I see it often and I’m guilty of it myself from time to time: bad form. Form is one of the most important things to consider when weight training and regularly practicing bad form can result in frustration, embarrassment and pain.
Now please, please, PLEASE: if you are new to the gym or working out, don’t assume your form is fine just because you don’t feel pain. Consult a trainer or other qualified individual such as a physiotherapist to ensure you’re working out safely and correctly. Even for gym veterans, using good form in our routines is an ongoing battle that we must win so we get the most out of our workouts. Most gyms have mirrors on every wall for a reason; make use of them to ensure you are doing your exercises properly.
In my opinion, there are two major risks associated with practicing bad form in the gym.
1) You are wasting your workout
I’ve been very guilty of this, especially when trying out new exercises.
When we do a particular exercise, we are attempting to stress a specific muscle or group of muscles for the purposes of strengthening those muscles. If you practice bad form, you will not get the full benefit of your exertion on the targeted muscle, and you may end up inadvertently working other muscles or straining joints/tendons/ligaments.
For the longest time, a couple of years in fact, I did a kneeling triceps exercise that, strangely, had no impact on my triceps. I didn’t realize my folly until a friend said: “Hey, you’re doing that wrongly. Try it this way.” I couldn’t even lift the weight! That’s because, for the first time, I was doing the exercise as intended and my triceps weren’t strong enough to lift the weight I’d chosen for myself. Man, did I feel stupid after that. Shrug it off and keep going, superstar.
2) You might get hurt
For my biceps, I used to do a basic seated curl. The exercise was nothing special, but it was effective and I did it regularly, so by June of 2012, I was comfortably curling 60 pounds (three sets of eight reps).
During that month, I started to get the worst pain in the forearm of my left arm. It quickly progressed, to the point that I couldn’t pick up a bag of groceries without extreme pain. I took July off from the gym, but that didn’t seem to fix anything, so I went to my doctor, who sent me off to a sports medicine clinic. Turns out I had severely hurt my bicep tendon. I had to do 10 weeks of physiotherapy, followed by building the strength in my arm back up by doing bicep curls again…with one pound weights! My physiotherapist showed me a great new way to do bicep curls: a standing, overhand-to-underhand lift. He also told me something I’d already figured out: the reason for the injury was (most likely) incorrect form when executing my seated bicep curl.
Adding up all the time spent in physiotherapy and rehabbing my arm, it was 3 months before the pain was gone, and another few months for things to get back to normal. It wasn’t until February of 2013 that I resumed my program in earnest and started to lift reasonable numbers again.
That’s my own experience with form and injuries. I’ve heard some bad stories from other gym rats about the dangers of bad form, and a quick search on YouTube can show you how disastrous bad form can be in the short term. However, most injuries resulting from bad form develop over time; my tendon issue was probably a few months in the making. When I see someone in the gym doing a squat lift with a LOT of weight and their back is arched awkwardly, I cringe because, six months from now, they will probably be wondering why their back is hurting so badly.
It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone about. All the years I was doing that triceps exercise incorrectly, I’m sure people noticed but didn’t say anything. It took a friend of mine noticing and speaking up before anything changed. No one wants to hear uninvited gym pointers from a stranger, let alone be told that they’ve been doing something wrongly for years.
My advice is a product of my own experience:
- Learn your body and muscles.
- Listen to your body, especially when something hurts or feels funny.
- Use the mirrors in the gym.
- Take it slow, especially with new exercises. Start with a low weight and be deliberate in your movements. Ensure you’re doing it right.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s help or listen to an outside opinion. It might save you a lot of grief.
Wow, hard to believe this is my fifth post! I’m actually starting to look forward to posting these articles! Thanks again for reading my blog and for all the comments!