Forming a positive permanent habit

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

We are all familiar with the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” right?  We grew up with parents, teachers, and coaches reminding us daily that this was the surest route to perfecting any technique, from mathematics to spelling to delivering a pitch directly over the plate. 

A co-worker of mine once shared a slightly different take on this topic: “Practice makes permanent”. If you are practicing good techniques, such as proper form when lifting weights, keep it up; these moves will eventually become permanently imbedded in your mind. However, if you are unknowingly practicing improper technique, the long-term effects may leave you prone to injury.

I often observe individuals in the gym who are training with poor form.  From utilizing too much weight to placing muscles in risky alignment, exercise-related injuries are all too common these days. Why?  Simply put, if nobody takes the time to explain the perils of such dynamics, these patterns truly will become permanent over time, and the results will be less than desirable.

Several such fitness moves have made it to the top of my list of offenses.  The Number One spot is held by the popular “lat pulldown behind the head.”  The danger here comes from the fact that few recreational athletes possess the shoulder joint mobility required to maintain a straight spine during this move.  Executing this incorrectly can lead to shoulder impingement or a torn rotator cuff. In addition, if the bar should connect to the back of the neck with enough force, delicate cervical vertebrae could easily suffer injury. 


A safer alternative is to lean backward slightly, grasp a lat pulldown bar with a wide grip, and lower the bar in front of the body towards the breastbone, pulling shoulder blades down and contracting the abdominal muscles to stabilize the rest of the body.  As with any resistance move, try to avoid using momentum on either the pulldown or the release back to the staring position.

Running a close Second Place is “notorious bad form on cardio machines”. If you find yourself hunching forward, or grasping the handrail with white-knuckle force, keep in mind that not only is your body out of alignment, but you are certainly not deriving the benefits from the workout that the machine was designed to provide. 

A safer goal is to lower either the incline or the resistance to a point that challenges you but doesn’t require the death grip.  Try walking on a treadmill with your natural walking gait and without holding the handrails.  This will help to strengthen the body’s core muscles.  If you are determined to up the ante, try holding on with just 1 hand while moving the other arm in a natural rhythm; after a designated interval, switch arms.  If you find yourself struggling to maintain proper posture, consider saving your reading for after the workout has been completed, so that your entire focus can be on the safety and efficacy of your performance.

Setting aside time during the week to get to the gym is challenging enough for many of us.  Improve your odds of the workout yielding positive results by paying close attention to details.  Form and function go hand in hand; and over time you will observe that practicing good, safe techniques will lead to permanent fitness improvements.