Basic Strength Training With Good Form

Woman strength training
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If you are a newbie to strength training or if you think you 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 gender, everyone can benefit from weight training with the right technique.

How to Incorporate Good Form 

Follow these guidelines to make the most out of your time at the gym.

  • Warm up. 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.
  • Put your mind into the workout. Don’t just daydream. Focus on the muscle group(s) you are working. Get tips from a veteran 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.
  • Make your muscles do the work. Slow down each movement. Don’t use momentum to lift free weights, use your muscle. Avoid swinging movements. You will activate more muscle fibers if you lift and lower weights 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. If you have questions about form, you may consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions.
  • Maintain good posture. Stand tall with your chest lifted and your arms naturally at your side. Don’t hunch the shoulders or hold tension in your neck. Keep your core engaged. The stronger your core, the more effective you will be at lifting weights.
  • Pay attention to the details. If you are going 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, if you are doing an arm exercise where you are supposed to keep your elbows by your sides, doing so will make that exercise more effective.
  • Breathe. You might be tempted to hold your breath when you are exerting effort. Exhale during the hardest part of the exercise to fuel the movement. 
  • Learn to pay attention to your body. Never work through intense pain. Instead, learn to differentiate between pain and muscle fatigue.
  • Work for all muscle groups. Make sure your weekly strength training routine works all of your major muscles—abdominals, legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms.
  • Use your body weight. 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 some planks, push-ups, squats, and lunges.
  • Use free resources to view proper form.

Basic Principles

There are some basic strength training principles that can help anyone enjoy a more effective workout.

  • Overload: You have to apply an appropriate resistance to build muscle. The amount of resistance should be above what one is accustomed to in everyday life. You want to add resistance using weight machines, free weights, cable machines, various weighted tools, or even your own body weight.
  • Balance: You should work the entire musculoskeletal system, not just the 'mirror muscles' (the ones in front of your body). This can lead to postural and strength imbalances, and possibly injury. Be smart and work several muscle groups at once when possible.  
  • Rest: Rest between sets of exercise for about a minute to a minute and a half giving your muscles a chance to recover before you attempt the next set. Also, rest 48 hours between bouts of weight training if you are sore. For example: If you work your legs hard on Monday you should not exercise the legs again until Wednesday at the earliest.

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 how your body looks. 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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