02-24-2015

The Importance Of Proper Exercise Form

Today I want to talk about proper exercise form. A friend of mine just joined Crossfit and was telling me about an incident. Now before I start, I’m not bashing Crossfit. But I am bashing personal trainers who don’t teach proper form and who don’t modify exercises for beginners.

The Importance Of Proper Exercise Form

My friend is someone who is new to lifting…I personally don’t think she should be thrown into a barbell deadlift right away, but she was. The next day she was telling me how her back was killing her and she couldn’t even stand up straight because she was so sore. I asked her how much weight she did. She said she asked one trainer who said, “Ummm…just do 95 lbs,” which she knew would be too heavy, so she asked another trainer who said 70 or 75 lbs, I can’t remember.

There are some major problems here. One being, why is she doing a barbell deadlift as a beginner as opposed to learning proper form with lighter weights first? Two, what are those weights??? And why are these trainers just throwing around random numbers?? She sucked it up and did it, and then couldn’t walk up-right for a few days because her lower back was killing her, which usually means proper form was not used during the deadlift.

This actually happened to me once too. I went to a group bootcamp class and one of the exercises was a barbell deadlift. The trainer made it heavy enough for the strongest person in the class but it was way too heavy for me, which I expressed. But he told me to try it anyway. So I did (and couldn’t go down far enough either but he kept telling me to go all the way down), and I couldn’t walk for a few days because my back was killing me.

I’ve written about proper form cues for deadlifts before, but I want to talk about it again. Yes, the deadlift does recruit lower back muscles, but your lower back shouldn’t be that sore afterwards. You should mainly feel it in your hamstrings and glutes.

Here are a few key things to remember:

  • As you lower the weight, keep your core tight, which will keep you from only using your lower back.
  • As you lift the weight back up, focus on squeezing your glutes.
  • Keep your back flat throughout the exercise.
  • Keep your neck neutral, don’t look up and crane your neck. Look a few inches ahead of you or down – whatever keeps your neck in line with your spine.

There’s nothing wrong with starting with a lighter weight or modifying exercises. And that’s what personal trainers are for!! That’s what this rant is about. The trainers in the experiences above should have realized that the weight was too heavy, and also been there to provide form cues for my friend so that this didn’t happen. It makes me nervous that as someone who is a total beginner to lifting (she’s only really done exercise DVDs) she’s thrown into barbell exercises and Olympic exercises.

Here are a few glute/hamstring exercises that you can do as you build up to a full deadlift:

  • Glute/hip raises –> make it more challenging by adding a plate or barbell onto your hips
  • Romanian dumbbell deadlifts –> progress it by increasing dumbbell weight until you feel comfortable with this exercise
  • Romanian barbell deadlifts could be the next step from the above exercise.
  • Trap bar deadlifts are a good way to take some load off the lower back.

I’d say my favorite would be Romanian dumbbell deadlifts. Easy to progress and you’ll really feel it building strength in your hamstrings.

If you don’t have a trainer, just do some research on how to progress. Trainers I follow with great tips are Tony Gentilcore and Bret Contreras (“The Glute Guy”).

If you do have a trainer, make sure you hold them accountable. Speak up if you’re afraid something is too heavy or too challenging for you. There is no shame in that! Better to be safe than injured. Ask them questions about the exercise. What muscles should it recruit? Where should you feel it? What’s the point of doing it? What are some modifications?

Okay, rant over ;)

If you’re a Crossfitter, how does your gym help those who are totally new to lifting?

Have you had a bad personal trainer experience?

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