Technique is THE thing you need to get right when you are exercising. Bad technique means you won’t get the specific benefits of each exercise or even worse, you could injure yourself.
Technique can be a difficult thing to master, particularly if you don’t have a trainer helping you, but with a bit of time and effort, you can make huge improvements.
Step 1. Change your focus.
Instead of completing a normal exercise session, pull things back a bit and commit to making this session all about improving your technique rather than getting up a sweat. Keep in mind though, depending on how good your technique currently is you might find this session physically easy or hard. People often use bad technique as a way to compensate and make the exercise easier – example: people who swing their elbows during a bicep curl are using a weight which is too heavy so they need to use that swing for momentum to lift the weight; when they perform the exercise with good technique it becomes too hard and they will need to decrease the weight.
Step 2. Find a mirror or a camera.
Being able to watch yourself is a huge advantage to checking your technique. It’s a great idea to record yourself exercising as you can perform the activity and then watch it back. Using a mirror lets you make corrections whilst you’re doing the exercise but with some exercises it can be hard to watch and do the move at the same time – hence why a video camera is great. Another option is to have a training partner help you (unless your training partner is your dog, they usually aren’t that great at correcting technique).
Step 3. Reduce the intensity.
Perform the exercises with lighter weights or just body weight. If you normally do barbell squats, pull it back to basics and start with body weight squats. If you normally lift 10kg dumbells, use 5kg dumbells. If you normally do push ups on your toes, do them on your knees. Take your time and get your technique spot on with the basic move, once you’ve perfected that, increase the weight and check that you still have good technique. Obviously, if you’re technique fails as you increase the intensity, that’s a sign that you’re going too hard – pull it back a bit and work your way up again. TRAIN YOUR MUSCLES NOT YOUR EGO!
Step 4. Slow down.
Perform each exercise at a slightly slower pace than normal. This will give you a better opportunity to check your technique and make adjustments during the move. Once you’re back into actual training, make sure that your speed isn’t too fast, we want to use our muscles not momentum to complete the exercise. A good rule of thumb is to take 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down for big movements (eg squats, chest press) and a little less for smaller movements (eg bicep curls and shoulder side raises). Manipulating your timing is a way to stimulate the muscles differently, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Step 5. Feel it!
Be aware of what muscles you’re aiming to work in each exercise, then check if that’s where you’re actually feeling it (if you’re not sure google it or ask me)! If you’re feeling your upper trapezius during a tricep dip, then you’re doing it wrong (drop the shoulders away from the ears); if you’re not feeling your butt during a squat or lunge then you aren’t activating glutes properly and are likely loading up the quads instead. This is where you can have a bit of a play with your movements, try changing your body position slightly and see how that activates different muscles. Having good body awareness will improve your technique during exercise, but also improve the way you move and your posture day-to-day.
When I’m working with clients, I like to look for nice lines and angles in people’s movements. Body parts which sag (hips during a plank or push up) or which hitch up (shoulders during most upper body movements) are all compensatory movements. In things like lunges I look for good 90 degree angles at the knees. Smooth controlled movements are more beneficial than jerky ones.