Do’s & Don’ts of Proper Exercise Technique

By

Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle
Building.

Recently I have been interviewed by a number of popular fitness websites and a overlapping question continues to occur, “What is the most critical element that leads to building massive muscle and making continual progress?”

My answer?

Proper exercise technique.

I am still blown away by the bodybuilding and fitness industry – I think it’ll always be a unique phenomenon.  Imagine driving into town and seeing a series of store fronts called “Doug’s Dental Center” or “Bill’s Auto Shop” where you have a few dozen chairs for members to do operate on their own teeth and cars?  Then you see a “Amy’s Accounting Office” and “Larry’s Legal Firm” which provides offices for self-use.  It’s not uncommon or considered weird to hire dentists, mechanics, doctors, lawyers and accountants to get professional advice and ensure you do it properly.

However, walk into any gym and you’ll see rolls of machines and benches where members are free to join and do anything imaginable to their bodies – no wonder gyms have a 60% failure rate in the first 3 months!

If you approach me for fitness advice I can make suggestions to change your intensity, volume or frequency but none of that makes a difference if I can not assess if you’re exercise technique.

I know this is a critical issue from personal experience.  I have personally been trained by over a dozen personal trainers over the past six years and I am regularly corrected with errors in my exercise technique so I have developed a skill set to detect training errors – yet I still continue to make them.   How in the world is a layperson supposed to detect error in their training form and how will they develop the skills to suspect inappropriate training form without any professional instruction?

Let me ask you a question.  Would you attempt to ski a double black diamond without mastering the technique required to ski on the bunny hill?  Unless you’re a lunatic I suspect not.  It boggles my mind why gym goers are guiltly of this metaphor applied to the gym.

Before I share my top do’s and don’ts to proper exercise technique let me strongly suggest to invest into a professional fitness trainer; train with someone far more experienced or invest into a set of high quality DVD’s by a reputable fitness coach.

Here are some do’s and don’ts of proper technique so that you can maximize your weight training routine and avoid injury:

Do:

1. Focus on full-body workouts and include a variety of exercises for each body part so that you can strengthen the various supporting tissue from multiple angles.

2. Use a slower and more controlled rhythm to feel the muscle.  Also focus on squeezing the muscle.

3. Focus on full-range of motion before increasing the speed of the motion.  Increase the speed of the motion before increasing the load selection.

4. Use a pyramid rep scheme like 12, 10, 8, 6 reps to progress your weights up safely.

5. Breathe out when you push the weight and breath in while you lower the weight.

6. Always stop 1-2 reps shy of muscular failure.

7. Stick to dumbbells and uni-lateral exercises before progressing to barbells.

Don’t:

1. Use momentum to move the weights.

2. Skip out on some dynamic stretching to assess any tightness in your body.

3. Perform unfamiliar exercises without doing a unloaded set or light weight set first.

4. Bring your ego to the gym.  People are impressed with how you look than how much you lift.

5. Perform technically challenging exercises at the end of a workout when you’re exhausted.

6. Train when you’re muscles are not overly sore.

7. Train through unfamiliar pain.

Let me know what you think the BEST way is to learn proper exercise technique?  Rank your top 3 if you wish or just your top one.  Personal Trainer?  DVD’s?  Self-taught?  Watching others?  Workout buddy?

Post your comments response below…

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Comments

21 thoughts on “Do’s & Don’ts of Proper Exercise Technique

  1. Hey Vince, just wondering, why not go to failure? Your #6 “Dos” state “Always stop 1-2 reps shy of muscle failure”,

    Why not go to failure, and go all-out? Just wondering, cos I mean, why would you want to hold anything back? why not give it your all? I’m sure you know what I mean bro.

    Cheers.

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  2. Vince, Your #6 “Don’ts” is confusing. Thanks. KD

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  3. Hey ive just started properly working out and i think ur program is great!!! when i used ur tips i felt different than when i used 2 workout i could feel a difference straight away! i was just wonderin if u could tell me how many days (and preferably which days) in a week 2 work out to get good results
    thnx for all ur help so far
    paul

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  4. Vince,

    I enjoyed the replay on the UDT, and when I have an full hour I will get back to the play of the teleconference. I think I have mentioned that I do Chi Kung regularly. As you may know its a Chinese exercise routine that has its own logic. Then again, if I was less flexible while doing the conventional routines, it has lead to more flexibility in that direction. You mentioned the shoulders, well, in one system there is a lot slow concentrated circular movement in the shoulders that has improved my posture some as well.

    In fact, I use Chi Kung as my “stretching”. It’s slow and works the whole body by the time you are finished with routine, especially in one system, and there are many. Some are longer, some emphasize the “healing” thing.

