Since I know you want fanatatic results and a long, injury-free lifting career, I encourage you to spend a good amount of time learning proper weightlifting form. As I say in the Strength Training for Beginners guide, without beautiful, flawless form you’ll at best see lame progress and at worst injure yourself. Commit to an ongoing, nonnegotiable process of having checkpoints for every lift – every time.
Following are my special tips to help you have flawless form for any exercise. Always check instructions for individual exercises, too.
- Perform exercises through a full range of motion – no partial reps (an advanced technique that purposely uses partial reps and a spotter).
- Maintain your spine in a neutral position; that is, for most exercises do not excessively round or arch your back. Brace your core to protect your spine. At times a natural arch is a required, such as during deadlifts and squats. In these cases a natural curve in your back and a tightened core is beneficial to protecting your spine.
- Keep your eyes level during all movements and your neck neutral. Remember, “face follows sternum.” Do not look up during squats and deadlifts. At the bottom you should be looking at the floor, or the direction your sternum is facing.
- If you can’t maintain proper form, lower the weight.
- Keep your shoulders down and back. Never bunch up or protract your shoulders.
- Activate and contract your glutes. “Sleeping glutes” is a common affliction; it means your glutes do not fire properly when they should. This causes other muscles to overcompensate, such as your back and quadriceps. Concentrate on squeezing your glutes during all exercises and actively engaging them.
- Do not use momentum to complete a rep (unless the exercise specifically calls for it, such as kettle bell swings). When you swing your body during bicep curls, for example, the momentum prevents your biceps from doing the work.
- Work up to using a barbell. Don’t stick with preweighted barbells forever – once you have enough strength go for the big boy.
As a personal trainer, I see the trouble areas most people have with form! That’s why I ask my online clients to send me videos of themselves doing certain exercises. Once you can squat and hip hinge properly, you’ll feel confident about doing any lower-body exercises with ease.
Learning to properly hip hinge is the cornerstone of proper weightlifting form. You’ll hinge for kettlebell swings, deadlifts, and many other exercises. A correct hip hinge will help you engage your posterior chain while avoiding driving your knees forward and placing too much stress on them. The hip hinge is simply beginning a movement by pushing your hips backwards before they lower towards the floor. This means that your hips move back before you knees bend.
To learn to properly hip hinge, place a broomstick behind your back with your arms as shown. The broomstick should touch the back of your head, your spine, and your butt. Keep your legs mostly straight (not locked) and push your hips backwards without bending your knees too much. Maintain contact with the broomstick against all three points while keeping the spacing between your hand and lower back.
While you shouldn’t let you knees lean forward excessively during squats or lunges, it’s a myth that you should “never let your knees go past your toes.” When you initiate squats or lunges by hip hinging, your knees remain protected even if they go past your toes.
The length of your femurs and shins will dictate much of how you squat, but if you ever feel pain, stop and have your form evaluated by a qualified personal trainer.
Part of proper weightlifting form is knowing how to take care of your shoulders– one of the most commonly injured joints. So let’s talk about which grip is best.
My preferred grip for upper-body exercises is a neutral grip – palms facing each other. This grip puts your shoulders in the most natural position. If you’re using a barbell you obviously can’t have palms facing each other, but a neutral grip can be used with dumbbells or cables (e.g., pull ups, rows, chest presses, and shoulder presses).
An extra-wide or narrow grip is usually not a good thing for your shoulders. Hands just outside your shoulders or right under your shoulders works best for most exercises.
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.