4 Must-Have Elements For A Safe And Effective Workout
Updated: Sep 19
As a personal trainer of twenty plus years, many clients have come to me because they are either recovering from an injury or surgery and want guidance, or they were injured while working out and want to prevent that from happening in the future. Proper form during your workout is the best way to protect yourself from injury, and there might be more to it than you think. There are four elements I focus on when working with clients, regardless of their age and fitness level. These four things have allowed me to help hundreds of clients achieve results safely.
1. Remove force
Force = Mass x Acceleration, therefore by slowing things down the element of force decreases, causing it to become safer and more challenging at the same time. Because I am an advocate of safety first, let's begin there.
It is usually the speed of movement that causes injuries, not the amount of weight being moved. As an example, we will use a person pushing a broken-down car out of the intersection. If that person gets a running start, heading full bore at the car, they will undoubtedly injure themselves. However, if Instead they slowly begin pushing their body weight into that 2,800 pound car, they will have the ability to safely move it forward.
In regards to strength training, anyone can move a weight quickly, and remember, increased acceleration = increased force, which also increases the risk of injury. It requires much more muscle-to-mind coordination to move a weight slowly. Removing momentum allows you to be present in your body and gives you the opportunity to focus on proper form. You can take it a step further with form and safety by using the timed static contraction method. The simple definition of timed static contractions (TSC) is, exercise that is performed by pushing or pulling against an immobile or static object. By removing acceleration completely, it's as safe as it gets, not to mention very effective.
The reason that anyone and everyone can move a weight quickly is because it's easier to do so. The only way to truly achieve an effective workout is to remove the element of speed. Once you remove momentum or acceleration from the equation it's all about your muscle mass moving the weights or putting forth the effort in a static hold. Without the help of momentum you will fully embrace the necessary amount of stimulus required to achieve true exercise. This will also bring a level of efficiency to your workout by getting to the heart of the matter in less time.
One very important detail to keep in mind, whether you are performing timed static contractions (TSC) or lifting weights slowly at the gym, muscles must remain under load in order to reap the full benefit. On each exercise, allow the targeted muscle groups to reach momentary muscle failure. This means that while performing a TSC exercise, you are continuing to increase your level of effort being put forth, not backing off, for the full 90 seconds. And, if you are performing slow weight-bearing exercise, you are keeping the muscles fully loaded during the entire range of motion. This means no locking out, no rest at the top or bottom of each repetition, and taking ten-to twelve-seconds to move the weight on the positive contraction of each exercise.
You can't simply go through the motions expecting to achieve a safe and effective workout. The only way to keep your body safe while achieving true exercise is by focusing on proper form. An important element of form is focusing on the targeted muscles that should be engaged, while relaxing the rest of the body. For example, if you are performing the leg press, you should be focused on engaging the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings. You should be pushing equally through both heels, and turning it around before the lock-out point in order to keep the leg muscles under load. Your upper body should remain completely relaxed, so the unnecessary upper body muscles don't distract your focus from the legs.
Closing your eyes can take your workout to a whole new level. By eliminating outside distractions you can connect with what you are feeling. You will become aware of whether or not the correct muscles are engaging and if one side is working harder than the other. You will also become aware of other muscles that might be trying to help when they should be relaxed. Being present and in your body is a key element for maintaining proper form.
3. Muscle burn vs. pain
No one knows your body better than you and it is very important to pay attention when you experience pain. If there is history of an injury or a range of motion limitation, pain is the body's way of getting your attention and you should definitely listen. There are always options when it comes to modifying an exercise whether it's simply reducing the range of motion or trying an alternative method of working that particular part of the body.
Muscle burn however, is not pain. It is the feeling that occurs when muscles are exerting and achieving exercise. It means you're doing it right. Some people don't seem to mind the feeling, while others call it pain, claiming "it hurts!" Although the sensation can be uncomfortable, it will subside as soon as your muscles are no longer under load.
By no means do I follow the no pain no gain philosophy, but I do know the difference between pain and muscle burn. I tell my clients to pay attention to pain, breathe through muscle burn.
Breathing is crucial for proper form while exercising. It seems that it should be a no-brainer, however the body's natural response while under load is to bear-down and hold the breath. If this occurs during exercise, it can push the blood pressure to dangerously high levels. It is very important to focus on easy relaxed breathing during your workouts, especially if you have a tendency to hold your breath.
The style of breathing I recommend my clients use is nose breathing. The respiratory system begins at the nose, not the mouth. When we breathe in and out through the mouth, we create an imbalance of the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. This can cause us to feel light headed, or even faint if we are breathing rapidly.
By shifting your focus to inhaling and exhaling through the nose, at a natural pace, you will maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Many of us were taught to exhale when lifting a weight and inhale while lowering the weight. Instead, focus on breathing the entire time, regardless of which direction you're lifting or pushing. Maintain relaxed breathing and when the exercise demand increases on your system, your breathing will increase as well.
Practice makes perfect
Now it's time to practice proper form by applying these four elements to your next workout. If you have become used to moving weights quickly, try slowing it down so that each repetition takes 20 seconds to complete. Ten to twelve seconds on the positive and eight to ten seconds on the negative. You are in for a real surprise once you slow it down. If you really want to target each muscle group, try timed static contractions. Focus on the muscles you should be feeling on each exercise while keeping the rest of the body relaxed. Remember to breathe in and out through the nose while also breathing through the muscle burn. Take what you've learned to the gym or click here for the at-home TSC-90 Workout videos.