The Importance of Correct Form in the Gym

“If you aren’t doing it right, you are cheating yourself” – is the comment that lies in the back of my mind when I’m in the gym – I have been strength tested since the age of 15 and have always had someone telling me to check my technique. I almost shudder when I see people attempting to lift things in an awkward manner or performing activities like bicep curls by thrusting their hips to gain momentum! (I am cringing now at the thought).

There are two key principles that provide a rationale for why people should focus on a ‘technically correct’ form when performing any activity in gym. These include (a) injury prevention and (b) increasing performance; and these principles are important across all sports.

Why is correct form important for preventing injury?

Given the additional loads that are placed on the body when undertaking resistance training exercise, there is an increase in the potential damage that could be incurred if a movement is done in an awkward manner. Incorrectly performing activities may increase compressive and torsional stresses on joints and increase strain on muscles. When movements are performed incorrectly, the body may recruit additional gross (large) muscles and not recruit the appropriate underlying intrinsic musculature that is supposed to be targeted by the exercise. In particular, many free weight activities require appropriate postural control to avoid placing additional stress on the back. Given that around 70 – 90% of people are estimated to suffer from back problems at one stage in their lives, avoiding placing additional stress and strain on the back should be high priority during your training program.

Why is correct form important for improving performance?

If you learn the correct technique from the start of a program, it will allow you to achieve more. Correct form provides the foundation for future development. It is important to acknowledge that correctly performing movements require education, practice/ repetition and evaluation. Using of a full range of motion is the traditional approach taken to resistance training, and is something that I personally believe should be the starting point for anyone new to training. This is because there is a relationship between the force producing capacity and the length of a muscle. This means that certain parts of a movement are easier to move through (produce force). The mistake that many people make during training is to only work within the range where the movement is ‘easy’. If you increase your weight without moving through the adequate range, you may hamper your ability to produce force outside of that range. Therefore, training across the appropriate range of motion per activity will allow you to develop greater force producing capacity outside of the optimal length of the muscle.

HOWEVER – it is important to note that partial repetition training has been advocated for some populations. This is where the repetition is only completed in the upper range, where force output is maximised. This form of training is applied in order to overload the muscles above the maximum lift capabilities of the athlete. Studies have indicated that training at higher loads within this smaller range increased isometric (static) strength as well as strength throughout a certain range about the trained joint angle. Whilst traditional training would advise against this method, it may be a beneficial mode of training for advanced strength training populations.

The speed of the movement is also important. The amount of muscle force and joint torque that can be produced is dependent on the speed of the activity, with maximum force being able to be produced at a slower contraction rate. This is because at higher speeds there is less time for muscle recruitment. If the aim of training is to build power (rate at which work can be done), a strength base will be required first. Once the groundwork for strength has been laid, the weight/ resistance can be dropped and the speed of the movement can be increased or activity modified.

Ultimately, there is a correct way to perform the activity, regardless of what you are trying to achieve (e.g. gains in strength, power, flexibility). If you are starting out fresh or changing the type of program you are undertaking, it is worthwhile contacting a specialist trainer for some advice on how to achieve your goals. Get the program and each of the movements explained and demonstrated, and consult books or instructional videos if you need additional information. It is important to get your technique checked and make sure you are conducting the movement correctly before powering through your program. You should also get this re-evaluated as you progress. Finally, target the gym you attend based on the requirements of your goals as some gyms will specialise in certain areas and will have different quality trainers. Be critical, get recommendations, and ask for information on your trainer’s qualifications or how long your trainer has been working in the industry.