If I had to name the top three most important things in weight training, form would definitely be one of them. Keeping proper form 1) prevents injuries 2) ensures that the proper
muscle(s) are being worked in each exercise and 3) allows you to more effectively track your progress (if your form changes from workout to workout, how can you be sure when you’re actually growing stronger and when you’re just cheating a little more?). Using improper form will cause injuries and, most importantly, result in your routine failing to develop the muscles you want it to develop.
To insure you stay in proper form, here are some tips and techniques:
1) When you decide to add an exercise to your routine, be sure you research the movement thoroughly. Read multiple descriptions of it from a variety of sources, check out some pictures (or videos, if available) of how the exercise is performed, and determine exactly what muscle or muscles are being worked by the move.
2) When you try the exercise out in the gym (or wherever you work out), choose a very light weight at first (see my entry on choosing the proper weight for more info) so you can focus on getting the form and “feel” of the movement down instead of having to worry about moving the weight. Be sure you are comfortable with the movement and that even with this light weight you feel the exercise in the intended muscle group(s).
3) When you begin performing the exercise in “working” (i.e. heavier, muscle-building) sets, be sure you let your muscles (not your ego) be your guide with regard to weight choice. The weight should be manageable enough for you to perform the repetitions in relatively the same form as your “practice” sets. And, of course, you should feel the “burn” and the stress in the appropriate muscle groups. If you don’t, look over the information on the exercise again and modify your technique until you do.