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Check your Exercise Form

Quality matters. We consider this simple concept when purchasing a new automobile, house, or any other major purchase. Quality over quantity also is important when exercising to reduce your pain or improve your strength. It is essential to properly load the right body region at the appropriate intensity, volume, and frequency to achieve results. All these variables can seem overwhelming, but read on for some basic guidelines to help get your exercise routine on the right track.

For strength training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends selecting 8-10 exercises that address the upper and lower body, muscles in the front and the back of our torsos, and address the larger, power muscles as well as the smaller stabilizers. When starting out, select a resistance level that achieves moderate fatigue after 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. If you are unable to complete these reps and sets, lower the resistance by 10-15%. Likewise, if you feel little to no fatigue after completing the set, increase the resistance by 10-15%.

Proper exercise challenge is one of the most common mistakes we see patients make in and out of physical therapy. Following these starting guidelines will help get your routine on track to achieve good quality in an efficient amount of time. 

Once you have found the right exercises and level of resistance difficulty, check your exercise form with the following pointers:

Proper stance for standing exercises:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width or hip-width apart; select the stance width that feels most natural to you.
  • If it feels more natural for your feet to slightly turn outward or inward, go ahead and allow for that slight deviation. (no more than 15 degrees out from straight ahead)
  • Keep your knees soft and relaxed rather than locked out and hyper-extended.
  • Make sure your weight is evenly distributed between your left and right foot and is evenly distributed between your big toe, little toe and heel on each foot. (see our September 2020 blog for more info on proper balance)

Proper knee position with lower body exercises:

  • Ensure your knees stay pointing straight ahead. A quick check is to make sure that your kneecap is directly pointed over your 2nd toe of the corresponding foot. 
    • Don’t let your knees fall inward towards one another.
    • Don’t let your knees turn excessively outward either.
  • When you stand up tall, remember to keep your knees soft and not hyper-extending again.

Proper torso posture for upper & lower body exercises:

  • Stand with your ears aligned over your shoulders and with your shoulders aligned over your hips.
    • Imagine a string hanging from the ceiling and passing vertically down over your ears, shoulders and hips
  • Bring your shoulder blades down and back, away from your ears to minimize compensations with your neck muscles
  • Maintain a neutral spine where it is not overly arched or overly flat; remember it is normal to have a slightly concave arch in the small of your low back.

Proper breath coordination and tempo of exercises:

  • Before you begin an exercise, take a normal breath in. 
  • As you perform the first half of the exercise, exhale slowly throughout the movement. 
  • As you return to the starting position, inhale slowly.
  • Try to take 3-5 seconds to perform the “lowering phase” of the exercise whether it is a core, upper body, or lower body activity. 
    • Don’t let momentum dominate the motion

Following these basic alignment and coordination principles will improve your exercise technique. Proper form will ensure you are training the right areas to achieve your fitness goals. If you have further questions about if your exercise technique or program is optimal, don’t forget to contact our Hillsboro or Banks offices for an appointment. Our physical therapists want to make sure everyone has the right program for their unique needs and goals.