by Dan Camp
What does “form over reps” mean? It simply means it is ALWAYS more important to execute the specific exercise properly with good form at a controlled tempo than to do it with shaky form at a faster tempo. This includes both weight training and cardio moves.
Good form is basically about:
1) Understanding what muscle(s) you are primarily isolating.
2) Having your body in proper alignment
3) Knowing what other muscle groups are supporting the exercise in a synergistic manner.
Here are a number of moves, I will do my best to describe proper form and common pitfalls!
Pull-ups are one of the hardest thing in the world to do, literally. It takes a lot of control and upper body strength. What most people don’t realize is that they are truly a BACK exercise. Try this: stand up and bend at the waist like a hinge. Now, bring your shoulder blades together, but try to do it without moving your arms. Congratulations! You just isolated your back. That feeling of “engaging” the back is essential before you execute a pull-up.
Now go to the pull-up bar. Clasp the bar with your thumbs around the bar, palms facing away from you. Hang and make sure you are in proper alignment by NOT collapsing your shoulders. Now engage the back by slightly pulling your shoulder blades together like I described above. Now keep your elbow in as you bring your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself! What you’ll find is that as you build your arm strength you might be able to muscle yourself over the bar a few times with your arms and shoulders only, but realistically to up your pull-up number, your back has to be involved. It really is a synergistic move where many upper body muscle groups work together, but the back is the driver. For a slightly easier pull-up, try a chin-up which has the palms facing in. On this pull-up, the biceps are also integrally involved.
One last note, make sure to bring yourself all the way down in between pull-ups, don’t go halfway down and then use your body to “kip” up, at that point you aren’t using the full muscle groups in your back and are also using your body’s momentum to get you up.
Now, when doing modified pull-ups, like with the chair, ALL of these principles still apply. Engage the back and go all the way down!
If you do P90X Plyo or an Insanity workout and your quads are sore, but your glutes are not sore, you might be doing something wrong with your squat. It’s important when doing any kind of squat, whether you are jumping, standing, doing a leap frog squat, a squat switch pick-up, or whatever, that you TAKE A SEAT! A squat is bringing you butt back while bending your knees and putting the weight on your heels! This means you should almost feel as though you are going to topple over backwards. To really test this see if you can ever so slightly lift your toes off the ground.
Additionally, whenever you do a type of squat where you touch the floor on the way down, make sure your head always stays up, your butt always stays down, and your back stays mostly straight, and you don’t arch it. If you bow your back and look at the floor you are cheating yourself out of precious inches!! Always keep your eye on the TV when doing these types of squats, it makes sure you are looking up.
Biceps curls, easy right? Not necessarily! In order to really isolate your biceps, hold the weights with your elbows at your sides, and while gripping your weights have your palms facing out. Now, slowly lift the weights keeping your elbows at your sides, don’t let them “drift” forward! Additionally, don’t bring the weights ALL the way up so that they hit your shoulders and are in a resting position. You should actually squeeze the biceps and do an isometric hold just at the top point while it still feels difficult, then slowly bring the weight down again. That is the basic biceps curl. Adjust from there if you are doing single arms, cross-body, hammer curls, twisting grip, etc. Unless you are doing something like “21′s” where you intentionally do curls halfway up, make sure to bring the weight all the way down between reps.
If you are standing, the back is always somewhat involved with a biceps curl, but it’s important for you to make it as much about the biceps as possible. That is why preacher curls, or Tony’s “crouching Cohen curls” are great, because they further isolate the biceps. These almost always call for a lighter weight than a standard curl, but you really feel the burn!
Whether you use a barbell, or dumbells, this form is of utmost importance if you want guns! (girls too!). The benefit of the dumbbells is that each arm is pulling the exact same weight. Sometimes with a barbell, if you have a stronger arm, that arm will take a little more of the load.
Those are just 3 exercises, but I hope my description gave you a little insight into them! If you have other moves that you think you need help with, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help you! Basically, when you use good form, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but you complete the exercise as it is intended and work the correct muscle groups at the right times. Even if you do fewer reps, using proper form often “elongates” the moves, whether it is a lower squat, or a larger range of motion on a weighted exercise, which in the end gives you move burn and more results!!
[Editor’s Note: Dan Camp is a certified STRIDE Instructor and a certified Sports Nutrition Consultant who has raced with Spartan in Staten Island. Dan Camp’s posts from http://fitasylum.com/ will regularly be making an appearance on the Spartan Blog.]
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