Exercise Technique Fundamentals: Stable Body and Limb Positioning


Exercise Technique Fundamentals: Stable Body and Limb Positioning

There are several commonalities among resistance training exercise techniques. Most free weight and machine exercises involve some sort of handgrip on a bar, dumbbell, or handle, and absolutely all exercises require an optimal body or limb position, movement range and speed, and method of breath­ing. In this post you will find out everything you need to know about establishing a stable body and limb position.

Whether an exercise requires lifting a barbell or dumbbell from the floor or pushing and pulling while one is positioned in or on a machine, estab­lishing a stable position is critical. A stable position enables the athlete to maintain proper body align­ment during an exercise, which in turn places an appropriate stress on muscles and joints.

Establishing a Stable Body and Limb Position

I. Standing exercises

Exercises performed while standing typically require that the feet be positioned slightly wider than hip-width (between hip-width and shoulder-width)  with the heels and balls of the feet in contact with the floor. Examples of such exercises include back squats, barbell bent-over rows, barbell upright rows, deadlifts, etc.

Stable Body and Limb Position - Exercises Performed While Standing

Stable Body and Limb Position – Exercises Performed While Standing

II. Seated and supine (lying face up) exercises

Some free weight and machine exercises require for you to be in a seated (e.g., leg press, shoulder press) or or supine (lying down on the back facing up) position (e.g., dumbbell bench press, supine triceps extension, dumbbell fly). The exercises performed on a chair-like seat or a torso-length bench (flying face up) require the personal trainer to instruct the client to position his or her body in a five-point body contact position so that these body parts or segments contact the seat or bench and the floor or foot platform:

  1. Position your head firmly on the bench or back pad;
  2. Place your shoulders and upper back firmly and evenly on the bench or back pad;
  3. Position your buttocks evenly on the bench or seat;
  4. Right foot is flat on the floor;
  5. Left foot is flat on the floor;
five-point body contact position

five-point body contact position

Establishing and maintaining this five-point body contact position at the beginning and throughout the movement phases promotes maximal stability and spinal support.

Standing exercises typically require the client’s feet to be at or between hip-width or shoulder width apart with the feet flat on the floor. Seated or supine exercises (lying face up) performed on a bench usually require a five-point body contact position.

III. Prone (lying face down) exercises

For prone exercises, you have to lie facedown (e.g., lying leg curl, back hyperextension); and most of the front surface of your body is in contact with the floor or machine pads and handles. For example, the proper position for the lying leg (knee) curl exercise involves these five contact points:

  • Chin (or one cheek if the head is turned to the side)
  • Chest and stomach
  • Hips and front of the thighs
  • Right hand
  • Left hand
Stable body and limb positioning - prone exercises (lying face down)

Stable body and limb positioning – prone exercises (lying face down)

IV. Machine exercises

Establishing a stable-position in or on machines sometimes requires adjusting the seat or resistance arm and fastening belts snugly.

Cam-, pulley-, or lever-based exercise machines that have an axis of rotation require specific positioning of the athlete’s body, arms, or legs for rea­sons of safety and optimal execution. To align the primary joint of the body involved in the exercise with the axis of the machine, it may be necessary to move the seat; the ankle or arm roller pad; or the thigh, chest, or back pad. For example, adjust the ankle roller pad (up or down) and the back pad (forward or backward) to line up the knee joint with the machine axis before performing the leg (knee) extension exercise.

Machine Exercises - Body Positioning

Machine Exercises – Body Positioning

Before performing machine exercises, adjust seat and pads to position the body joint primarily involved in the exercise in alignment with the machine’s axis of rotation.

Closing Thoughts

Weightlifting can be a dangerous activity. If you do not keep your body in proper form (if you do not establish a stable body and limb position) while lifting, you can injure yourself. For all resistance training exercises, it is therefore critical that you inform yourself how to get into a correct initial (starting) body position. From this position you will be able to maintain correct body alignment throughout the exercise, thereby placing the stress only on the targeted muscles.


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