    As such, there Is interesting You Tube that describes the abdominal area by showing how each of the organs of the midsection work together, and by strengthing each layer from the “inside out”, you develop an iron stomach. I am sure that I am missing the real point, the goal is to get if not a six pack, a tight midsection.

    I have a specific question about a change in my routine. However, until then I will try it out for myself. It’s body weight for the time being, and if it starts hurting in negarive ways, I guess i’ll have to hold back closer to square one. Until then, you give some good information. It’ helps alot.

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  5. Do’s:

    * Proper warm-up…getting sweating a bit BEFORE lifting!
    * After the warm-up, do some light stretching
    * Keep the workouts intense, lower volume/sets, low rest periods, under 40 minutes
    * Stretch hard AFTER you workout!
    * Get plenty of rest!
    * Workout just 3 days a week, and make sure not to hit the same muscle groups more than once per week
    * Push yourself and log your workouts to improve on each workout in some way.
    * Go to muscular failure in good form. Partial reps are good to get past a sticking point or plateau.
    * After 8 weeks, take a week off and mix up your workouts for another 8 weeks. Keep things interesting!
    * Lift the weight you can handle in good from at about 5-7 reps. When you reach 8-10 reps, go up in weight!

    Don’ts:

    * Workout when you too sore!
    * Workout when you are sick or too tired!
    * Over-train the small muscle groups! Keep sets to 3-4 on triceps/biceps/calves! 1-2 sets for forearms.
    * Use too much weight without a spotter!
    * Expect supplements to do all the work you should be doing yourself! 😉

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  6. I think for good exercise form you should watch a video on how to perform it and mimic it.

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  7. I think the best thing is to have a good training partner. It’s not hard to learn what the correct form is for any given exercise; what’s hard is to actually do that exercise with the correct form! So your partner can keep after you and make sure you do it right.

    Another reason a good partner is a tremendous help is to push you. It’s extremely difficult to push yourself hard enough (what feels like one rep before failure is actually four reps before failure, as you discover when your partner is pushing you). Plus, if you don’t feel like working out on a given day, well, you’ve scheduled it and your training partner is waiting for you….

    The way you can be sure you get coached through every rep of every set of every workout is because YOU’RE doing it for HIM, too.

    One caution, though. If you’re friends with your training partner out of the gym, you almost have to forget it during training. You have to be willing to kill each other.

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  8. Thanks Doug… cool to hear your comments from your eyes. Means a lot.

    Jon… awesome to hear someone speak so passionately about static stretching. I think a lot of trainers fear the unknown and get too caught up in the text book debate on the subject – most people who put down static stretching are the same ones who can barely touch there toes!

    It’s a very powerful weapon. I’m glad you discovered it’s power through action and not by just reading about it.

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  9. Hi,
    Can you please let me know why you say to lift dumbbells prior to barbells?

    Thanks

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  10. Very Impressed. I have been watching you over the last few years…as you have developed…watched some of your older videos. I must say that I totally agree with your do’s and don’ts listed above. I thought I knew what I was doing until I had a personal trainer for a couple of years. He helped me make IMPRESSIVE gains. You obviously know what you are stating, because….look at you.
    I also have to say, that over the years of watching your development, you have made amazing progress, and it seems the more videos I see of you, you are still making amazing gains. Very pumped.
    Keep up your valuable lessons.
    Doug

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  11. Hey Vince,

    I love hearing about all the stuff you bring to the table. I am a high school Athletic Trainer and i also love to stay fit and keep up to date with all of the fitness information. One thing i will say in regards to your “Do” section, is along with dynamic stretching to also take adequate time for static stretching. I know a lot of fitness and strength guru’s tend to pass off static stretching as non essential, saying it will impede on your power out put- total BS. I’ve read the studies and gone through some of the same info they’ve gone through, but when i get a hurt athlete or patient ( i also work in a PT clinic), the #1 thing we do to get their range of motion back is STATIC STRETCHING. I do think the best solution is to combine both for a proper warm up and injury prevention- plus i get to see the benefits of it every day since i encounter hundreds of athletes throughout my work week.

    And regarding personal trainers- like you said- find a PROFESSIONAL trainer- not just the average joe at 24 hr fitness. I can’t tell you how often i want to tear ’em a new one when i see some of these trainers completely ignore proper lifting posture and technique, especially since i see tons of those people being “trained” end up in PT clinics with low back pain and major joint damage (rotator cuff, knee’s, ect).

    Bottom line: dynamic and static stretching= good results and injury prevention + find a trainer that will focus on proper posture and technique!

    Keep up the good work Vince

    God Bless

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  12. Very interesting and thoughtful comments guys.

    I would say I enjoy a combo of everything. I’ve benefited most from 1-1 and watching videos myself.

    Just a reminder…I’m doing a free teleseminar this Monday night …it’s going to be a Q and A call. More info coming soon.

