Wednesday 14 January 2015

Road to Workout - 7: Maintaining Form

   When you begin with strength training, learning correct form is vital. In fact it's more important than big weights. This is for two reasons. The first and most important is that, if you don't maintain form on certain movements, you could really injure yourself, and the second is that, if your form is off, you may well be using the wrong muscles and simply not be performing the moves correctly, and if that's the case it won't be as effective and you'll honestly just be wasting your time. Using a weight which is too heavy for you to keep control of will almost definitely cause your form to be off, and in that case, lifting that heavy weight will all be for nothing.

   Learning form isn't difficult. If you use a DVD the instructor will certainly tell you what you should and should not do, such as never let your knees pass your toes in a squat or a lunge. This is also information which is easily found on the internet via fitness websites or on Youtube. Simply searching "correct form for squats" will give you what you need.
   To make sure you get the form right, you'll need to think carefully about each aspect of the form while learning new movements. You may well find that it takes longer than expected to complete a set of squats when doing this because you're thinking constantly about where your knees are, but this isn't a bad thing. Speed isn't something that should be on your mind at all until you've mastered the form of a move, otherwise you really do risk injuring yourself and wasting your time by potentially performing your moves with 'shortcuts' - pressing your hands into your thighs as you come out of a squat, for example, rather than pushing yourself back upright with your legs alone while your hands rest on your hips or are clasped in front of you. Pressing your hands into your thighs when coming out of a squat will make the rise a lot easier because it takes the stress off of your quadraceps (thigh muscles), but reducing that stress reduces the work your thighs have to do. Half of the work in a squat is the unaided rise, and by pressing your hands into your thighs you're burning much fewer calories and your muscles are getting a much smaller workout, and given that squats are brilliant leg/bum exercises, you really don't want to decrease their effectiveness with such mistakes.

   If you simply make sure you pay attention to your form while learning a move, it will very quickly come naturally to you and your speed will increase, giving you more time for other moves in your circuit. If you try to do the moves without any real idea about form first and learn them wrong instead, when you do learn what you're doing wrong you could well have to learn the move all over again, and that's just boring.

   Just as you should never try to lift weights that are too heavy for you (always use a weight you can maintain complete control over, and if you're new to something, start small) you should never try to go too fast with moves, either. Going too fast means your moves won't be as deep, so they won't be working the muscles enough for you to get the full benefit, as well as the fact that your form could well fall apart. You should always focus more on making sure your form is perfect and going as deep into the moves as you can without falling/being unable to right yourself without breaking form. Never focus on speed when you're learning moves. Forget HIIT, forget Tabata, this shouldn't be touched for a long time.

   Below, I've listed a body weight circuit which uses five basic (but effective) moves, using - you guessed it - only your own body weight, and a dumbbell circuit which uses basic hand weights. I've also briefly explained their form and provided a link for each to offer greater detail and visual example. These are good movements to start with if you're new to body weight or strength training, and they can be done easily in your living room.
   Be sure to keep to one circuit, and use small weights. Only when you're confident with the movements should you increase the weight, sets or circuits. Always push yourself, but don't push yourself into something you can't do, or you risk injury, and nothing will set you back quite like that.
   Also, remember what I said in my last post, The Importance of Strength Training. A few of the women in the videos below are a bit muscular, and I feel right now that it's important to remind you that you don't gain muscle like that without hard work and dedication. Big weights don't make bulk.

Body Weight Circuit

Squat - 20 repetitions
Push-up - 10 repetitions
Walking Lunges - 20 repetitions
Plank - 10-20 seconds
Jumping Jacks - 30 repetitions

Compound move, using several muscle groups, and is a great all-over body move, not just for your legs and glutes. Contrary to popular belief, squats are not bad for your knees, but squats with bad form are.
Form: feet slightly wider than hips, toes turned outwards a little. Keep your chest up and lower yourself down by bending at the knees, lowering your bum back and down like you're going to sit down. Don't let your knees pass your toes. Keep your weight distributed over both your heels and balls of your feet. Keep your hands away from your thighs - either extend them out in front of you, clasp your hands at your chest or place them on your hips, but keep them off of your thighs.
Watch an example:

Compound move, engaging your whole body. You can do them on your knees, but by doing them this way you really lose a lot of the full-body benefit and just work the upper body instead, and that doesn't actually help you to progress onto a full body push-up.
Form: start in a plank - on your toes and your hands, arms straight. Hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders but your legs wherever they're comfortable, be that hip-width apart or wider. Your body should be a straight line throughout the move. Tighten your core and your bum, keeping yourself straight, and lower yourself slowly with your arms, elbows pointed back and out a little, but keep them as close to your body as possible. Lower yourself just above the floor and push back up.
This can be really, really hard. Elevated push-ups are a good place to start, which is all of the above, but instead of being on the floor, your hands are on something, like a park bench, aerobic step, chair etc.
Watch an example:

