In Part 1 of this post I gave my highly opinionated recommendation for rewiring your workouts to cut to the center of your athletic needs by focusing on barbells, calisthenics and plyometrics.
Part 2 is all about how you perform your exercises. It might seem trivial to focus on this but it’s the most crucial element to seeing continued results with your fitness. Most people have chronic bad habits, even with seemingly simple exercises like push-ups: butt down, elbows out, not achieving full range of motion. Don’t be fooled, you’re better off doing 10 gymnastics inspired picture perfect push-ups then you are doing 50 with amateur form.
Focus on barbell technique
Barbells are your foundation for everything. You don’t want to ignore your technique for bodyweight exercises as they all certainly have a good and a bad form. Mastering your form with barbells, however, will build a foundation of proper athletic motor patterns that will guide and improve your bodyweight exercises, your running and jumping and nearly every other athletic movement.
Take time to groove
Grooving in the athletic and fitness world is the term applied to instilling muscle memory. It’s not unlike water grooving a riverbed in the earth. Luckily – you can do it much faster than water can. It takes roughly 300 repetitions to groove a motor pattern and thousands to remove one. The burden of grooving proper motor patterns is yours. Don’t take it lightly or you’ll suffer the injurious consequences eventually.
Why you should socialize at the gym
Professional athletes all have one thing in common: they have coaches and peers to help them get better. Here are three methods I use to substitute what I don’t have as a solo gym-goer.
1. Personal Trainer critique. The more friendly you are with the floor trainers the more likely they are to give you free advice. Get to know them and ask them who is the most experienced with olympic lifting or powerlifting. It’s easy for any everyday trainer to spot bad form but only real lifters know how to help you correct it.
Much of the time the problem with squats and other lifts comes from improper visualization. Cues like “elbows forward” or “screw your feet into the ground” are priceless and can be exactly what you needed to perfect your squats.
2. Peer feedback. Get a friend or someone more experienced than you to watch you and offer their critique. Every gym has at least a few guys and girls who really stand out. More often than not they are happy to help others. Find a good moment to ask them to take a look at your form and offer some tips. Most of these athletes are hard to shut up once you get them going.
3. Record yourself. If you have a smart-phone that records video, use it. If you’re embarrassed about looking vain, get over it. Take a technique day were you lower the weight and focus solely on getting absolutely perfect form through every part of the movement, recording and reviewing every set. This assumes you know proper form when you see it–which might require some YouTubing and Googling but it shouldn’t be too hard.
A mirror doesn’t cut it. You can’t get the right angle and trying to do so will only change your form. It’s a classic Physics observer effect. Don’t rely on mirrors.
Take your headphones off/out
A good way to open yourself up for discussing your form is by taking your headphones off and earbuds out. I’ve started doing this recently and it’s turned out to be a great way to meet others who take their exercise serious. I’ve received a number of helpful cues from new and old peers.
Programming is last
After you’ve rewritten your gym time to include squats, plyometrics and calisthenics and after you’ve evaluated your form and refined your technique, then it’s time to think about how you compose your workouts day-to-day week-to-week. Hang tight for part 3 in this series.