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HEALTH AND FITNESS: Function follows form

September 17, 2018

When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is that you do it. When you are starting out, almost anything you do will have health and fitness benefits. As little as 30 minutes per day of moderate aerobic activity can improve your endurance and even one set of a few resistance exercises once or twice per week can increase your strength. Doing more, either longer exercise time or intensity, will result in bigger improvements in fitness.

Getting the most out of your workouts requires doing exercises properly. Using equipment appropriately and having good form can help enhance your gains from training. Proper technique is commonly thought to reduce the risk of injury, but it also has as much to do with the effectiveness of the exercise itself.

To be sure, using poor form can result in injury. Some injuries, especially during weight lifting, can be prevented by making sure the exercises are done properly. Fortunately, serious injuries from exercise (not sports) are rare. Those that do occur tend to be due to overexertion, falls during aerobic exercise and dropping weights during resistance training. Using equipment properly and not trying to do too much for your ability can reduce your risk of most types of fitness injuries.

Using good form is important and can actually lead to better results. For example, when some people walk on a treadmill, especially on an incline, they hold tightly on the handrail. This is also common when using stair climbing machines, too. Because your arms are doing some of the work holding the handrails, your legs do less. This makes the exercise feel easier, but it also means that you aren’t working as hard and won’t burn as many calories or see the same fitness benefits.

When lifting weights, moving through the full range of motion at an appropriate speed is important for maximizing strength gains. If you are only working through part of the range of motion, you miss some of the stimulus that leads to increased strength. Similarly, if you are lifting too quickly or slowly you may not be stimulating the muscle fully. Not taking at least a minute rest between sets can lead to fatigue more quickly, meaning you won’t be able to do as much.

Athletes know that proper form and technique are also important for translating exercise training to sports performance. Altering the weights, specific movements and speed of muscle contraction so they are consistent with the athlete’s sport lead to optimal performance. This applies to the rest of us, too. Doing exercises that are similar to what we do at home, work and in leisure activities can help us be better at our “sport.”

If you are new to exercise in general or to a specific type of exercise, starting with good form can help you get fitter, faster with less risk of injury. Make sure you know how to operate exercise equipment, whether that is a treadmill or a weight machine. Ask for help from fitness center employees or other members if you are unsure. When it comes to free weights, it’s best to start with light weights (or no weight at all) to learn the movements and it may be worth consulting a personal trainer to help you get started.

Most importantly, make sure you take time to be active every day, including endurance, strength and flexibility exercise.

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