You can hit the gym and do biceps curls and triceps kick-backs until your arms are begging for mercy. But is your form #flawless? Is your focus on point? And are you remembering to breathe?
Strength training is a super-nuanced practice, and sometimes even the smallest tweaks—like a properly placed inhale—can totally change the results you’re getting. Whether you want to build strength, improve muscle tone, or torch calories, these tiny changes will make a huge difference.
“Form is infinitely more important than picking up a heavier weight. Pick an easy weight at first and get the form right, then go up in weight from there.” —Mike Riccardi, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City
“Go heavy when you deadlift. More often than not, I see people pick up dumbbells that are too light for deadlifts and, in turn, they don’t get as much of a muscular or metabolic response because they’re not increasing the intensity of the drill enough. If you work with too light a weight, you’ll likely be tempted to increase the tempo and run the risk of injury. Sometimes resistance is assistance.” —Rebecca Kennedy, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp
“For perfect planks, think beyond your core. Your glutes and quads should be engaged as well. Flex them when you’re starting to fade to last a bit longer in that perfect position.” —Chris Mosier, National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer and performance enhancement specialist
“Always start your leg workout with activation exercises like clamshells and bridges. These will help activate your glutes, improving your strength and efficiency.” —Anthony Baugh, National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer, running coach, and trainer at Independent Training Spot in New York City
“Pay attention to your arm placement during pushups. It may be a lot easier to do them with your arms and elbows out to the side, but if you bring your arms closer to your body so your hands are right under your shoulders and your elbows stay by your side, you’re doing two good things: better engaging your triceps and putting your shoulder joint in a better position. You’ll reduce the stress on the joint and the risk of developing impingement—this is especially important if you have a history of shoulder pain. Plus, it’ll help your arms become even more toned.” —Emmi Aguillard, physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City
“Try to incorporate compound movements for more efficiency, like combining a single-leg deadlift with a biceps curl to challenge the glutes, hamstrings, core, and biceps while also improving your balance.” —Jenn Seracuse, Director of Pilates at FLEX Studios
“It’s important to strengthen through a joint’s full range of motion. For example, when doing pushups, try to start in the ‘up’ position with a slight bend in your elbows and make the ‘down’ position have your upper arm parallel to the floor.” —Riccardi
“When doing a forward lunge, try to keep your weight through your heel on your front leg and sit your hips back like you’re reaching for a chair behind you. This will lengthen the glute and make you feel more of a stretch in it. The bigger the stretch, the greater the load to the tissue—and the stronger you’ll get.” —Brynn Fessette, physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy
“Remember that what’s not moving is just as important—and sometimes more important—as what is moving, so be mindful of your core and other stabilizers throughout every exercise to keep the movement as functional and healthy as possible.” —Seracuse
“Exercises should be difficult, not painful. If you’re feeling pain, have someone check your form or decrease the weights.” —Riccardi
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
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