Many of us who have been around a gym and lifting weights for years, take this for granted and never even give it a second thought. If you are new to working with weights though, it is completely normal not to be sure how to hold your head correctly while performing these exercises. It is actually a very important question to ask.
To be totally honest, many of us "veterans" in the health and fitness industry are still doing it wrong after all these years, with a result that many of us have either developed bad exercise form or worse, some chronic injuries developed over the years. So please, don't ever feel embarrassed or stupid to ask as simple a question as holding your head correctly, as it can have important and far reaching effects.
So what is the correct form? It all depends on the exercise and the position you find yourself in, but there is a general rule you can always follow.
General Rule Of Thumb
Like I said, it all depends on the exercise and your body position, but in general looking straight forward is always recommended to produce the correct form and prevent injury.
This means, if you are sitting or standing up, you look straight forward. When you are lying flat on your back, you look straight up. (Imagine a straight pole running up through your back and into your neck and head. That is the position you are aiming form.)
There are exercises where it is vitally important to keep your head straight all the time, like the squat and the seated shoulder press. Then there are exercises where more head movement is allowed, like the seated dumbbell curl and the lying leg press. (More on that in the next section.)
Just remember, this is general rule and there are a few exceptions. Before starting any new exercise, make sure that the correct form is explained to you by qualified instructor from your gym. Do this whenever you start a new routine with an exercise you never performed before. If you are unsure in any way, ask!
Just one but very important request. Avoid blindly following some awkward stance or position performed by the biggest guy or shapeliest girl in the gym. The same goes for your favorite bodybuilder of fitness model on Youtube. I am not even going to get started on bodybuilding magazines... You get the idea.
The reason for the above is simple. Many of these "experts" and "gurus" believe (or would have you believe) they developed a more effective way of exercising a muscle that produce a better and faster results, with much bigger muscle growth. Sometimes these "training secrets" are often exploited and used by magazines simply for more exposure and advertising. I am not claiming that there may not be some good and valid reasons to do this. In most most cases however, straying away from the correct form may result in the development of poor exercise form as well as put you at risk of injuring yourself.
This brings me two my next point, which is why holding your head in the correct position is so important.
The Importance Of A Correct Head Position
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the question of how to hold your head correctly while lifting weights is actually a very important one. There are three main reasons for this.
Correct form is not only important for safety reasons, but ensures that the exercise is done correctly and most effectively. For example, holding your head still while doing a standing dumbbell curl, also helps you to prevent your back from bending, which in turn helps you from using momentum to swing the weight. Keeping the body still in this fashion puts maximum stress on the muscles worked, while maintaining a good body posture and correct form as well.
Not keeping your head straight on some exercises, especially standing exercises can have a serious effect on you balance. Let's take the squat as a good example. It is an already difficult exercise to master and perform correctly. Dropping your head and looking down while squatting, causes your upper body to lean forward too far, which can throw you off balance completely. If not caught quickly enough by a quick step forward or the squat rack, this may also lead to potential injury, especially with a heavy weight.
This is probably the single most important reason to keep your head straight. Dropping or raising your head at the inappropriate time can lead to injury of the vertebrae in your neck or back. Here the squat can again be used as an example. Especially when you struggle to force a heavy weight up, you naturally tilt your head back while looking up to assist with the move, This causes your lower back to arch under the weight which is very dangerous and can cause serious injury to the lower back.
Another example is the seated dumbbell press. Especially performed with the backrest up at a ninety degree angle, the same effect as with the squat can occur. As you try and force out another heavy repetition, it is very natural to push your head back hard against the backrest to help you push the weight up. The stress you put the lower part of your neck under, may cause injury to the lower vertebrae in the neck. Sometimes this is such an involuntary movement, you are not even aware you are doing it. Normally a sore stiffness at the base of your neck the following day my be evidence that you doing this incorrectly. Just be careful.
I spend a little more time on the injury aspect, on purpose. Having seen so many people injure themselves throughout the years due to bad form and recklessness, I just need to put extra emphasis on role the correct position play in keeping you safe and injury free. There no need for you to risk cutting an active lifestyle pursuing your goals short for all the wrong reasons.
Hopefully you now have a much clearer idea of how to address and confidently keep your head and posture in the correct position during your workouts. As you can see now, it's a simple but very important question to ask.
I briefly touched on some exercises where the position of your head is not as important as in other cases. These exercises do not rely on the position of the head and neck that much for proper execution and safety. I am not going into too much detail, but will give you two examples to make things a bit more clear.
When you are doing a standing a standing tricep pushdown, only your elbows are moving while you are keeping back straight. Your head is freed up as its position does not influence your posture and movement in any significant way. You can look straight ahead if you want to, but one can argue that you will most probably want to look down to look at your grip and arm movement to make sure it is performed correctly. The same can be said for doing seated leg extensions where your legs and knees are doing all the work, and your head is free to look at the exercise you are performing.
Well, you now have all the basics. All that remains to be said is to repeat a previous comment: Before starting any new exercise, make sure that the correct form is explained to you by qualified instructor from your local gym.
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Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.