefits of executing exercises with proper form are…
You’re able to target the intended muscle groups for the specific exercise you’re performing in a pain-free way.
You reduce the risk of injury and grow stronger.
Common form issues
There are two main things to pay attention to when maintaining proper form while exercising: one is the core and the other is the scapula. Whether you’re performing a plank, a lunge, squat or deadlift, keeping your core engaged will stabilize your body and protect your spine. A retracted scapula — the action of relaxing your shoulders down and back to open your chest — protects your shoulders and neck when executing a number of movements. If you focus on these two things, you’ll be able to maintain proper posture and a safe position while exercising.
That said, posture isn’t the only thing to focus on during exercise. Here are some other issues you might encounter:
ROM: Range of motion is the full movement potential of a joint, that is, how long it can bend and straighten. Though the answer to improving ROM might sound simple — *cough*, stretch! — it’s not that easy. For example, ankle ROM might impact one person’s squat while hip ROM might impact another. To improve their respective squats, these individuals need to work on improving flexibility in those areas of the body.
Movement patterns: For you to reap the full benefits of an exercise, your body must move with proper form. However, the body naturally moves in the path of least resistance. This can be troublesome for people with different skeletal imbalances or individual ROM issues. For example, if your right knee is tighter than your left, your left glute might come a bit lower than your right at the bottom of your squat. Allowing this to happen more and more over time will encourage more muscular and skeletal imbalances.
Control: Control is especially important when lifting weights or doing an exercise with a heavy bodyweight load (inverted push-ups, pull-ups, and dive bombers). Generally speaking, unless you’re an Olympic weightlifter or crossfitter, you shouldn’t use momentum when lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises. Using momentum could recruit some unintended muscle groups for the exercise and create unneeded stress on the body (especially the back), restricting strength-gain and leading to possible injury.
Breathing: Don’t hold your breath! Often the importance of breathing is overlooked when exercising, especially strength training. It’s important to exhale when you perform a rep (concentric phase) and inhale during the relaxation part of the movement (eccentric phase). The exhale helps contract the core (stabelization) and generates more power for the movement.
Proper weight lifting form tips
As mentioned earlier, you multiply the risk of injury (as well as benefits) when you add load (resistance bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells). Added weight puts more stress on your joints and back. Here are some tips to maintain proper weightlifting form:
Practice: Before you even pick up the weight, practice the movement without weights. This way, your body can feel the movement before you add weight.
Check your posture: In between every rep, do a lightning-fast body scan and make sure your posture is perfect. Ask yourself, Is my core engaged? Is my scapula retracted?
Maintain control: The second that your form slips or you notice you’re relying on momentum, you’ve reached your limit.
Common form mistakes and how to avoid them
The most common exercises performed incorrectly include squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and planks. Before you add weight or resistance to any of these exercises, make sure your form is on-point. Let’s talk details.
The squat and deadlift are two exercises that can become quite dangerous when you add an extra load as they put a tremendous amount of strain on your spine. Common mistakes that occur when squatting include knees caving inwards, knees extending past the toes, the hips not moving back far enough, and distributing your weight too far forward into your toes. These form issues might not relate to immediate injuries but can lead to problems over time. Our best advice is to only go as deep into a squat as your body allows without pain and without sacrificing form. When executing a deadlift, take care not to hyperextend and push the hips too far forward when you stand.
Push-ups are another exercise often performed incorrectly. The most common mistake is rooted in ROM — that is, going way too low or not low enough. You should go down as far as you can without feeling pain in your shoulders or wrists, aiming to get so low that your chest touches the ground. Other push-up mistakes have to do with posture — hunched shoulders, inactive core or lifted hips. Your body should stay in a straight plank position throughout the entire push-up movement.
Time to talk planks! The plank is one of our favorite core exercises but is also performed incorrectly from time-to-time. The perfect plank position (whether on your hands or elbows) is one that creates a straight line from your heels to your head. We often see 8fitters lifting their hips too high or allowing the hips to slump down too low. Make sure your shoulders don’t tense up toward your ears or scrunch together. To avoid injury and build strength, always keep your core engaged and use a mirror to check your hip position.
To learn how to do different exercises correctly, sign up for the 8fit app! Exercise how-tos will help your perfect your exercise form, making proper weight lifting form come naturally.