If you are trying to get that toned body you have always dreamed of, weight lifting is the way to do it. However, to get your dream body, you need to the have correct form or else you could do more harm than good. With weight lifting, there are potential benefits for spinal health, but it also has the ability to create or worsen existing back injuries.
“With Olympic-style lifts, like deadlifts and squats, a lot of people are using bad form. However, they are also using way too much weight,” said Dr. Dan Wilson of Inspire Chiropractic and Wellness. “This puts a lot of stress and strain on the muscles as well as the discs in the lower back.” Form has three main purposes: to ingrain the right movement patterns, to train the right muscle groups, and, most importantly, to be safe. With these types of exercises, it is really important that you focus on managing good form, by keeping a neutral spine position and not rounding your back, and using weights that are really within the limits of what you can handle.
Exercise should never hurt! Pain is the number one signal to change something. If you experience any type of pain or discomfort while lifting, you should take a moment to notice where that pain is coming from. If you think that you are using too much weight, stop and use a lower amount. Just do more reps. Just let the feeling of the movement guide your decisions! Even consider using a machine instead of working with free weights. By using the machines, you can reduce the amount of stress being put on your muscles. However, you are trading off the ability to enhance the body’s balance and stability.
Some of the most common gym exercises are done incorrectly. Bicep curls are used to target the front of the upper arm and the most common reported errors are shoulder and back pain. When you lift too much weight, you start to engage the shoulders, which reduces the effort on the biceps. Your shoulders will begin to hunch forward instead of staying back as you perform the movement and this can cause injury. Some people lean backwards when lifting too much weight and it puts a bunch of pressure on your lower back as well. To properly perform a bicep curl, lift within your comfort zone, keep your back straight and focus the effort onto only your biceps.
The chest press is another common weight lifting exercise that reports injury. It is used to target the chest, shoulders and triceps, but most people fail to keep their shoulders back and down. A common mistake is to round the shoulders forward and upward as you press. People also have the tendency to recruit their legs and buttocks to help the movement. This not only reduces the work on the chest put puts the shoulders and lower back in a vulnerable position. To perform the chest press correctly, do not contort your body in an effort to lift the weight. Just stay relaxed and lift within your comfort zone!
Squat lifts target the thighs, buttocks and lower back, but are performed incorrectly everyday. Some of the most commonly observed mistakes are putting too much pressure on the lower back and not enough leg work. This is when the lower back pain begins. Do not round your back! The spine needs to remain in a neutral position through the exercise and all of the effort should come from the leg muscles. You want to keep your back in the correct, straight position and contract your core muscles and buttocks. If you were to imagine yourself sitting on a chair, you should not allow your knees to lean over your toes. Looking at yourself in a mirror while performing the exercise may help with correcting your positioning. It is best to lift the weight comfortably so that no pressure is put onto other places in the body.
However, the perfect form may be harder to perform. It is not what most people think of as the so-called “perfect form.” This form is not something you can see from the outside and make an assessment on, since you cannot see what’s going on underneath the skin. The perfect form for you may be different from someone else. It is all about trial and error to strive and find that desired form.
But, if lifting with what some might call as “textbook form” hurts them, then it is time to assess what that textbook form is really doing. If the form causes pain, then it is not good form. The desired perfect form is one that allows a person to complete the movement safely and in his or her strongest possible leverage.
A person’s form changes over time as well. The more someone moves and lifts weights, his or her form changes. For instance, many people with mild to moderate scoliosis of the spine will lift weights that place more weight onto one side of the body than the other. It is very asymmetrical. However, this version of weightlifting may be more beneficial to those with scoliosis because more symmetrical ways of lifting cause pain or don’t work for them. Over time their own structure changes and and more symmetrical lifts become possible again.
To not create any back pain or discomfort, typically you should do dynamic stretches before your workout of the day. These stretches would be anything that goes into the end range of motion, like jumping jacks and arm circles. After the workout, static stretching, holding stretches for a sustained amount of time, is needed to ease your muscles. “Doing static stretches before the workout will cause more damage and your muscle to snap like a rubber band,” said Dr. Wilson.
Some believe that the reason why you experience pain during weight lifting is not due to bad form, but instead it’s from a person’s genetics. However, Dr. Wilson details that it really does come down to form! Some people do have poor genetics, but it all depends if those genes are expressed in their environment. If a person does not eat well, has poor sleep and lifts with bad posture, then, yes, genetics would have a play in the discomfort. But, if a person had the opposite of those characteristics, they would have a lot less injuries and be in a better situation. So, it’s not much genetics, but more in how those genes are expressed in the environment.
While your genetics may play a very small role, your lifting form plays a bigger one in you actually pulling on your jeans without any discomfort. Lifting with good form will lead to less pain. Lifting with a neutral spine instead of rounding your back will allow you to achieve that goal body.