How good is your form at the gym?

How good is your form at the gym?

As many of us are increasing our workouts to get in shape for spring break and impending summer (and skimpier clothes), you might be thinking about upping your weight as well as your reps. Be careful, though — a recent study showed that more people have been coming home from weight training with injuries instead of bigger muscles. Our experts list some common mistakes made in the weight room, as well as ways to correct them and reduce your chance of injury.

While mistakes in form can be made on the machines, our experts agree that free weights, the best way to work a variety of muscles, allow for the most errors in the weight room. Greg Moore, a physical therapist at HealthStyles Physical Rehabilitation (a Physiquality network clinic with two locations in Michigan), points out, “Free weights allow for the most amount of error and take a lot of knowledge, body awareness and experience to perform correctly.” Here are some ways that people misuse the weight rack.

Don't use too much weight.

  1. Using too much weight.

When starting a new weight regimen, it’s always better to start out with too little weight rather than too much. Overloading your muscles can lead to torn tendons and ligaments. Instead, start out slowly and gradually increase your weight and repetitions. Mark Salandra, CSCS, of, one of Physiquality’s partner programs, recommends working up to 20 repetitions at one weight, then increasing the weight only by 5% to 10%.

  1. Using momentum and leverage rather than muscle to move weight.

A common beginner mistake is to use momentum and speed to get through reps as quickly as possible, or shifting body weight to lift the dumbbells, using muscles or muscle groups — like the back — that were not intended for the exercise. This actually will work your body less than with the proper form. Instead, Greg advocates lifting weight with “control and constant muscular tension.” Using the core to stabilize the body — and keeping your muscles tense while lifting slowly — allows you to achieve maximum muscular tension. Greg points out that “lifting this way is highly difficult, and highly productive.”

  1. Using an incorrect range of motion.

This often happens when using too much weight — you lift as far as you can, run through your reps, and move on. Instead, use the amount of weight that will allow you to work through the entire range of motion. This will challenge more of the muscles in your targeted area. Also, be sure to work opposing muscles in order to lengthen the muscle fibers; i.e., if you’re doing bicep curls as part of your routine, be sure to work your triceps as well.

  1. Overtraining and not resting enough.

As with any type of exercise routine, rest is important to avoid injury. Mark advocates at least a day of rest between workouts and no more than 2-3 workouts a week for a beginning weightlifter. As he reminds any athlete, “Train hard, but rest harder.”

Be safe in the weight room.Final thoughts

Daniel Butler, a personal trainer at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee), notes that “In general, you want to lift weights like you drive your car, looking straight ahead. By simply looking forward instead of down, you can correct a lot of form issues and begin to feel the exercise working the intended muscle.” And just as you drive your car with caution and awareness, be careful in the weight room. It’s better to inch forward and make sure the road ahead is safe, protecting your body and your health.

Daniel Butler has been a personal trainer for almost 10 years at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. A former Marine, Daniel holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine as a health fitness specialist and the Arthritis Foundation as an aquatic instructor, and he will complete his B.S. in health administration this fall.

Gregory M. Moore, PT, DPT, PES, is a physical therapist at HealthStyles Physical Rehabilitation, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic with two locations in Michigan.

Mark Salandra, CSCS, is the founder of, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Salandra educates and trains athletes young and old in strength and conditioning, with the goals of better fitness and lower rates of injury.

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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on weightlifting, in addition to the below links:

Deardorff, Julie. Rest and recovery: Why athletes need it. Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2011.

Brody, Jane E. Before you lift a weight, get some advice. New York Times, December 13, 2010.

Stein, Jeannine. Feel the burn, but be careful — weight injuries have gone up. Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2010.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.