Although you can break a sweat during a workout without even touching a weight, this post covers the importance of proper form when lifting weights. Often, students start lifting weights for the first time in college, but this can be valuable information for experienced lifters or first-timers.
When I was a college freshman, I frequented the gym. I was a self-proclaimed gym veteran. Each week, the weights on my bar were increasing. The more weight I lifted, the better I felt about myself. At my university, the gym offered a free personal trainer, and being as confident as I was, I knew I could improve with tweaks to my diet and workout regimen. So, I decided to schedule an appointment with a trainer. We began our session, but I learned that my lifting technique was way off. He showed me the proper form for each exercise, forcing me to drop down my weight dramatically. I was crushed that I had to start all over again, and my self-esteem dropped. For weeks I felt like a failure every time I went to the gym, but eventually I was able to improve towards the level I previously operated. This time with proper form, the results were evident. I cannot stress enough how important it is to lift with correct technique.
Back squats, also known simply as squats, are one of three big lifts for increasing strength. Squats target the muscles of your thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings), gluts, lower back, and core. Basically, with a straight bar resting low on the back of your neck, you squat down, and stand up. Sounds easy, but there’s a lot to keep in mind. Feet should be about shoulder-length apart and turned outward very slightly. Your back should be curved inward or straight, so that your chest sticks out forward, and your rear protrudes backward. This stance takes some getting used to. When you’re ready to squat, bend at the hips first, then at the knees. Try not to let your knees go past your toes (if you were to draw a vertical line down from your knees). Keep your back in the same curved or straight position, and your hamstrings/quadriceps parallel to the floor. Then stand straight up, pushing off the balls of your feet.
Flat bench press is another big exercise; it targets the pectoral (chest) region and the triceps. When lying on the bench, be sure that your feet are planted firmly on the floor, and your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Your back should also have some curve in it. Grab the bar a bit wider than shoulder length and lift. Once the bar is lifted off the rack, bring your shoulder blades together; this puts the emphasis on your chest. Bring the bar down to the middle of your chest. Different people say different things about how far down to bring the bar, but I prefer to bring the bar to my chest so it touches but doesn’t bounce off. Others prefer to bring it down until their arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. Both are effective techniques.
Deadlift is the third big exercise, and it primarily targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. With the bar on the floor, the middle of your feet should be directly under the bar, shoulder-length apart, pointing straight. Bend down to grab the bar right outside your legs. Your shins should touch the bar. There are a few different grips for this lift, but I prefer both hands in front of the bar when the weight is low. Straighten your back, stand up, and thrust your hips upwards and forwards. Keep your shoulders back so your chest protrudes throughout the whole lift. When ascending, you want to drag the bar up your shins and over your knees to the upright position. Bring the bar back down close to your body and drop the
weight. Often, you will see people bounce the bar off the floor and go right into the next repetition. I see this as cheating. It’s called a deadlift, so the bar should start in a “dead” position for each repetition.
Form will make or break these lifts. One thing to keep in mind is your breathing pattern. Make sure you inhale before the lift, and then exhale when you ascend. Without proper form, you can seriously injure yourself on these lifts. Protect your body, and make sure your form is correct. Never be afraid to ask for help, if you have a question. Always have someone spotting you or have crash racks in case the weight is too heavy. After your workout, it is important to replenish nutrients, so go to Cafetasia for a hearty meal. Go to www.campusclipper.org for college discounts.
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Joey Silver, University of Delaware. Check out my Twitter!
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