Lift Smart – Quality and Form vs. Quantity of weight

Weightlifting has gained much attention over the years and has become a primary means of exercise in most gym-goer's routines. Two common questions I often hear asked is “how much do you bench? or how much do you squat? “ . I dislike these questions because it places the emphasis upon quantity of how much weight vs. the quality and form of movement. While maximal strength is obviously important for competitive strength athletes and powerlifers, it should be of secondary concern to the more recreational gym-goer.

I often find many individuals at the gym using improper form and technique and piling on the weight- placing their joints-and especially their back at great risk for injury. An article published on the Journal of American Medical Association Network reported that “low back pain (LBP) is the second most common cause of disability in US adults and is a common reason for lost work days at an estimated 149 million days of work missed per year. " While a study published by Calhoon and Fry found that the most significant number of injuries experienced by elite weight lifters were of the back (primarily low back), knees, and shoulders.

Exercise is a means to improve one’s overall health and wellness; however if done incorrectly with poor form and quality, it can do more harm than good. As an occupational therapist, I educate my clients daily on the importance of utilizing proper body mechanics to protect their backs and joints during their daily activities. These principles apply to individuals of all ages and with all activities including one's exercise regimen. Key body mechanics include:

  • Sit/Stand up straight with your head up, shoulders down & back, and chest out with a neutral, natural curve in your spine

  • Bend at your knees or hips- not at the waist

  • Carry weight close to your body

  • Do not twist while carrying heavy weight

  • Stand with knees slightly bent- do not lock your knees –and keep one foot slightly forward

  • Avoid sudden, jerky movements- use slow and controlled movement

If you find yourself unable to follow these guidelines while lifting heavy weights, consider dropping down to a more manageable weight while adhering to these guidelines. Many times I find individuals at the gym using too much momentum- sudden & quick movements- and improper posture of overarching or slouching ones back during an exercise in order to lift heavy; these are compensatory strategies utilized secondary to a lack of strength. Using these compensatory strategies places one at an increased risk of injury and encourages abnormal movement and posture. It is therefore important to listen to one’s body and pay close attention to form and quality of movement rather than on the amount of weight one can lift- your body will thank you later and you will have greater results in the long run.

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