Walking Lunges
Form: Step one leg behind you and put your hands on your hips. Face forwards and keep your body straight, and lower yourself, bending at the knees. Your front leg should be bent at 90 degrees, and you should keep your lower front leg from passing your toes, keeping it as vertical as you can. Your back leg should also be 90 degrees, your knee just above the ground. Push yourself back up, stepping the back leg forwards. Move the other leg back and repeat, being aware of where your knees are the whole time, keeping your upper body straight and your eyes forwards.
Watch an example of a lunge:

Again, full-body move, and harder than it looks. It's essentially a push-up, but held at the top rather than lowering yourself. It's the same form: arms straight, keeping on your hands and toes, and engage your core, clench your bum and keep your shoulder blades pulled together, keeping your neck in line with your spine - not looking up or straight down.
Watch an example of a plank:

Jumping Jacks
Full body, but more cardio than strength-based.
Form: Stand straight, arms at your sides, feet together. Jump from the balls of your feet, widening your legs and raising your arms above your head via your side, landing with your feet wider than hip-width and hands above your head. Keep yourself as straight as you can and always land with a slight bend in your knee. Jump again, this time reversing the position to draw your feet back together and your arms to your sides, landing with a slight bend in the knee again.
Watch an example:

Strength Circuit

Bent-Over Row - 10 reps
Chest Flyes - 15 reps
Bicep Curls - 15 reps
Tricep Kickback - 10 reps
Shoulder Press - 15 reps

Bent-Over Row
Compound move with arms, shoulders, legs and lower back, but it's a brilliant exercise specifically for the latter.
Form: Bend the knees slightly and hinge forwards at the hips to bring your upper body almost parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight, chest up and head in line with your spine. Extend your arms down beneath you, arms straight, a dumbbell in each hand, hands facing backwards. Engage your core and keep your back straight, pull your arms up to raise the dumbbells to either side of your chest, elbows bent so your arms are bending at 90 degrees, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Keeping your back straight, lower the weights again so your arms are straight.
Watch an example:

Chest Flyes
This move is great for your shoulders and your pectoral muscles - fun fact, building up your pectoral muscles with chest flyes, push-ups and bench presses, your can give your breasts better lift and make them seem a little bigger.
Form: Start lying on the ground, a dumbbell in each hand, feet on the floor and knees bent. You won't be using this part of your body for this move, so it's really whatever is comfortable, though this will give you a little bit more stability. Raise your arms to the sky, with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing eachother. Make sure you keep your hands over your the top of your chest in this position, not above your head, and not above your stomach, you want to keep them in line with your shoulders at all times. Lower the dumbbells slowly out to the sides and down to the floor, but don't let them touch the ground. Keep a slight bend in your elbow throughout the move, then raise the dumbbells back over your shoulders to complete one rep.
Watch an example:

Bicep Curl
This move is isolated to the bicep - the front of the upper arm.
Form: Stand straight with a dumbbell in either both hands or just one, palm facing forwards. Keep your elbows pinned to your waist so that only your forearms move. Raise the weight to your shoulder and lower it again, using only your biceps. Think about the bicep muscles with each rep, this will help ensure you're only lifting with them.
Watch an example:

Tricep Kickback
This move is isolated to the tricep - the back of the upper arm.
Form: With right leg still standing on the ground, kneel the left on a chair or bench. Rest the left hand in front of the knee. With a dumbbell in the right hand, palm facing inwards, bend your arm at 90 degrees, elbow pointing backwards. Extend your right arm back behind you, keeping your upper arm as straight as you can, parallel to the ground. Think about raising it to the sky, but also think about lengthening it behind you as well, reaching both back and up. Complete the allotted reps on one side before switching over to the other side.
Watch an example:

Shoulder Press
This move is great for your shoulders and your upper arms.
Form: Stand with your feet hip width apart, a dumbbell in each hand and your arms held out to the side, your arms bent 90 degrees and your palms facing forwards. Engage your core and press the weights upwards, to almost straighten your arm. Be sure you drive upwards through the shoulders - keeping your mind on those muscles will help. Lower the weights back to the starting position of a 90 degree bend and press up again.
Watch an example:

   Every time you perform a strength move, be it with dumbells or body weight, always make sure your form is right. When you're starting out, that should be your number 1 focus, not speed, not number of sets or number of circuits, just form.  If it's off you could well end up wasting your time and even injuring yourself.

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