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The Importance of Proper Alignment
While getting the perfect workout program planned out and then putting in the necessary effort in the gym is critical for progress, one factor that many people overlook is that of alignment. Technique is extremely important when performing any type of strength training activities, not only to increase the results you experience, but also to decrease your risk of injuries. Often the primary reason someone suffers from an injury is due to poor form and not maintaining good back alignment, so continually self-checking yourself is vital.
Here are some of the primary reasons you must not overlook this and where errors with alignment often occur.
Benefits To Using Proper Alignment
Increased Range of Motion
The greater the range of motion you are able to utilize with your weight lifting exercises, the better your results will be. For example, if you are doing a bicep curl but only moving through the top half of the movement, you aren’t calling into play the muscle fibers to the same extent as if you were lowering all the way down to the thigh and back up again. If you are not maintaining proper back alignment and instead taking a more hunched over position, you’re going to struggle to complete the full range of motion, reducing the benefits the exercise provides.
Another example is if you’re doing the squat and are not using proper form. It will be harder to squat all the way down which will reduce the effectiveness of the movement because that is what calls the glutes and hamstrings into play.
Enhanced Strength Recruitment
The second benefit from using proper alignment is increased strength levels. If you are keeping the spinal chord straight (or however the exercise dictates it should be), you’re going to be able to use all the muscle fibers available to hoist the weight up and down. If the back is in an uncomfortable position, some muscles may not be able to contract fully, decreasing the total force generation.
This will severely impact your progress over time, plus it will get you into the bad habit of using improper form. Learning the proper form of an exercise right from the start before loading the muscles with weight will prevent this problem from arising. Always watch as you bump up the weight with your lifts that the spinal column is maintaining proper position; the moment it moves out of alignment is when you should immediately back down on the weight again to regain control.
Decreased Neck, Back, and Knee Pain
Many people begin to experience back, neck, or knee pain as they progress through their weight lifting program and often times this is primarily due to lack of proper form. When the spinal column is not in proper alignment, any weight put on the body is going to really stress the vertebra, causing compressive forces that follow an unnatural loading pattern. When enough weight is used, issues such as compressed disks, back strain, or even pinched nerves could develop.
Knee pain is also a common injury that can result from poor spinal alignment. When the spine is not lined up properly, the hips will be shifted, which then causes the knees to track improperly over the shin bones. Over time this can cause grinding with the kneecap bone resulting in a high degree of pain.
Finally, you’re also at a risk for neck pain since the problems with spine alignment will stem up towards the neck. Often when the back is not properly aligned tension will develop in the shoulder muscles will leads to neck pain as well.
The last benefit from maintaining proper spinal alignment is improved balance. When the spinal column is in an unnatural position, you’re not going to be as stable in any position you take, which will decrease the amount of force you’re able to generate. Not being fully stable also increases the chance of you dropping the weight (especially when using dumbbells), which can lead to major injuries as well.
Common Alignment Problems
Now that you can see the importance of maintaining proper alignment when doing your workout, it’s important to know where most people falter with keeping their alignment up and how you can prevent problems from happening.
The squat is an exercise where you will be really testing your limits, loading a maximum amount of weight on your body. This puts you at a higher risk of injuries if proper alignment is not maintained, making it first on your priority list.
When doing the squat, you can adopt a slightly forward lean as you move throughout the movement, however you shouldn’t be rounding the back, causing a hunched over form. The spinal column should still be straight, allowing for proper breathing to take place.
Knee problems are the most common issue with the lunge, so you need to check your knee placement and ensure it’s tracking over the toes. Watching your foot placement with the lunge is the most important factor here, as that’s going to dictate which direction the knee moves in.
The most common alignment issue with the stiff leg deadlift is going to be maintaining the straight back position as you come up through the lift, as many people will start to curve their back as they move into a standing position. Some individuals will find that looking forward as they perform the exercise will remedy the problem, while others will need to perform the exercise a few times without weight while monitoring their position in the mirror until they get the proper ‘feel’ of the movement.
The shoulder press is an exercise that most people don’t think about when it comes to improper form, yet many are making critical mistakes. The first error is with hyper-extending the elbows, causing them to lock into place. This is going to place too much stress on the joint and could lead to chronic pain down the road.
The second major error comes when a strong sway back is adopted in the lower back area. Because the weight is in the overhead position with this movement and there is going to be a high gravity force acting downward, you’re really placing a high amount of pressure on the small vertebra. When they are not in their proper position, this causes tension forces acting on all the tendons, ligaments, and bones, contributing to chronic back pain development.
The best way to correct this will be thinking of squeezing the bum muscles as you perform the lift, which will cause the hips to be pulled upwards, positioning the back better.
Bent Over Row
The best compound movement for working your back and biceps, the bent over row is another weight lifting exercise people struggle with. What you should watch with this movement is that you are maintaining a flat back while in the bent over position, and don’t let the shoulders become very rounded as you lift the barbell towards the chest. When you begin taking on the rounded appearance, you’re placing excess stress on all the ligaments and tendons surrounding the shoulder girdle, as well as taking the emphasis of your lat and trapezius muscles.
To avoid this problem, focus on squeezing strictly from the middle back fibers, while keeping the head looking straight down on an angle.
There is a very good chance you’ve seen improper form used during the bicep curl. Every gym has one – the guy who grabs dumbbells that are much too heavy for him and heaves them upwards towards the shoulders, getting the entire upper body into the movement, along with a whole lot of momentum. You don’t need to be a certified personal trainer to realize that this is definitely not going to be working his biceps properly, not too mention he’s asking for back pain down the road.
When doing bicep curls, you should be again thinking of squeezing the bum and bringing the hips up and forward. That is what will keep your back in alignment as well as keep you stabilized while only causing the biceps to be worked. If you have to, perform them while standing next to a mirror so you can carefully monitor your form. Actually seeing the sway in your back occurring can open your eyes and allow you to realize how much of an issue this is for you.
By keeping proper form in the back of your mind at all times as you go about your workout you will reduce injuries, keep results coming, and feel better throughout the session as well. If you are ever unsure about how to perform an exercise with proper form, it’s a very smart idea to book a session with a personal trainer.
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