By Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, NLC
I love a great group fitness class. What’s better than working up a sweat in a dimly lit room with friends? You’re listening to your favorite songs, shutting out the world, and building muscle all in just 45 minutes. This has been one of my favorite things to do since age seven, when I started taking dance lessons. From elementary school through today, I have experienced and enjoyed so many different workouts.
But do you know how to tell if a class is safe? Do you know if you are doing the exercises correctly? Have you ever hurt yourself, been really sore, injured, or stopped attending a class because you didn’t like what it did to your body?
I can answer a firm yes to all of the above questions. With years of experience as a fitness professional, I’ve learned the most from my mistakes (and injuries), and I cannot stress this enough: Proper form is imperative to meet goals and prevent injury while working out!
Now, I hope you can learn from me, as I bring you video tutorials over the next few weeks teaching you how to execute proper form for the common exercises, like push-ups and squats.
If you can walk into a class with that body knowledge already in place, you’ll be so far ahead.
How I Developed My Own Attention to Form
Growing up as a dancer, I naturally developed great posture. It wasn’t until later on in life, when I started studying and learning more about the body, that I began to understand the importance of posture, body placement, and strength training. After high school, college, and graduate school (AKA countless hours of studying and hunching over computers and books), my posture suffered.
But while completing my dietetic internship and masters degree, I became certified as a personal trainer. I worked many hours training clients, learning on the job, and training myself. I learned the value of foam rolling, stretching, proper programming, and alignment. I noticed how many gym members who worked out alone or took group classes suffered due to poor form.
As a trainer, correcting and advising them is actually how I gained many clients!
Why Proper Form Is so Crucial
So why is proper form so incredibly important for both the short- and long-term?
You can perform an exercise incorrectly once and be sore, but that’s something an Advil can fix right? Perhaps. However, if you keep doing things wrong, your body adapts to this, because your muscles like to work on the path of least resistance.
For example, if you hunch over a desk and phone all day, you will likely keep your shoulders rounded while exercising. That’s what your body is used to doing. This means your chest muscles are likely tight and your back muscles weak. It takes more effort and conscious energy to keep your chest lifted and back muscles engaged than it does to default to your “usual” hunched stance. Add some heavy weights and/or quick movements to this posture, and it’s a recipe for more poor form and potential injury disaster.
When you are in a group class, the instructor may be yelling out to keep your chest up and flatten your back, but if you don’t know what that means or how that feels in your body, you may not even be able to correct yourself. An instructor in a large class does not have the luxury of eyeing each and every student all class long.
Oftentimes, it takes actually injuring yourself to understand the true value of proper form and movement patterns. With each of my injuries (two torn ACLs, one ACL reconstruction surgery, a herniated disc and postpartum diastasis recti) and lots of physical therapy, I have learned more about my body, and the human body in general. Here are a few of my biggest lessons:
- Proper training to create a strong core (not sit-ups/crunches) is one of the most important factors in preventing injury.
- Weakness that leads to improper form must be addressed or can result in pain during/after workouts or an actual injury.
- Foam rolling, stretching, and proper warm-ups are all crucial to keeping your body moving correctly and helping prevent pain/injury.
- Injuries, even post-rehabilitation, can remain weak spots and those parts of your body are the first to suffer if you exercise with poor form. Prior injuries can lead to future ones if they throw the body off.
- Pain and injuries do not mean you have to stop exercising. Consult a professional to discover weakness/improper movement patterns and learn corrections.
- Quality trumps quantity. Perform less reps or sets with correct form instead of more with improper form. Take your time and go at your own pace.
- Know your body because what you don’t know may hurt you. You can be “fine” or feel a little something for years, and all it takes is a bad move or turn to bring out that big problem.
How to Nail Proper Form to Avoid Injury
So, what can you do to protect yourself and prevent injuries?
Invest in even just one to two personal training sessions to make sure you are getting into the proper positions used in your group classes. (Yes it can be expensive, but surgery, medical bills, and missed work cost more in time, money, and stress.) If you have any pain or discomfort at all, visit a physical therapist.
Whether or not you do that, you should also learn how to do some of the most basic exercises properly. I’ll be helping you out with that over the next several weeks via this video series. Next week, for the first video, I’ll demonstrate how to perform a proper push-up. Then, more common exercise moves will follow. I hope my words and these videos will help you learn more about your body and keep you safer in all of your workout classes.
After all I have been through, I still love and crave movement and exercise. I know that it’s good for my health, heart, and head. It’s my “me-time,” my alone time to zone out, and listen to the music. Beyond that, it is my ongoing injury prevention and I want it to be that for you, too.
(DISCLAIMER: I am a Certified Personal Trainer with over 20 years of experience, but my body and form is by no means 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time. When I was younger and kid- and injury-free, I had the luxury of time. Now, as a working, busy mom of two active young boys, I have family priorities, sick days/kids, and work commitments that can take precedence over workouts. My body has been through years of hunched-over studying, injuries-surgeries-rehabs, two pregnancies, lugging stuff and toddlers up a third floor walk-up, and a herniated disc and diastasis recti. I do my best to fit in my training and consistently work on all of my weaknesses and poor movement patterns.)
Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD, Nutritious Life Certified, is renowned for helping people of all ages embrace a healthier lifestyle through nutrition and fitness counseling. As a licensed registered dietitian and personal trainer, her smart and sensible approach to pediatrics, weight loss, sports nutrition, allergies, cardiovascular health, pre/post natal, and other areas of clinical and lifestyle nutrition has resonated with hundreds of people across the United States. In addition to her private Manhattan and Westport, CT-based practice for adults, children, and families, she maintains a national presence as a blogger, columnist, guest speaker, and consultant. A recognized expert on healthy eating, Robin is a trusted resource for print, television, and online media. She appears regularly in various news, lifestyle, and entertainment stories for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, Parenting, Golf Fitness, Vogue, People.com, Forbes.com, and other media outlets. Robin received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Cornell and Columbia Universities. For more information, visit www.robinbarrie.com.
(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)