Any good fitness instructor will tell you how important it is to have good form. Maybe you’re able to do 100 push-ups, but if you’re not doing them right, not only are you not reaping the benefits of that move, you’re also putting your body at risk of injury.
Which is why so many trainers make it a point to circle the room when they’re teaching a class—to check in on students and make sure that everyone is lined up properly, not putting any unneeded stress onto sensitive joint areas, and working their body the way that the move is meant to. What are some of the common errors that they look to correct? Here are a few of the moves you might be doing wrong at class and how to fix them.
Your arms are burning and you just want this move to be over already, so you’re trying to rush through it. Daphne Yang, certified personal trainer and founder of HIIT IT!, says she sees this move done wrong on the regular. “Too many times people will round their shoulders forward and collapse their chest while dipping,” she says. “This actually over stretches the front of the shoulder and does not activate the triceps. To fix it, lock your shoulders down and back and pump your chest up into the air. Maintaining wonderful posture while you dip guarantees the triceps are activated when you bend and straighten your arms and your shoulders are not overstretched.”
“People love working out their abs but often don’t have the correct form,” says Claudia Aarts-Schreiber, owner and instructor at ChaiseFitness. “Compression of the lower back and pooching of the abs while curling are common issues with abdominal strengthening exercises (i.e. crunches). One of my main goals is to teach clients how to properly use the patented overhead bungee system, which allows them to curl their back properly, naturally scoop in and flatten their deep abdominals, and support their lower back. We also have a signature move called ‘teaser,’ which allows clients to properly balance on their sacrum with both legs in tabletop, knees and chest at the same level while pressing their hands into the bungees. This enables them to sculpt their abs and back muscles safely and effectively.”
If holding a plank feels super easy, you might not be nailing the right form. “Rounding the upper back and letting the hips dip too low are common errors,” says Yang. “Planks are called planks for a reason. Your entire body from your shoulders to your hips to your knees to your toes should be in a straight line. Rounding the back puts strain and tension in the shoulder, neck and back muscles. Letting the hips sag actually puts strain on the lower back versus strengthening it.” To stop rounding the upper back, Yang recommends locking your shoulders down and back. “Pull them down away from your ears and drop down in between your shoulder blades,” she explains. “To remedy the hip sag, lift your hips up so they are in line with your shoulders and knees, engage your core by sucking your belly button into your spine, hold a kegel and take deep breaths.”
Specifically, the part where you push yourself back up. “A lot of people were taught circa-2000 to lower the chest and pop up the butt,” says Jessa Metha, owner of Get It Ohm. The problem with doing this (aside from the fact that it’s incorrect) is that it puts unnecessary strain on your back. To properly execute this move, Metha says you’ll need to get your triceps involved. “A proper yogi ‘push down’ is a tricep push down,” she explains. “Elbows hug the ribs and the body remains one straight line from crown of the head to heels all the way down.”
You might be surprised to see jumping jacks on this list, since you’ve likely been doing this move since grade school gym class. But Michele Gordon (AKA Miss Motivational), creator of Cardio Sweat Party, says this one tops her list for most commonly done wrong. “I see a lot of exercisers perform jumping jacks by jumping up and down while keeping on their toes the entire time,” she says. “Their heels never touch the ground. The issue here is that your calves are overworking. This could lead to extreme muscle tightness, pressure on your ankle and knee joints, foot pain, shin splints and more.”
To avoid all that, Gordon says keeping a slight bend in your knees throughout the move is key, especially when you land. “Start the jack with your legs together and knees slightly bent,” she explains. “As you extend your arms and legs out, the jack should end on your heels. After your toes touch the ground, the balls of your feet should touch, too. Toes first, heels last. Work on doing one jack at a time, finishing on your heels, and landing soft.” The right pair of kicks will further help your cause. “If you’re wearing sneakers, aim to wear shock-absorbing ones,” she says.
If you’ve been working toward that squat booty goal with no results, you may want to check your form. Aim to round the back and let the knees go past your toes. “Too many times, people round their backs while they simply bend their knees during squats,” says Yang. “This ends up putting strain on the lower back and the knees.” To fix this, pay attention to the position of your back and butt. “Maintain a flat back, and think of sticking your booty out to reach a pretend chair behind you while pulling the belly button in as you squat,” Yang explains. “This will protect your lower back. Drive the weight through your heels and keep your knees in line with your ankles. This will keep your knees safe. You should feel like you are falling backwards—that means you are doing it correctly.”
The good news is that you’re stretching. The bad news is that if you’re doing it wrong, you’re not reaping the benefits. “Almost everyone gets stretching their hamstrings wrong,” says Donna Flagg, creator and founder of Lastics. “No matter what position—bending or sitting or lifting a leg—people bend to reach farther. But all that does is collapse the muscle, which is the opposite of stretching. The fix is simply to extend through the backs of the knees and the hamstring from top to bottom will experience a wonderful and surprising stretch from end-to-end.”
You never want to put too much pressure on your knees. They’re delicate joints, folks! This means it’s extra important to pay attention to that alignment when you’re lunging. “When the knee extends past the toes it puts strain on the knee joint and can overstretch the patella tendon,” Yang explains. “To prevent the front knee from extending past the toes, glue your front heel into the ground, drop your back knee straight underneath you and keep some energy in the ball of the back foot.”