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Charlie King’s Top 8 tips for practicing correct form in the gym

One of the most common questions I am asked as a trainer is how to practice correct form.

It’s true to say I have seen many people over the course of time carrying out exercises using the wrong techniques, making them far more prone to injury.

I thought I would give you some basic tips to keep in mind when you’re next on the gym floor, so you can correct anything which may not be quite right.

This article has come from reading certain theories and opinions which I feel make sense and are beneficial for you. 

1. Behind-the-neck lat pull-down

A common sight to see in the gym – and if I’m honest, not a necessary exercise to practice. Some think the exercise works the shoulders, but there are far better exercises to do that. Think of it logically – there isn’t a functional reason why you would pull something down behind your head or neck, so I say avoid this unnatural motion all together.

This exercise is renowned to cause injury – pulling a muscle in your neck will reduce movement ability from side to side. You should focus your lat pull down to come in front of your chin and hold for a second before taking the bar back to the top.

Lee Faircloth / GT

2. Looking up at the ceiling

Try to concentrate on where your head is and what your neck is doing when exercising. I have been guilty of looking up in the past when doing my deadlifts or squats, but the truth is this isn’t correct form.

From articles and other trainers I have spoken to, it is a fact that craning the neck backwards closes the neural transmissions along the spine which work with your brain to engage the muscle.

With this said, the best way to keep check on your neck/head alignment is to imagine you have an apple under your chin and between your chest. This will help  keep the neck straight and can also give your eyes the ability to move up and down without unnecessary movement.

3. Abs

Working the abs is a common sight to see when in an exercise environment. I love to give the abs a good crunch during a session, but remember, to work the abs you do NOT need a great deal of motion.

To get the most out of your ab session you need to keep a very concentrated contraction to work the core. It’s pointless sitting there doing hundreds of sit ups when, if done right, you can reduce the amount by really focusing on the form.

Do not forget to add planks to your ab work out. A static exercise like this will really work the whole core and help build strength in the abdomen. When doing a plank make sure the glutes are engaged, and the back is straight.

If doing sit-ups, add a swiss ball between your legs to help with your range of motion and DO NOT pull from the neck.

4. Weak core

Your core is essential in everything you do. Whether you are aware or not, whenever you move your inner unit stabilizes you so that your bigger muscles can do their job.

To avoid injury or a weak core, it’s really important you spend time strengthening it. Think of doing movements like planks, keep the abs tight when doing those push-ups, as well as that back nice and straight.

If you are doing rows, engage the core at the beginning of the exercise.

5. Crossing your legs

Another common sight to see and yet another NO NO. Crossing your legs can cause a lumbo-pelvic imbalance that will take you out of alignment over time and make your far more prone to injury.

If you continue to cross your legs and you create an imbalance when you come to squat, you could quite easily cause yourself quite a bit of damage. Concentrate on keeping those knees together for that all important alignment. 

6. Cutting rest periods short

Completing your workouts efficiently and getting a good burn is important, but if rushing is making you shorten your rest periods, you need to put on the brakes.

These recovery intervals are when the body produces more energy for the next round of exercises, and it also removes metabolic waste from the muscles. Active recovery periods should always be as long as (if not longer than) the high-intensity intervals.

Get a drink or change the song on the iPhone. There’s no shame in taking a brief rest, and this will allow you to push harder during your next set.

Avoid the temptation to shorten the recovery intervals or to let the recovery periods be less than active.

7. Kettle bell technique

The problem lies in that many people who do them don’t understand the proper mechanics for the exercises. For example, many incorrectly perceive the kettle bell single-arm swing as a shoulder exercise, when it should be working the core.

It’s a good idea to take at least one kettle bell lesson so you know what it feels like to use proper technique.

When performing the single arm swing, avoid lifting with your back or your shoulders. Like in many kettle bell exercises, the hips (snapping them up and forward) should always drive the movement.

8. Only working muscles you can see

Everyone has a body part they just don’t enjoy working (hello, calves). But just because you can’t see it or don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

We love seeing the definition in our legs, but if you’re only working the parts that you can see, then you’re missing all the small stabilizing muscles and setting yourself up for muscular imbalances and injury.

Make sure your workout is well rounded – even if you have to grit your teeth and do moves you don’t love.

Even better is to focus on functional movements rather than isolating muscles. Incorporate pushing, pulling, rotating, and other everyday motions into your workout.

This will ensure that you’re engaging all of your muscles.

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