Learning how to move with correct alignment isn't just about looking good; it can mean the difference between muscle activation and joint strain-or even injury.
Here are five common exercises that may seem simple, but are often performed incorrectly by people of all fitness levels.
*Lunges: How to perfect your form-Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed, keep your chin up and always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips, until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Your front knee should be directly above your ankle (it should never go past your toe), and be sure that your other knee does not touch the floor. Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.
*Squats: How to perfect your form- Keep your back neutral (there should be a slight natural curve in your lower back), and chest lifted. Always engage your core. When you bend your knees, press your hips behind you (as if you were going to sit back into a chair), tracking your knees over (but not past) your toes, with your feet and knees pointed forward. Having a goal of trying to look up at the ceiling during your squat will naturally put you in these good positions.
*Tip: Having a chair that you touch at the bottom of each squat keeps your depth consistent and gives you a safe ending if you fatigue out.
*Crunches: How to perfect your form- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands behind your head so your thumbs are behind your ears (do not lace your fingers together). Hold your elbows out to the sides but slightly rounded in. Make sure there is a fist's worth of space between your chin and chest (do not tuck your chin). Always engage your core. Curl up and forward so that your head, neck, and shoulder blades lift off the floor (do not pull your head with your hands). Hold for a moment at the top of the movement and then lower slowly back down.
*Push-ups: How to perfect your form- Get in a kneeling position, then bend forward and place your hands on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. While your wrists don't have to be directly under your shoulders, they should be aligned with the shoulders, neither in front of them nor in back of them. Keep the fingers loosely (not locked) together and point them straight forward. Your arms should be straight, but not locked at the elbows. Step your legs back, one at a time (for a full pushup, you can stay on your knees to modify). Your feet should be closer than shoulder-width apart, but not locked together at the ankles, and your body should make a straight line. Make sure that your bottom is not in the air, your back is not curved and your shoulders are not sloping in. Inhale while you lower yourself to the floor. Your goal should be to almost, but not quite, touch your chest (not your head) to the ground. As a general rule, stop the motion when your elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Exhale as you push back upward. Maintain the same straight-line form and don't lock your elbows as you reach the top of your pushup.
*Plank: How to perfect your form- Line up your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders and engage your abs as you extend into plank. Press your arms into the floor and imagine you are lightly gripping the ground with your fingertips to engage your wrists. Your body should be in one straight line (diagonal with the floor) from your heels to your hips to your head. Neutralize the neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond the hands.
*Modified Plank- Place the forearms on the ground with the elbows aligned below the shoulders, and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width distance. If flat palms bother your wrists, clasp your hands together.
If you noticed that you're guilty of even a few of these form guidelines, don't beat yourself up over it. The key is to continue to improve and focus on that form. Proper form is essential to target the muscles you're trying to train while also avoiding injury. So enlist the help of a friend, use a mirror when you can, or consider getting help from a personal trainer for even more insight.
If you'd like guidance with these, or any other exercises, please schedule an appointment with our Exercise Specialist. She can also help you with stretching techniques and small supportive muscle strengthening that will automatically help make each of these exercises easier and improve your form.