Basic Strength Training With Good Form

Woman strength training
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If you are new to strength training or need a bit of a refresher on good form, you are in the right place. Good form allows you to reap all the benefits of your workout and avoid injuries at the same time. No matter your age, current fitness level, or sex, you can benefit from weight training with the right technique.

How to Work Out With Good Form 

Follow these guidelines to make the most out of your time at the gym. If you need additional help, consider hiring a personal trainer to set you up for success.

Warm Up Properly

Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury. Start your workout with five minutes of brisk walking or another aerobic activity to warm up your body. Once you have increased blood flow, perform some dynamic movements and active stretches such as:

Put Your Mind Into the Workout

Don’t just daydream. Focus on the muscle group(s) you are working. Focusing on the mind-muscle connection improves muscle activation, so you can lift more and obtain better results.

Get tips from an experienced weight training friend or a personal trainer, then stay focused during your workout. Don't increase the speed of the movement until your form is in good shape.

If you have a hard time feeling the muscles you are trying to work, try asking a friend to touch the muscles gently. Focus on going slowly and contracting the muscle being touched. Hold the contraction for a count before slowly returning to the starting position. This can help you develop awareness.

Make Your Muscles Do the Work

Don’t use momentum to lift free weights—use your muscles instead. Avoid swinging movements. You will activate more muscle fibers if you lift and lower weights slowly and with control through the entire range of motion. If you cannot lift a weight without swinging it, it is too heavy, and you should decrease the weight.

As a beginner, select a weight that allows you to complete 15 repetitions. Around repetition 12, you should be feeling a considerable amount of fatigue.

Maintain Good Posture

Stand tall with your chest lifted and your arms naturally at your side. Don’t hunch your shoulders or hold tension in your neck. Keep your core engaged. The stronger your core, the more effective you will be at lifting weights.

If your posture is poor due to working at a desk, try working on the muscles of your upper back while stretching your chest muscles. Take breaks at work to prevent upper-cross syndrome—wherein some muscles become weak and stretched while others become tight.

Pay Attention to Details

If you go to a weight-training class, your instructor will likely show you good form and provide verbal cues. As you do your workout, keep these cues front of mind. For example, doing an arm exercise where you are supposed to keep your elbows by your sides will make that exercise more effective.

Remember to Breathe

You might be tempted to hold your breath when you are exerting effort. Proper breathing is vital for effectively bracing and supporting your spine. Try this:

  • Before you begin the lift, inhale.
  • Exhale during any pressing movement.
  • Inhale while returning the weight to start (such as during the lowering phase with a bench press).

Listen to Your Body

While it is okay to work out with DOMS—muscle soreness from a previous training session, never work through intense pain. Instead, learn to differentiate between pain and muscle fatigue. If you experience any irregular pain, stop exercising immediately and tell your doctor.

Work All the Muscle Groups

Ensure your weekly strength training routine works all of your major muscles—abdominals, legs, chest, back, shoulders, and arms. You can perform full-body routines each time you train, or break your muscle groups into individual training sessions. You can also perform upper and lower body split routines or push-pull-based routines.

Use Your Body Weight

Starting with bodyweight can help ensure you have proper form before loading the exercise with additional weight. This can help prevent injuries that occur when you try to add weight to a movement that you cannot perform effectively.

Sometimes your own body weight can be the most effective and most challenging. Make sure to add a least a few to each session. Try planks, push-ups, squats, and lunges.

Know Strength Training Basics

Understanding basic strength training principles can help you enjoy a safer, more effective workout.

  • Overload: To build muscle, you must apply an appropriate resistance using weights, cable machines, or even your own body weight. The amount of resistance should be above what you are accustomed to in everyday life. Progressively challenging your muscles is essential for seeing continued progress.
  • Balance: You should work the entire musculoskeletal system, not just the 'mirror muscles' (the ones in front of your body). Skipping this can lead to postural and strength imbalances, and possibly injury. Work several muscle groups at once when possible.  
  • Rest: Rest between sets of exercise for 60 to 90 seconds to give your muscles a chance to recover. Also, rest 48 hours between bouts of weight training. If you work your legs hard on Monday, for example, you should not exercise the legs again until Wednesday at the earliest.

A Word From Verywell

As you strength train, you will naturally get stronger and need to increase the weight you lift. Soon you will be amazed at how regular strength training can improve your cardio conditioning and change your body. Plus, now your body will work for you while you are sitting at your desk. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest.

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