You all know I’m a trainer. What you don’t know is how hard it is for me to walk into a gym and see someone doing a basic move incorrectly.
Gah! It hurts me in my soul to see people working their way toward injury instead of better health!
The basic moves are the foundation of many other exercise moves out there. If you get those wrong, well golly gosh you’re dooming your workout routine to aches, pains and injuries.
Today, that ish ends.
Today, we fight for correct form because, friends, it matters!
I’m summing up everything I teach new clients to improve their form with some new stuff for you guys, as well as including some of my previous videos and pictures so that everything that can help you do correct form is in one place.
Here are the most basic moves, how you may be doing them wrong, and simple ways to correct them…
Planks are THE way I recommend people work their core. Working around a neutral spine instead of curling it with crunches or shocking it with electric belts is a safer way to get a strong trunk.
So the key to a good plank is keeping your body straight as a… board. Thought I was gonna say “plank,” didn’tcha?
Seriously, this is one of the hardest ones to get right because, if you’re not using a mirror, you may think that your incorrect form feels like you’re doing it right.
Most people’s hips will sink close to the ground with their back arching and shoulders coming up to their ears.
Others will “tent” their hips toward the sky, letting the tight fronts of the hips do all the work instead of the abs, like the picture above.
Both are no-nos and immediately corrected when you step into Amy’s house (i.e. anywhere within 100 yards of me).
The perfect plank is one in which your hips are in alignment with your shoulders and heels like this:
Shoulders should be down, away from the ears. Butt should be squeezing, and abs pulling toward the spine. Your lower back has a natural slight arch to it, and your upper back a slight hunch (making an S-curve); that’s ok. Just line up those points with your hips and don’t let your lower back OVER-arch!
Most people who do this right start shaking almost immediately. Shaking is your friend! Breathe through it!
The most common complaint I hear about planks is that it hurts in the lower back. Here’s a fix for that:
Lower back or fronts of hips (hip flexors)=no bueno?
Come down to the ground and start over. It’s really hard to get your lower back to stop taking over while you’re in the plank. What’s likely happening is that your hips are tilting like you’re presenting your tail… which is fine… just not in a plank please.
On the ground, tilt your hips so that your lower abs pull in (think of curling your tailbone underneath you to reach for your belly button). You’ll feel the work in your lower abs and maybe a stretch in your lower back and/or hip flexors. Now, keep that engagement and push back up to plank.
Line up alongside a mirror while you’re getting these down. You’ll start feeling what good form really feels like. I still need to do it sometimes and I think I’m pretty darn good at planks!
If it’s too tough to do this correctly at the start, come down to your elbows. Still too hard? Come down to your knees and line your body up from shoulders to knees instead.
You know that guy who says he can do 500 push ups? That maaaaaaaay be an exaggeration.
Heck, 50 would be an exaggeration for most people!
One of the reasons people do push ups incorrectly is due to improper plank form, so definitely read up on the category above.
When you’ve got your plank form down, start concentrating on these checkpoints:
Let. The Neck. Go!
Honey, I promise you’re not foolin’ anyone by touching your face to the mat while your body stays up in plank. That ain’t no push up. Let your neck relax and elongate the backside of it (between your hair and your shoulders). Your chin should be in. Think: ballerina. ;)
How low can you go?
The closer to the ground you get, the more muscles you’ll be working. Use that full range of motion, man! My buddy Vic even tells people to touch their chest to the ground. I’m cool with you just getting your torso under the height of where your elbows are. (shoulder injury people: skip this step and do what your physio says!)
Holy shoulders-in-your-ears, Batman!
Throughout the movement, keep your shoulders away from your ears. It’s easier to sink into your shoulders instead of bringing your chest closer to the floor, but we’re not strengthening those muscles. Use a mirror to help get this one down.
When you break your plank to come up from the bottom of a push up by arching your back, I call that “worming your way up.” To do a proper push up, we gotta de-worm you. When you’re coming up from the bottom, think about drawing the spot below your button up to the ceiling first. This will help engage your abdominals and make it easier to come back up to your start position, straight as a board!
Where do I put my elbows/hands?
Depends what you want to work on. If you’re aiming for more arm definition, place your hands directly under your shoulders and slightly back toward your feet, while aiming the elbows back close to your body to put more of the work into your triceps. If you want more pec-building, aim your elbows come out at a 45-degree angle to your body. Hands will be placed slightly wider than shoulder width apart for these.
If the above steps are too hard to try all at once from full plank, try them with your hands up on a bench, or with your knees on the ground. Same rules apply.
Squats are the base for most lower-body strength movements. Learn to do them correctly, and you’ll have that technique to pull from for all your exercise routines!
Do these wrong, and you’re encouraging a whole chain of nastiness in your body… a “kinetic” chain of nastiness! *insert really loud nerdy laugh here*
Here are the main check points:
When you squat, your weight should be in your heels. To do this easily, lift your toes up to the tops of your shoes. Feet should be hip-width apart with toes pointing straight forward. Push your hips down and back like you’re sitting in a chair (extend your arms out in front of you to counter-balance your weight). At the bottom of the movement, your shins should be parallel to the line of your back if someone was looking at you from the side. Like your whole body’s a Z! Then, come back up by squeezing your glutes. Think: thrusting. I know, I know…
Here are some tips for the old squateroos…
Get your tail between your legs
Lower back arching? Just as in the planks, you have to be careful of that hip tilt that arches your lower back. Even at the bottom of the movement, bring those lower abs toward your spine, and tuck your tailbone until your lower back is only arching naturally and no further.
I knee-d help
Try to push your hips back instead of sinking straight down like you’re poppin’ a squat. Feeling like you might almost fall backwards is better than feeling like you might fall forwards.
Your shoulders can’t do this for you
Guys! Relax! Many of us hold tightness in our upper shoulders and neck, and it follows us even into lower-body movements. Get those puppies down away from your ears for the whole movement. Actually, just keep them down for the rest of your life, ok? Unless you want mega-traps…
Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of squeezing your butt to bring you back up from the bottom of the movement. If you don’t squeeze ‘em, they’re likely not working. Make those cheeks work for it!
Need a stepping stool into squats? Sit down to a chair or bench, then simply stand. I show you how in this video.
The basics are truly crucial, guys. Don’t forget about form! You’ll thank me when you don’t get hurt. ;)
Have any questions for me? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll happily help you however I can!
(that’s a lot of h’s)
Have a great weekend, guys!
With hope and fire,