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The most overlooked aspects of strength training

Champaign, IL—For many fitness buffs, form and technique are often an afterthought. Instead, strength trainers concentrate on lifting more weight or squeezing out a few extra reps. But, according to strength training expert Tim Bishop, proper technique can be pivotal to the success of any strength training program. “These aspects of strength training are often overlooked, but they have a significant impact on the effectiveness of a strength program and, more important, the risk of injury,” says Bishop. 

In his upcoming book, Stronger Legs & Lower Body (Human Kinetics, 2011), Bishop addresses four aspects of strength training that are vital to the success of any program.

  1. Posture and joint movements. During a squat, lunge, or step, maintain proper posture, especially in the spinal region. “Keep your back straight (not rounded), your shoulders drawn back, and your pelvis in a neutral position, which allows you to handle heavier resistances without compromising your spine,” Bishop explains. When lunging or stepping, keep the legs at a 90-degree angle to prevent the knees from moving out over the toes. Keep your body weight evenly distributed through the feet or even slightly back toward the heels.
  2. Foot placement. Where the foot is placed on the floor or a machine will functionally change the exercise. According to Bishop, you should pay close attention to the width of your foot placement and the direction of the toes. “Widening your stance and turning your feet outward place greater stress on the inner portion of the thigh,” Bishop says. “Turning the feet inward usually occurs on machine-based exercises only, such as those on a leg-extension machine, and places a greater emphasis on the outer portion of the thigh.”
  3. Tempo. Tempo refers to the pace at which you go through each movement in the exercise. “How many times have you seen someone in a gym race through an exercise with his entire body rocking in order to generate enough momentum to move the weight?” Bishop says. “Racing through an exercise often compromises technique and increases the risk of injury.” A faster pace is appropriate when training for explosive power, but in most situations, a slow, controlled movement is best.
  4. Breathing. Proper breathing is an important part of weight training. “Often people hold their breath while lifting weights, mistakenly thinking that this gives them more power,” Bishop says. “But, proper breathing during exercise oxygenates the working muscles, supplies them with nutrient-rich blood, and prevents the buildup of the waste products.” The proper way to breathe during a lifting exercise is to exhale during the work (push) phase and inhale during the recovery (rest) phase.

“For success in any discipline, you need to follow fundamentals,” says Bishop. “Strength training is no exception. Without a knowledge of these fundamentals, you will never reach your goals.”

For more information, see Stronger Legs & Lower Body.