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Self-limiting exercise: Have safer, more effective workouts

Sunday - 10/6/2013, 8:16pm  ET

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Jumping rope is a great workout that forces correct posture, keeping you injury-free and feeling great. (Thinkstock)

Josef Brandenburg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Good form and good posture do the same thing for your body. Both take the stress off of your joints and shift that stress to your muscles, making for an all-round better workout.

And, yes, that does mean poor posture and sloppy form are less effective and more dangerous.

The problem with good form, when it comes to most traditional exercises, is that you have to think about maintaining that form too much. And if you have to try and keep seven things in mind while in the middle of a squat or a plank, you can't focus on the intensity of the particular workout.

Some people use this problem as an excuse to let their form get a little sloppy.

But that's not a good idea.

Not only will slacking on good form kill your results, but it will leave you with an injury sooner or later.

For example, let's look at squats. Squats are potentially a wonderful exercise that can be used as a plan for any goal -- toning, fat loss, improved daily living and muscle growth -- depending on how you do them.

The big problem with how squats are traditionally done -- with the barbell on your back -- is that they are so very easy to do incorrectly. Keeping a round back and a torso parallel to the ground is not correct. And adding weight onto a bar with posture like that is asking for back trouble.

To do a correct squat, keep your torso and shins parallel, and your weight in your heels. Also, line your kneecaps up with your little toes.

This is where self-limiting exercise comes in. In a nutshell, self-limiting exercises are exercises that are hard to do incorrectly. That's because when you mess up, you automatically know it and the exercises force you to pay attention to what you are doing.

Below are some examples of self-limiting exercises:

  1. Half-kneeling anti-rotation press: Yes, it needs a better name, but this is a wonderful self-limiting core exercise that requires you to pay attention to your posture. See the video for full instructions on this exercise.

  2. Jumping rope: This exercise is the perfect reminder to maintain your posture. As soon as you get tired and slouch, you will hit yourself with the rope, mess up and need to rest. Plus, it burns calories and works your core.

  3. Pushing a heavy sled or running up a steep hill: I emphasize the word "heavy" because for many self-limiting exercises (sled included), the weight of the object has to be heavy enough for your body to do it correctly.

    Too light of a weight actually makes it easy to do this exercise poorly. When you have to push something heavy forward, your body must align itself. When you lose the momentum on something like this, the sled stops moving.

    Unfortunately most gyms don't have a sled, but don't worry. Running up a very steep hill is a wonderful alternative.

    On a steep enough hill, you have to push your body forward with your feet in the right place, pick up your knees and keep your chest up.

    When your form goes, so does your momentum, and thus your movement.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of self-limiting workouts, but it is a good start.

Take a look at your current workout and see what you can replace with a self-limiting exercise. You'll notice how much better you look, feel and move, as a result.

Editor's Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

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