Proper Form and Principles of Human Movement When Exercising

Posted by Andrew "Chaddy" Chadwick on Sep 29th 2020

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Athletes training with YBells as push-up stands in a gym.

Proper Form and the Principles of Human Movement When Exercising

Good technique: It can usually easily be seen by a good coach. Any exercise performed on a gym floor or as an exercise program is often governed by certain guideline doctrines to reduce the chance of injury for people.

The term “exercise” in and of itself is stated very intentionally here. One of its literal meanings is; a process or activity carried out for a specific purpose, especially one concerned with a specified area or skill.

These skill technique guidelines are often quoted with very technical language and are sometimes very difficult for people who don’t live in fitness land to understand. If you’ve been on a gym floor, I’m sure you’ve heard the obligatory, “Squeeze your glutes, brace your core, neutral spine, shoulders back and down... Oh, and don’t forget to breathe!” The trainer or coach is trying to help you stay safe. The problem here is often two-old:

As stated earlier, many people do not understand what this actually means. And even if they do, they struggle to recall and execute all of this jargon when not being coached by someone. And, a lot of the time coaches are saying it but may not actually be watching for discrepancies in their clients’ ability to perform the technical skills required.

What is Proper Form When Exercising?

This begs the question: What is proper form? [Insert a can of worms opening up here!]

Many exercises involve different components and thus various joints and tissues performing different actions simultaneously. Many different organizations also have their specific rules around what good or proper form may or may not be, and will also start a barrage of insults and slurs when they see someone doing something other than their belief.

But let’s also not forget that each and every person out there is different. Everyone has different body shapes, skill levels, and emotional dispositions “that will require careful contemplation when inflicting exercise on them”, according to Leon Chaitow et. al. in the book Fascial Dysfunction: Manual Therapy Approaches.

As a personal trainer and movement coach, I believe a good place to start when watching for proper form in my clients is to watch their joint angles. Each and every joint in our body is designed to perform certain tasks within certain tolerances. Each and every joint has a “happy position” which Gary Ward, author of the book What The Foot, has aptly named joint centration. What this means is that each joint should be able to go through its full range of motion and return to it’s centered position.

A centered position will allow all of the tissues that support that joint, and in sequence, every joint involved in that movement or exercise, to play the right role at the right time. If every joint can play the correct role throughout the exercise, you highly reduce the risk of injury as you navigate the stress of regulated exercise.

Teaching people the correct “skill” of exercise at the start of their fitness journey is also highly important. According to a recent article by the Journal of the American Medical Association, a staggering 8.6 million sports and exercise injuries occur each year. This means that people trying to create positive, healthy change in their life are hampered by the thing they’re doing to create that change!

How to Watch for Proper Form When Exercising:

An easy way to observe all of the technical information out there is to think, “Are my joints safe?” Literally, are they within centered tolerances? And how are they affecting the joints above and below throughout the kinetic chain? As you exercise, observe your:

  • Foot / ankle complex
  • Knees
  • Hip (the whole thing!)
  • All of the spinal elements (lumbar, thoracic and cervical)
  • Shoulder girdle
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Head

If you observe all of these joints and they look like they’re in a centered and strong position in relation to the joints around them, you should be in a fairly safe position for your body in any orientation to gravity and the ground.

But, if something is out of alignment, stop!

Reset. And consider reducing your range of motion or speed of motion so that you can perform the task well. Of course, you may need to consider some range of movement improvement strategies as part of your exercise regime. If you are exercising on your own and need help with your range of movement, I would highly suggest you reach out to someone that can help you in that area — a doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer or coach.

If your coach is not helping you find the best body positions for you to learn the skill of exercise, I highly suggest you find one that is willing to take the time to coach you to find the best technique for your body. You need to be working with someone who cares if you’re doing the task well or not. This is the best way to prevent injury and make progress in your fitness journey, particularly if you’re just beginning that journey.

If you’ve just added YBells to your fitness routine and have questions about proper form when performing YBell-specific exercises, I’d suggest you download the YBell app today. There are plenty of free videos that will show you proper grips, simple exercises, and proper form for each. And if you ever have any questions about your YBells, you can ask the YBell founder and inventor, Aaron Lawrence in the app forum.

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With over 15 years of fitness industry experience to draw on, Chaddy is a course content creator, NLP Practitioner, PTA Global Faculty Member, TRX and Trigger Point Performance Senior Master Course Instructor, and Senior SandBell, Kettlebell and Battling Ropes instructor. He is also now proudly associated with the body weight movement program Animal Flow as a Master Instructor.

His time in the Australian army led him through some physical pain and then on a journey to discover its cause. That led Chaddy to health and fitness, where he’s been able to help himself and others through movement coaching. He was eventually able to return to his sporting passion, Australian Rules Football, as a player and coach. He’s now studying martial arts and finds it a fantastic way to learn and observe movement.

Chaddy can apply science and intuition to movement and make it fun, and through this earned the 2017 Network FILEX Presenter of the year. His driving passion is now to create health for others, by helping coaches create long-term results for their clients.