Correct Weight Lifting Form and Technique
By Bodybuilding Science
There are two major reasons that people don't lift weights correctly in the gym. The most common reason is that a person is trying to lift more then they are able. We've all seen it. The guy curling 200 pounds that has to rock back and forth like a mental patient to get every rep up. Now, I'm not saying that cheating is always bad, it has it's place, but don't think that curling 100 pounds by throwing your back into it is going to be any more beneficial for your biceps then doing 70 pounds with good form. If you have to cheat on your first rep, get a lower weight. The second reason for the prevalence of bad form is improper instruction. Most of us we're never taught weight lifting formally. The lucky ones had a coach who knew what he was doing, but even so, that may have been many years ago. The main way people learn their weightlifting technique, and most thing for that matter, is by watching other people. Maybe you started with the right idea, but saw someone lift their back up on a difficult bench press rep, or throw their back into a curl. These small changes over time add up and erode your once flawless form. So here is a short, general reminder that will keep you injury free and on the road to consistent gains.
Many of us are aware of the short term effects of using more weight than we can handle: sprains, strains, dislocations, and even fractures. But just because your bad form doesn't hurt today, doesn't mean you aren't damaging your body in ways that will manifest in the future. Long-term improper lifting technique can result in rotator-cuff damage, nerve damage, and bone and muscle stress. Most of these injuries won't kill you, but they will keep you out of the gym while you heal. Take it from personal experience, a few months of sitting on your couch waiting to heal, and those hard built muscles start to shrink. It's a sad sight. Luckily, there are many things you can do to make sure this doesn't happen to you.
An optimal situation is to ask a professional to show you the correct range of movement for exercise, however this can be expensive (and embarrassing). So if you follow these general rules, you should be safe:
1. Set realistic goals
Don't expect to gain 10 pounds on your bench every week. It is often these unrealistic goals that get people into trouble. Putting more weight on the bar doesn't mean you can lift it. The rule I go by is I add 5 pounds if I can do 12 reps in a set. The key is to find a measurement based on your performance, not on time. Some days you grow faster, some days you grow slower, but if you rush it you will be flat on your back shrinking.
Let me explain what a hernia is. Hernia refers to any body tissue stick out where it's not supposed to be. The type of hernia associated with heavy lifting is inguinal. This occurs predominantly in men. What happens is if you hold your breathe while lifting (which many of us unconsciously do) your muscles squeeze on blood vessels and your blood pressure goes momentarily through the roof. When all this pressure builds up, it has to escape somewhere, and it goes for the weakest point, which in many men is the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal is located near the junction of the thigh and pelvis near the scrotum area. This is where your guts literally pop out of the small hole and push against your skin. It's painful and frightening and requires surgery to correct. In addition, it may cause you to never be as ferocious of a lifter as you once were. All this can be prevented if you simply breathe. Eventually it will become second nature and you won't even have to think about it, but to get yourself trained to do it right follow these rules: Breathe in on your easy stoke of the movement (like lowering the bar while doing bicep curls) and breathe out during your hard stroke of the movement (like raising the bar). It is important that you not hold your breathe in between these two strokes, even for a few seconds. Go straight from inhale to exhale. This is super important and often over looked by beginners.
3. Train evenly
In order to prevent injury, train opposing muscle equally. If you only do chest exercises and never back, you will develop a hunched over appearance as the muscles on your front pull more strongly than the muscles on your back. This also increases your chance of injuring your back and back injuries take a long time to heal. This goes for all sets of front and back muscles. I've seen first hand sprinters with huge quads demolish their hamstrings in a race because they trained their legs disproportionately. And on this note, although it probably won't affect your health, train your legs! Nothing looks sillier than a beefy strongman with chicken legs.
Unless you have one-in-a-million genetics or are one some serious steroids you cannot work out everyday, twice a day. Your body adds muscle to your frame while you are resting, not while you are working out. If you don't give your body the rest it needs, you will overtrain and eventually strain your muscles. I know adding muscle is slow going, but working out twice a day isn't going to make it go any faster.
5. Eat a lot!
Your body needs food to repair the damage you did to it in the gym and to build muscles bigger than they were before. Make sure you get enough balanced, healthy calories in a day and most importantly make sure you have enough protein to rebuild. For information on how much protein you should consume, check out our article on protein consumption and make sure you're getting enough. This is the number one thing that keeps most dedicated lifters from achieving their potential size.
That's it. Theses simple rules will keep you injury free and growing limitlessly. If you want a more in depth treatment, two great books on the subject are Weight Training for Beginners or a more advanced guide in the always fantastic Book of Muscle. Be safe and get big.