Exercise is like most self-improvement endeavors; if we aren’t vigilant, we can begin to backslide. Proper form, appropriate intensity and regular frequency are variables that can all begin to drift. As we begin the new year, we will focus on the most basic of these variables: proper form.
To start, it’s important to remember that exercising with poor form will, at best, feed dysfunctional movement and, at worst, lead to injury. This alone is reason enough to reinvest ourselves into knowing and practicing proper form.
This month’s Focus Point of the Week series, “Back to Basics,” teaches and reinforces the most important concepts you need to know to help you exercise safely and effectively. Let’s start at the beginning with “Set-up and Endpoints.”
Set-up refers to how you position your body prior to beginning an exercise, and it is synonymous with the initial endpoint of the movement. To ensure maximal safety and effectiveness, you must start in proper alignment for the specific exercise.
Endpoints define a safe and effective range of motion for a specific movement. They are the transition point where a force is decelerated in one direction, then accelerated in the opposite direction.
Set-up and endpoints are determined based on joint mobility, stability, and the ability to control the range of motion. They will be slightly different for each individual and will change over time as your movement capabilities improve (i.e. depth of squat). Most importantly, you must respect these endpoints. The benefits of increasing your range of motion may not justify the associated risks (potential injury).
Common movement breakdowns
While setup and endpoints are different for every exercise, we have noticed four distinct breakdowns that can lead to faulty movement patterns and potential injury:
- Shrugged shoulders: To ensure proper setup and muscle activation, be sure that your shoulders are down from your ears before you begin an exercise.
- Feet excessively turned out: Be aware of your foot positioning. Provided your knees are tracking properly, a slight toe-out position is appropriate.
- Pelvis rotated forward (low back arch): Over time, this can lead to low back strain or injury. Focus on keeping your pelvis in a neutral, slightly ‘tucked’ position.
- Lack of overall tension: Avoid “loosey-goosey” movements by keeping a small amount of tension throughout the body (especially the core) during all exercises.
These breakdowns may occur due to muscular imbalances that can be addressed through corrective exercise, or they may occur because of a simple lapse in focus. We must ensure the latter does not happen. If you start an exercise out of alignment, your endpoints and safety can be compromised.
Loaded vs Unloaded movement
Endpoints for functional or unloaded exercises are less strict. These movements look more like activities of daily living; their endpoints are determined by an individual’s abilities and the desired emphasis of the exercise. A medicine ball wood-chop is a great example. Performing a wood-chop with a big range of motion emphasizes completely different skills than a smaller, quicker wood-chop.
Whether doing loaded or unloaded exercise, keep the following strategies in mind in order to track your endpoints and ultimately get the most out of your training:
- Use mirror feedback. Mirrors can provide you with the feedback necessary to check that you are setting up properly and executing the exercise with excellent form.
- Know your common breakdowns. Awareness is often half the battle. Know how your body tends to compensate and get in the habit of making subtle corrections.
- Use your body and surrounding environment. Use lines on the floor or your own body (e.g. feet shoulder width) to set yourself up correctly.
For this week and moving forward, focus on proper setup and knowing your endpoints for every exercise. Once you have a good setup, you can begin moving through appropriate ranges of motion safely with the intensity you desire!