For some, one of the most difficult abilities to develop in barbell lifting is kinesthesia—an awareness of the position and movement of your body. Athletes are often surprised to see their set-up and execution when a coach takes a photo or video of them. They’re often far off from what they picture in their minds because they haven’t developed a sense of what proper form feels like.
So how do you develop a better kinesthetic sense? It starts with daily awareness of your body outside of the gym and, most practically, by practicing good posture.
Everyone is born with a natural sense of proper posture, but our bodies begin to fall out of alignment from physical, emotional and incidental stresses throughout life. The problem is, if your everyday posture is already faulty, how can you hope to have good lifting form? By practicing good habits daily, you’ll work toward developing better kinesthesia.
Here are some common posture problems and how to fix them:
This often occurs when the thoracic spine is weak and sternoclavicular joints are unstable. The shoulder blades pull apart and the traps and pectoris minor muscles become engaged to create stability. Rounded shoulders reduce strength in the thoracic (torso) area and in time can lead to severe hunching.
How you know: In a side photo, your upper back will look rounded. From a back photo, your shoulder blades will point out and away instead of together and back.
Rehab: Holding a thin band in front of you at chest level with both hands, pull the band apart in a reverse fly motion, bringing your shoulder blades together. This will help build strength and put you in a proper position.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
The spine takes on an exaggerated “S” shape because the pelvis is tilting downward. Picture of bowl of water spilling as it tilts over. This often happens when the lower side abdominals are weak or the hip joint is unstable.
How you know: Your lumbar (lower spine) arches far more than most people’s, or if you have a small pooch in your stomach even though you have low body fat.
Rehab: In a deep lunge, push your hips forward and squeeze the butt muscles on the side of your body where the knee is touching the ground. Extend your arm upward from that same side and then stretch to the opposite side and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.
Forward Head and Neck
The head and neck are far forward from proper alignment. This is commonly due to stiff muscles in the back of the next or a developed habit over the years. If you’re craning your neck toward your computer monitor all day, you probably suffer from this!
How you know: Looking at a photo of yourself in profile, your ear is in front of the midpoint of your shoulder.
Rehab: Drop your chin down toward your sternum and, using your hand, put very light pressure on the back of your head to get a good stretch. Repeat the same exercise at an angle, pointing your chin toward your right and left hips to get a stretch on the back side of your neck. Practice keeping your head back.
This may be caused by weakness in muscles that run under your chest, or it may be a more global problem in how you are standing.
How you know: Looking in the mirror, one shoulder is higher than the other.
Rehab: First stand tall in a mirror and balance your weight evenly on your feet. If you see your shoulders even out, then your problem is how you stand. Practice keeping your weight centered when you stand instead of shifting toward one side. If that doesn’t solve it, do strict dumbbell shoulder presses with light weights in front of a mirror. Focus on keeping your hands at the same level as you raise and lower the dumbbells.
Good posture, like so many things in life, takes ongoing attention. As you practice daily posture, you’ll begin to build better awareness of your body, which will translate into better positioning for your lifts. You’ll begin to “feel” what proper lifting form is like rather than just following a set of directions. As you internalize your form, it will come naturally to you and you’ll have to think less about it.