A while ago I sought out a fitness pro to help me reboot my workout. After a couple of months I came away with a renewed enthusiasm for exercise and a slew of tips. For newbies and the seasoned veteran alike, these takeaways stand the test of time and help you to train smart.
1. Posture first.
Before you pick up that weight and dive into your first set, take a moment to align the spine and engage the core. Stand tall, roll your shoulders back and broaden your chest; engage your abs to protect your back and lightly squeeze your glutes. You are now officially in correct posture and ready to take on the world, or at least your workout. Poor posture and misalignment of the spine can negatively affect your range of motion and create muscle fatigue or worse, injury.
2. Bend at the knees.
It doesn’t matter if the target in question is your cell phone, your water bottle or a set of heavy dumbbells — use your knees to bend when you retrieve an object off of the floor. Bent knees keep the back aligned and supported. Backaches are the result of overworking the muscles of the back and can be a chronic source of discomfort. Create the habit now and protect yourself in and out of the gym.
3. Respect the forearms.
Like Rodney Dangerfield, the forearms get no respect! They aren’t particularly sexy and rank low on the list of physique “trouble spots,” so most exercise plans fail to include them. Strong forearms provide stability and offer grip strength. Exercises like the pull-up and the deadlift get easier if you don’t rely solely on your grip. You don’t need heavy weight to work the forearms; grab some light dumbbells and knock out a few sets of wrist curls while you watch TV.
4. Speaking of wrists.
The wrists are big babies and we need to protect them at all costs. Maintain proper form and keep those wrists stick straight when performing exercises such as the bench press, straight bar curl or lateral raise. A bent wrist will limit your lifting ability and give out before the working muscle. Wrist flexion exercises will help keep wrists strong, pain free and in tip-top working order.
5. Avoid the tightrope lunge.
Don’t lunge like you are walking on a 2 by 4. A wider step involves all the muscles of the hip (more bang for your lunge buck) and is easier on the knee joint. It’s not dramatic; as you step forward move your foot out approximately 6 inches.
6. Focus forward.
Many lifters habitually tilt their head back when performing a heavy squat in an attempt to keep their back erect and their shoulders from rounding forward. For safety, squats should be performed with a neutral spine. Keep your focus on your own eyes if you are facing a mirror or straight ahead, not up, to keep the spine correctly aligned. Lighten the load or only partially squat if you can’t keep good form without tweaking your neck.
Engage your brain before you engage any of your muscles! It’s easy to fall into bad habits or forego form to surpass an old personal record. Train hard, but train smart!
What is your favorite training tip? —Karen