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  13. I am a personal trainer myself so obviously I have a bias towards how you should learn technique and that is with a personal trainer. Before I learned how to lift properly (my high school days) I watched other people. Sure I gained some good information that way and talking to some people but looking back on that now there is only so much you can get that way. Same with DVD’s and other books/audio/video. Watching it can give you some tips but doing it is completely different.

    You may think you are doing it properly and it feels right but there are all the little things that you don’t notice and only a good personal trainer will. Take what Vince said, he still makes technique mistakes. So if a guy like Vince is still making mistakes with all those years of training under his belt then almost everyone else is guaranteed to make mistakes as well. I think having someone right there beside you critique you is by far the number one way to attain perfect technique.

    Personal trainers have watched so many people and know what to look for. Not just the big errors but the subtleties the most people don’t even know about

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  14. Vince,
    First day in and funny that first topic is this as it has always been my biggest challenge as a personal trainer. Form. I also cringe because I see half the trainers who don’t have the eye for it themselves when working with clients or due to their own lack of self body awareness. Yet they are upbeat and great to be around and pull in plenty of clients that don’t know what they are getting. Even some of the trainers state ” oh, don’t be too anal about form, these people are just lucky they make it in the 2x a week when they see me”
    We have an ever growing population of people that spent too much time behind tv and video games and their body integration/ self awareness is far from those that grew up active.
    The ability to step outside and visualize yourself while performing an exercise for some takes multiple corrects. Even more so, the desire to ‘get it’, to know what it is supposed to ‘feel’ like. I have a few that just don’t want to be bothered with dialing it in and I continue to correct them and feel like firing them as they don’t represent what I teach! I like all that I am reading of your stuff and it is always nice to see someone on the same page, yet always more out there to learn!

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  15. I am not a novice but still need all the help I can get. I am 51 and have only been working out steady for the past 8 years. I am tired of reading all the different magazines with all the different ideas on the same thing only to get the same results…… nothing. I am ready to start a routine that gets me to my goal…. lose body fat and gain muscle.I hope that I have finally landed on the right sight !!!

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  16. Good stuff, Vince,

    While many people can learn proper form from DVD or books, there are still [email protected]$$ types like me that think we’ve got it down but need someone to point out to us when we’re using poor form. I’ve done most of your ‘don’ts’.

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  17. Hey Vince, I have been training for about 2 and a half years. I started weighing 113, I know weigh 153, but I can not seem to but on more weight. I was thinking about cutting for a couple of weeks and then starting to bulk again, but my bodyfat is already low like 6% so I am skeptical about cutting. I was also wondering if there is a weight gainer you would recommend I have used cytogainer and serious mass?

    As far yo do’s and Don’t article I saw you said stop 1-2 reps of muscular failure. For the past year and a half or saw I have gone to complete muscular failure on almost every exercise except squats, where I stop one short of failure. Is this bad, can it lead to overtraining and becoming burned out? I have felt burned out and had to take a week off a couple times since I started.

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  18. i think its one of the most common errors people do when starting out that may never be corrected.i was guilty for a long time till someone showed me.its to bad that gyms don’t or can’t help show proper form ……………………..

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  19. I love DVDs, Personal Trainer that knows his stuff work for me, sorry but many are lost… Books are also a great tool. Vince I’ve done your AB/CARDIO training for the last two days awesome just awesome! I think it’s the best way to get the job done thanks for the eBook….

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  20. Evening Vince,

    Best way to learn excercise technique. ( 2 of three from Above ) Watching Others and Workout Buddy’s.
    Vince, I grew up in New Yourk City on the lower East Side and we played sports all day long. I am 54 years old retired 30 years in the post Office. The work was heavy but I was ready for it. Growing up watching Hercules ( Steve Reeves ) and Tarzan ( Johnny Weismullar ) was the main reason I stayed fit all these years. Watching Larry Scout, Sergio Olivia, Arnold, Frank Zane, Dave Draper, Franco Coloumbo was a thrill for me. I say follow the ones that made it to the top and watch good workout video’s
    I am also a Vietnam Vet 1972 ( Marine Core) and I still do my pushups and sit ups every day. Keep up the good work Vince, you and Lee Hayward have just come into my e-mail circle and I am enjoying every e-mail you guys send…

    PS/ My nick name growing up was Herc ( because I used to kick butt in any sport we played and my idole was Steeve Reeves who was the best dame Hercules.

    Nelson Herc. Rivera

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  21. ok i am not an expert at all and i screwd the gym more than once but i beleibe that the best way to train is not only one but 2 technics first you need to srew yourself so you can learn that doing all in one days and tire yourself is not the proper way to exercise
    and also reserching on th einternet is another way so you can improve the way you train i am glad i found you vince so i can watch the way you train

    well thats what i think see ya

    Diego

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