Years ago I was in a hotel in Las Vegas watching a pro football player get trained by a team trainer. The guy was doing bicep curls and complaining about how much his back was hurting him lately. While pumping 65-pound weights.
Sounds impressive, right? Well, the problem was he couldn’t actually do a 65-pound bicep curl; it was too heavy for him, even though he could still get the weight up to his shoulder … How? He was leaning back, severely arching his back to lift the weight up.
Back then I was still a new Pilates instructor and I thought I could help him, so I walked up as politely as possible and said to both of them, “I know why your back hurts. The weight is too heavy; drop to 50 pounds and lift it right.”
They sneered at me and walked away. Yeah, I was real effective. (By the way, it was a player for the Dallas Cowboys; I have no idea who … )
Now I know a pro-NFLer is taking a lot of abuse on the field, but he wasn’t helping himself any by using bad form off the gridiron. He might have actually shortened his career because of it. That’s dumb.
Likely, you’re not a pro athlete looking to extend a multi-million dollar career, but bad form, at it’s best, is ineffective. At it’s worst, it can injure you. Form matters, a lot.
The motto in my studio (honestly, I use it daily) is “Form first. Strength second.” Do the exercise right and then you can try doing it at the heaviest weight you can handle. Otherwise you’ll wind up like that Cowboy, heaving weight around using any body part that gets the weight from Point A to Point B even if it means you’re doing more harm than good.
How Do You Learn Good Form?
Good question. If an athlete couldn’t get an elite trainer to keep his form in check, what prayer do you have? I’ll give you one tip: don’t look to see what someone else is doing in the gym. Likely, they’re doing it wrong! Here are some tips:
Hire a good trainer. Look for a top-notch trainer which high-level credentials. If you want to be super picky, look for someone with a college degree in kinesiology or physiology. They really know how to move you in the right directions. Other good credentials are NSCA or ACSM personal training certifications.
Consider buying a text book. I live in a University town, so I frequently go to the college bookstore at the end of the semester and pick up a used text book or two. You can do the same (or just look online) for textbooks on proper form. The ACSM bookstore is a great place to look for titles.
Join a professional fitness network. IDEA Fit is a great organization and anyone can purchase an annual membership for as little as $99. One of IDEA’s strengths is its extensive video library with lots of clips featuring professionals breaking down exercises and cueing proper form. For the cost of about 90 minutes with a personal trainer, you can have a year’s worth of good, solid information.
Have you ever seen form so bad you cringed? Did you try to correct it or just shake your head sadly and keep moving? I have to say since that Vegas incident many years ago I’ve only intervened twice and that was when a gym member was clearly on the verge of killing themselves so I yelled at them. They were so shocked they stopped and actually listened to me. Heh.