How to Correct Your Form in 4 Common Exercises (And Why Form is So Important)
You’re sweating it out at your favorite fitness class (or going ham in a TL Method workout in your living room), when the coach runs over to your side. The coach calls out, “Abs on!” “Start from the ground up!” “Push through your heels!”
—Have you ever stopped to wonder what these signals mean?
You know you’re supposed to correct your form, but how? And why is the coach so in-your-face about technique, anyway—can’t they see you’re giving ALL YOU CAN to this workout?
Proper Form Could Be the #1 Thing Missing From Your Workouts
Sometimes, we get so caught up in racing through our workouts that we let our form slide. Going fast through each movement accelerates our heart rate, giving us that feeling of, “Yea, I’m killing it!”
Here’s the truth: Maintaining proper form and doing exercises correctly is more important than how fast you do those exercises. First, proper form is essential in injury prevention (you can’t go ham at the gym if you’re too injured to go to the gym, right!?).
Secondly—and what many people fail to realize—is proper form allows you to get more from your workouts. When you maintain proper form, an exercise will “recruit” more muscles to help with stabilization and balance. Here’s an example: If someone performs a deadlift with sloppy form, they will use their hamstrings and low back, but not much else. However, someone performing a deadlift with perfect form will use their hammys, abs (from activating their core), lats (by pulling their shoulders back and down), and glutes (by pushing through your heals and squeezing their butt at the top of the movement).
—In other words, if you have some major six-pack goals, start checking your form in all movements (not just specific core exercises!).
The 3 Easiest Ways to Correct Your Form At the Gym
Proper form and technique will depend on the exercise you’re performing. That being said, there are three things you can do to improve your form in virtually any exercise:
Activate your core: This might sound a tad morbid, but I want you to stand like someone is about to sucker punch you in the stomach. See how your abs tighten up? That’s what you want!
Bring your gaze with you: I know it’s tempting to face the mirror and check yourself out mid-workout, but don’t strain your neck to do so (note: this is super important when doing a ‘hinge’ movement, like deadlifts or kettlebell swings). Keep a neutral spine, creating a straight line from your sacrum all the way to the top of your head.
Plant your feet firmly on the ground: Have you heard the phrase, “Start from the ground up?” No matter if you perform a standing or seated exercise, press through all four corners of your feet.
Follow along with a deadlift tutorial, here.
Real talk: I was taught incorrect deadlift form as a Division I athlete. It wasn’t until I became a certified personal trainer and dedicated my career to coaching that I learned the correct technique. So to everyone who fell prey to poor instruction, here are three tweaks you can make in your deadlifts:
Tuck your chin and keep a soft bend in your knees: When doing a deadlift, fight the urge to look up—it puts strain on your neck! As you lower, keep a soft bend in your knees and tuck your chin, allowing your gaze to lower with your body. If you need to check your form, do so using a side mirror and with light weight to start.
Don’t overextend: This is one of the few movements I see people going too far through their range of motion. As you lower your upper body, your shoulders should never dip below your hips (stop when your back is parallel to the ground, if your range of motion allows). When you come back to your starting position, your hips should not extend in front of your shoulders (stop when you are in a perfect, vertical line).
Follow along with a push-up tutorial, here.
I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and say I did push-ups wrong for years. I thought my elbows should be sticking straight out, perpendicular from my body; and I let my head droop to the ground. Here’s the correct way:
Keep your head and neck in line with your spine: Most people gaze straight down to the ground when they do a push-up without realizing it (I blame poor posture and computer screens). Instead, you should be in one straight line—all the way from your ankles to the top of your head. Pick a point about one foot in front of your pointer finger, right in the center, and keep your gaze there.
Keep your shoulders and back stable: If you’re sitting in a computer chair while reading this, try this: 1) Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears; 2) Push them back toward the wall behind you; 3) Finally, shrug your shoulders wayyy back down. See how your shoulder blades feel slightly pinched together behind you? Keep that position during a push-up.
Your elbows should stay over your wrists: Your elbows should form a 45 degree line from your shoulder, and be placed directly above your wrists. Your hands should be placed slightly wider than shoulder width.
Don’t let your low back sag down: Keep your core activated (again: act like someone is about to punch you in the stomach). By keeping your core tight, you’re less likely to allow your back to sag down toward the floor (this goes back to number one—forming a straight line from your ankles to the top of your head).
Follow along with a shoulder press tutorial, here.
If you know me even the slightest bit, you know I’d choose leg day over arm day, any day of the week. But, I like wearing tanks and crop tops, so I make time to work my shoulders. Here’s how to do a correct shoulder press:
Sit before you stand: If you never tried a shoulder press before, start in a seated position. This allows you to keep pressure out of your lower back, keeps your core activated, and prevents you from using momentum to raise the weight. Even from a seated position, be sure to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Bend your wrists *slightly forward: Note the asterisk here, because I don’t want you overdoing this. When it comes to your wrist position, your knuckles should be bent ever-so-slightly forward, preventing your wrist from bending backward.
Don’t arch your back: Keep your pelvis tucked and your core activated.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Follow along with a Bulgarian split squat tutorial, here.
If there’s one exercise people continue to fight me over, it’s this one. Here’s how to do it correctly:
Hinge slightly forward: No, your back should not be perfectly perpendicular to the ground. There should be a slight lean forward from your hip hinge joint, as shown above.
Bring your gaze with you: Rather than looking straight ahead, you should look at the ground, roughly 3-5 feet in front of you.
Keep one foot flat on the ground, and the other foot tucked: Your front foot (including the heel) should be connected firmly with the ground. The toes of your back foot should be tucked under, or laying flat against a bench.
Don’t arch your back: Once again, tighten that core.
I’m Constantly Sharing Form Corrections on Instagram — What Do You Want to See?
Do you have the sneaking suspicion you’re doing other exercises incorrectly? Or want to learn the correct form for a specific movement? I’m constantly posting about form technique on Instagram, so let me know which exercises you want me to address!
This post was published as a result of an ever-growing thread within the TL Method online accountability group. In the TL Method, we share proper warm-up, cool down, and technique for each of exercise used. Plus, you get a coach (me!) who will continuously answer your questions on form. Click here to learn more about the program.