• Flawless Plank

Why proper exercise form is important for your fitness - and safety

Updated: Nov 30, 2018

Guest blog written by Taco Fleur from Cavemantraining™ — Premier online kettlebell training education

“Form and technique first, weight and reps second”

What is fitness? Fitness is the quality of overall strength, health, cardio, flexibility, all the attributes that allow you to live a long healthy and happy life.

What part does proper exercise form play to achieve good fitness? Proper exercise form is important to keep you safe from injury, which in turn allows you to keep exercising, but it also allows you to progress and make bigger gains faster.

The following are three popular exercises that I am using to demonstrate the importance of form for fitness.

The Plank

Let's analyze a great bodyweight exercise, the plank, and talk about how proper exercise form will keep you safe and provide faster and bigger gains.

How to perform the plank:

  1. Kneel on the ground

  2. Place the hands on the ground

  3. Raise the knees off the ground

  4. Hands (high plank) or elbows (low plank) should be directly under the shoulders

  5. One straight line should be visible through all joints (shoulders, hips, knees, ankles)

  6. Correct neutral alignment in the spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar)

Now that you understand the basic steps on how to perform a plank, let's talk about how proper exercise form comes into play. The two major areas prone to injury are the lumbar and shoulder area during the plank. The lumbar are the five vertebrae located just above where your pelvis starts, it's connected to your sacrum. This whole area is not meant to move or bend much, the thoracic and cervical is the part of the spine that has the ability to flex, extend, and rotate.

The plank is a full body exercise and works many muscles. Let's talk about those main ones responsible for keeping your lumbar safe. To keep your lumbar safe, you want to maintain that straight line between your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles, if your hips start to sag, pressure on the lumbar is created. If your glutes and abdominals are weak, sagging can happen instantly or quickly. Strength is therefore a requirement to maintain proper exercise form.

The second problem area is the shoulders. The shoulders need to be protected by keeping the ball of the humerus safely in its socket. You can recognize a sagging chest when the shoulders are bulging and the cervical is caved in. This is where strength and correct exercise form comes into play. The armpits need to be pulled together, the latissimus dorsi needs to be activated, the chest needs to be firm and slightly pushed out. All this creates a stable base to rest upon while keeping the shoulder safe. Furthermore, all this requires muscle contraction and more muscle recruitment, hence, more, better, and faster results.

If you're exercising, it's for a reason, that reason is more likely than not, to get stronger, to get stronger you want to put your muscles under tension. So, if you relax all those muscles around the chest, you're not only not recruiting them, you're also creating potential for injury, injury in the shoulders, or injury around the cervical, due to weight not being placed on stronger muscles, or muscles/joints being placed in positions they shouldn't.

Kettlebell Swing

Another great exercise is the kettlebell swing. Kettlebells are an awesome resistance training tool that can produce amazing results, the kettlebell swing happens to be the most known exercise, but there are literally hundreds of other kettlebell exercises.

A common occurrence that I hear with kettlebell swings is people complaining about backaches. This creates a bad reputation for the kettlebell which is a shame, as it's not the tool that's at fault, but the trainer or athlete. Correct form and technique is required with any exercise, but especially the kettlebell swing because it's usually programmed as medium to high reps and involves hip flexion and extension.

I'll approach the issue at hand from the perspective of how to do it correctly first and then discuss the incorrect way. Anytime the body needs to lift something from low to high, whether dead or swinging, a rigid structure should be created around the spine that acts as a crane. With the spine representing the projecting arm of the crane, and the pelvis, hamstring, and gluteus maximus being the driving force (engine).

The gluteus maximus is attached to the top of your pelvis and to your femur (leg), if you contract the glute it will pull the pelvis up (extension). The hamstrings are also a prime mover for hip extension, the way they work is a bit more complex, but in essence, they help pull the pelvis up from the bottom.

The incorrect way would be to lift with the back, insufficient or late contraction of the prime movers, letting the back arch, or letting the back overextend.

Following is a video where I demo how following the kettlebell affects the lower back. Again a great example of how correct form and technique will help keep you safe and allow progression.

Rowing And Mind-muscle Connection

My last and final example of correct form and technique involves MMC, mind-muscle connection which is the ability to properly connect with the prime movers and isolate if required. I have another short video that demonstrates how correct form and technique can help you. In summary, incorrect exercise form can lead to tendonitis, correct form can prevent that, but also allow you to train and avoid the already affected areas.

A great example is rowing on the rowing machine, the row involves first legs and then a pull of the arms. That pull can be done correctly or incorrectly, both will achieve the same effect, the rower increases the distance rowed, but it does not have the same effect on the body, as a matter of fact, one of its ramifications can be injury, overuse/tendonitis.

Let's delve a bit deeper into the differences between how the pull is finished with the arms. The first one and correct one would be where the elbows come back and past the ribs, activating the anterior muscles, deltoid (anterior) etc. keeping a straight line between the elbow, wrist, and end of the cable. The second one and incorrect one would be where the elbow flexors are used to pull/curl the rowing handle further into the body. The elbows don't pass the ribs and the hands end up near the shoulders. This is incorrect form for rowing, it doesn't mean that it will always cause injury, it will depend on whatever else the athlete does and how many reps.

The MMC comes into play where it is able to connect and tell the muscles “relax the elbow flexors” and “isolate the deltoid (rear) to perform the work”.

I trust that you now understand how important correct exercise form is and that you should invest time in research, get a trainer, or apps that will assist you with this.

Guest blog Written by Taco Fleur from Cavemantraining™ — Premier online kettlebell training education

“Form and technique first, weight and reps second”

Taco Fleur Bio

Cavemantraining Certified, IKFF Certified Kettlebell Teacher, Kettlebell Sport Rank 2, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, CrossFit Judges Certificate, CrossFit Lesson Planning Certificate, Kettlebells Level 2 Trainer, Kettlebell Science and Application, MMA Fitness Level 2, MMA Condition Level 1, BJJ Purple Belt and more.

Owner of Cavemantraining, World Kettlebell Community, and Kettlebell Training Education.

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