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Five Ways to Improve Your Form Working Out Alone

Use a mirror to check out your form.
Use a mirror to check out your form.

Working out alone has certain advantages. You can change your schedule at the last minute and don't have to worry about coordinating with someone else. You're less likely to spend time chatting, so you get through workouts faster. You can also focus exclusively on exercises best designed to further your goals.

The downside of solo workouts is making sure you're doing things properly. It's not uncommon for me to see people who've always worked out alone, doing things that put them at risk of injury. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make sure you're doing it right, or start fixing what you're doing wrong.

Start by learning where the major muscle groups are in your body. Exercises are designed to target different areas with varying levels of intensity. Exercise descriptions use words like "pecs", "delts" or "rhomboids" and it's assumed you know what they're talking about. If you don't know what someone means when they say "fire your glutes", it's hard to get the movement they're describing right. To help you locate the major muscle groups, you can refer to the picture below this paragraph.

Body Image Front

Body Image Back

Read about the exercise before you do it. If you're using a machine, many include a simple description of how to position your body and move. The same is true of most home exercise equipment. Those instructions are written to tell you what muscles are being worked, how to get into position and what you should do with the rest of your body. Workout apps often provide detailed information as well.

Everybody is a beginner at some point, but those instructions can be valuable even if you've been working out for a long time. If you have an injury or problem with a specific area, and you're doing an exercise improperly to compensate, you may be harming yourself. Only by taking the time to read can you learn.

Some of the most detailed information on how individual exercises are to be performed is available free, online. There are extensive databases of exercises broken down by body parts, equipment needed and even how much experience you may have. A few of the ones I like to use include acefitness.org, bodybuilding.com, exrx.net and shapefit.com.

Ace Fitness BodyBuilding.com
Exercise Prescription
Shape Fit

Make sure the muscles you're supposed to be working, are in fact doing the work. Learn the primary and secondary muscles that are supposed to be activated. Then make sure you feel them being stressed as you move through the exercise range of motion.

Whenever possible, use mirrors to check your form. If you're someone who hates using a mirror, remind yourself that they are there to help you. You're not looking in them to judge or criticize your body, but merely as a tool to help you move better.

If you have a home gym, install at least one full-length mirror in your workout space. Even better would be putting two or three mirrors in so you can check out your form, from more than one angle.

Always protect your back. One of the most injury-prone areas of your body while weight lifting is your spinal column. Unless you're doing exercises that specifically target the muscles in your lower back, you should generally keep it flat.

To get into position, tighten your abs, pull your shoulder blades together and down (known as scapular retraction and depression), while pushing your chest up and out. Keep your head in alignment with the rest of your body.

Be careful where you look. Heads tend to follow where the eyes lead. If you look too far up or down, you risk moving your head out of alignment and breaking that nice flat line you should be maintaining with your back.

Follow these five simple suggestions and you should see your form, and the results of your workouts, both improve. Take the time to do things right, and you'll be building a strong foundation with a strong body.

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