Whoa, there! All those weights-swinging, swayed back, speed-demon moves you’ve got goin’ on at the gym aren’t going to get you the results you want to see. So go ahead and take a minute to check your form. Not only will you see better results over time, you’ll be less likely to experience an injury, too.
Squats are a gym favorite, but due to inexperience, poor range of motion or bad instruction, lots of gym goers still get this one wrong. This compound movement engages your entire body, so there are lots of ways to mess it up, but be on the lookout for two major culprits.
Bad form #1: Starting the movement with a knee bend, rather than a hip “sit back.” By bending your knees first, your weight shifts forward, forcing your center of gravity over the balls of your feet, rather than your heels. Typically, this is accompanied by an awkward angle at the ankle, and knees that jut out in front of your toes. You may also find your chest tipping forward, pointing toward the floor.
Bad form #2: Women beware — this one’s typically on you! Watch yourself in the mirror as you squat. If you have good form on the way down, but notice your knees buckling inward as you return to standing, chances are your legs aren’t quite strong enough to perform a full squat with the weight you’re attempting. Reduce the weight or focus on body weight only, and really concentrate on keeping your knees aligned with your toes as you return to standing.
Correct form: The squat movement should be initiated by a backward tilt of the hips as you “sit back,” keeping your center of gravity over your heels. When you perform a full squat, your knees should remain in alignment with your toes and your chest and shoulders should be facing forward, rather than angling toward the floor.
With more women turning to CrossFit-style lifting routines, the dead lift is becoming more popular. The trouble is, many women are trying these routines without receiving assistance from a trainer or coach. There are two major problems traditionally seen with dead lift form: 1) a swayed back and a forward-facing head — two factors that throw your back and neck out of alignment; and 2) a rounded back and neck, which places more stress on the upper back and shoulders as you perform the dead lift.
Correct form: The dead lift is supposed to target your hamstrings and glutes, not your back or upper body. To keep the focus on the right spots, it’s extremely important that you keep your back and neck neutral and aligned. With a straight, flat back you can really focus on tightening your hamstrings and glutes to pull your body from a bent-over position to a standing position.
This one’s an easy fix. And truthfully, guys are typically the ones at fault for poor biceps curl form. The problem is weight swinging. Weight swinging usually occurs when someone’s trying to lift more than they can actually handle. If you find yourself having to bend forward or lean back to add some momentum to your curl in order to lift the weight, go ahead and switch out your dumbbells for a lighter set.
Correct form: The key here is to lift the weight in a controlled, steady manner. With your elbows in at your sides, steadily draw the weight up toward your shoulder, then reverse the movement, steadily lowering the weight back to start. Your back shouldn’t move throughout the exercise, so if you find yourself leaning forward or tilting backward, refocus on form or go ahead and switch out your weights.
Oh, the plank! There are millions of people doing planks every day, and there are thousands of people doing them with improper form. The thing to watch with the plank is to make sure that you maintain good form from start to finish. It’s not unusual for a person to start off strong, but to allow their form to suffer in the hopes of holding the plank for a “personal best” time.
Bad form #1: Watch out for that swayed back and upright head! You want to keep your back in alignment from your heels to your head, which means you need to tighten those abs to straighten out that low back and lower your head so that you’re looking at your hands, not the wall in front of you.
Bad form #2: Bottom’s up! Nope, that bottom should be down. Not only does an upward thrust of the hips make the move easier to perform, it also throws your shoulders out of alignment, placing stress on your shoulder joints. Lower those hips back in place so that your body is straight, and if the move proves to be too hard, just lower your knees to the ground.
Correct form: Check three things: 1) Are your elbows directly under your shoulders? 2) Is your neck in line with your back? 3) Are your hips tight and flat, enabling your body to form a straight line from heels to head? If the answer to all three questions is “yes,” then your form is on track!
There are two things wrong with the seated row. First, some people approach the exercise like it’s a rowing machine, so they throw their whole body into the exercise, pushing and pulling with all their might as they fight to make their way up a “river.” This is wrong. Second, some people don’t seem to understand what the exercise is supposed to work or strengthen, so they end up moving from an awkward forward-bend position to an upright position, without ever actually pulling the band or cable to their body. This too, is wrong.
Correct form: Sit upright with your torso angled slightly back, your arms extended in front of you grasping the band or cable. Keeping your torso fixed in place, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the band or cable straight in to your torso. Again, keeping your torso fixed in place, reverse the movement and return to start.
Overhead triceps extension
This is another easy fix. It’s really common for women, in particular, to allow their elbows to splay outward when performing an overhead triceps extension. The fix is simple: Pull those elbows in.
Correct form: Hold a dumbbell in your hands so that the dumbbell is positioned directly behind your neck, your elbows pulled in close to your ears. Keeping your upper arms fixed in place, focus on using your triceps to press the weight directly upward as you straighten your arms over your head. Return to start.