3 Things to Improve Your Form
Have you ever wished you had better form during physical activity? Or perhaps you admire someone who moves with great form and you wish to be more like him or her. All too often we attribute good form to an intrinsic ability to simply move better than others. However, good form is attainable for the majority of the population. At the very least, we can make some sort of improvement to our existing movement skill. Here are three things that if practiced consistently will improve your form, and by derivation, improve your movement in everyday life:
1 - Be Present!
Are you about to rock out the crispest set of double kettlebell swings the world has ever seen, or are you distracted trying to simultaneously watch CNN? It is my belief that the two most important elements in developing good form are intent and disposition. If you walk up to the weights with the intent of lifting them safely and aggressively, chances are this will be visible in the quality of your movement. Being fully present and thinking about nothing more than the activity you are about to perform will immediately make you better. All too often I see practitioners not fully engaged in their movement practice, which most often results in poor quality of movement, or even worse, an injury. Intent and disposition, in the context of being present, with the goal of achieving better form, is all about what you are trying to do and how you do it. While being present is particularly important in the cognitive stage of movement learning, which is the approximate range of 1-1000 repetitions, the benefits of being fully engaged are visible across the entire spectrum from beginner to advanced. At its highest form, being present will result in more precise movement and not only will your form be better, but you will progress much faster and stay injury free. Now, I want to be clear about the fact that not all movement is performed aggressively and being present sometimes means being softer on your delivery. For example, if you had to perform a very emotional piece of contemporary dance with an obscure and morose tone, being present would enhance your form by taking it to a place where the quality of your movement would fit the tone of such movement. Being present ultimately is about understanding what quality the movement requires and being able to express that through motion. Sometimes it’s a violent hip snap and others it’s simply quieting your ribs and softening your knees. I promise you that being present will enhance both power production and smooth, graceful dancing.
2 - Use Imagery
While I had sporadically used imagery in my training since I was a teenager practicing martial arts, it wasn’t until I became acquainted with Eric Franklin’s work that it really started to pay massive dividends in my training. The use of imagery to facilitate movement is a staple in the dance community and modalities such as Franklin technique, has perfected it to its highest from. Not everyone can look at movement and imitate it flawlessly, so by simply creating an image that the practitioner can use to better understanding how the movement should look or feel will make it accessible to them. This is where many “aha moments” are experienced. The wonderful thing about imagery is that it can be applied to any type of movement and it encourages creativity on the part of the practitioner and/or coach. Perhaps the most recognizable image used in dance is imagining a balloon pulling on the top of your skull. The image is used to help dancers lengthen their bodies without looking stiff as board, or some might say, looking like they have bad form. In kettlebell training we use phrases like “arms are ropes, hands are hooks” to drive home the point of a packed shoulder, a straight arm and a proper grip. Once again the use of imagery results in better form. Another widely used image in the coaching world is “move from your center.” Every image is created and used to make the practitioner move with efficiency, and by derivation, to have better form. If we think of efficiency as doing just the right thing, at just the right time, with just the right amount of effort, then we can use imagery as a mental tool to facilitate your end goal of having better form.
3 - Break it down
This is perhaps the most practical of the items that can improve your form, but its simplicity if often overlooked. Breaking a larger movement into its separate components allows us to examine if we are indeed performing each part correctly. Maybe your form is less than stellar due to just one piece of the puzzle, and by addressing that issue you can enhance the whole. Consider the kettlebell snatch as an example. When performed smoothly, with precision and style, it tells a wonderful story of power, flexibility, and coordination. However what if your form is lacking do to a lack of mobility in your ankles? In that case we can make the analogy that the misfire of the ankle is a letter. Extending your knees and hips simultaneously can be seen as a word. Furthermore, coordinating the lower and upper body movements can be viewed as the sentences that moves your story forward. Then bringing together the whole body movement, as well as breathing, intent and style, nicely complete the story you are trying to tell. If the kettlebell overtly flips and crashes at the top of the movement causing your story to have a rather abrupt ending, then we need to fix that sentence. If any of the aforementioned parts shows as bad form, it can serve you well to look specifically at the nonconforming piece of your story/movement and address it first. This is where it is useful to have a knowledgeable training partner, or even better, a qualified coach that can assess your movement and pinpoint where it is going wrong. A story is not bad because it has a couple of misplaced words, just as a snatch should not be thrown out simply because a smaller movement is throwing off your form. Break it down and find that faulty word, then proceed to fix, or edit your movement and tell your story again. In most instances you will be pleased with the way it turns out.
There is one more thing to consider when it comes to breaking down the story, because the different systems have slightly different stories to tell. Sport and Hardstyle kettlebells may look like the same thing to the untrained eye, but to a skilled practitioner it is quite obvious that the approach is different. First identify if the item in question belongs to any specific system or method. Once you know how your chosen system prescribes the movement go and analyze your own execution of that movement for comparison. Simply start from the floor up and check that at every step of the way you are performing the movement as it is intended. In most cases good form lies within a range, so there may be room for adjustments. How much you can adjust is dependent on the system you are using. Important general considerations are stances, posture, breathing, grip, tempo, and eye position. If you at least consider the aforementioned items, chances are you are on your way to moving with better form.
It is easy to become dogmatic and stiff in our approach to training. I believe form can be a victim of that mentality, which is why we must consider all the facts of a situation before condemning someone’s movement as bad form. This is where being technically sound and understanding the why behind specific technique is paramount. While I believe that understanding the nuts and bolts of a movement should be your first goal, there is also an element of style or flare that seems to always be present in good form. The good news is that through practice and perseverance your form will improve and the style and flare will come together as your skill approaches mastery. In closing, I recommend that you get informed, practice often using the items discussed above, and have fun. After all training should enhance your life and a little precision, style and flare can most definitely get you there!