Why Form Matters When Exercising

Her form is good, except for not having straight wrists!

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. Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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6 Responses to Why Form Matters When Exercising

  1. Dean Ouellette January 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Is that why my neck and back and shoulder and chest hurt?

    Kidding.. Great post, that is what I love about the gym i go to and the trainer. It is a constant focus on form. The first month all they did was correct my form over and over and work on form without weight when I wasnt getting it.

    You would like him Lisa, he has the alphabet soup of credentials after his name. Has like 6 of them

  2. Lisa Johnson January 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    LOL, that’s good! Although those alphabet qualifications are meant to be more important looking than they might actually be. Still, I know you’re smart and I’m sure he’s good. :)

  3. Kat January 25, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    There’s a girl at my gym that never does a full range of motion and it drives me crazy! Doesn’t matter if it’s curls, military press, or oblique work. She does 40-50% ROM and does them quickly. I’ve wanted to ask her why she does that, but know I’ll never get up the guts to say anything.

  4. Lisa Johnson January 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    and Kat, it won’t matter, she’ll be polite, do an eyeroll after you leave and just keep doing what she’s doing … sigh.

  5. Elaine January 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I am such a book person! Are there any titles you especially like and would recommend for me, a home exerciser? And, any non-textbook general exercise books that you like?

  6. Lisa Johnson January 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Wow Elaine good question and I have no idea! Honestly I learned form as I became a Pilates instructor and as I continue with my education with continuing education credits, I guess I would say if you’re using DVDs you want to find instructors who cue form. You’d be amazed how many don’t … shuffle to the right isn’t the same as “abs in, shoulders down, shuffle to the right” if you get my meaning. I’ll poke around a bit and see if I can find something … good question. L–

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