As we continue with our 12-week Back to Fitness Challenge, let’s look at some back-to-basics technique. Some of the things I hear at the gym, in my classes and in simple conversations make me cringe! “Planks are easy, I could hold one forever”; “I don’t know what the fuss is about, I don’t feel a thing”; “I can squat a gazillion pounds and do a bazillion reps without breaking a sweat”; “I hate lunges! All they do is hurt my knees.” To those types of comments, I say: show me!
Results, progress, and improvement: they all come down to technique. You need to perform the moves correctly to prevent injuries, maintain good alignment and target the right muscles. Otherwise, you’re either an accident waiting to happen or you’re just wasting your time. That’s the harsh truth.
Sometimes we “feel” we are in the right position, but if you just look in the mirror, you may be surprised at what you see. Use the mirror to check your form and alignment, as opposed to checking out how your butt, boobs and hair look. (You know you do it!) To help you identify bad form and learn how to fix it, I’ve put together a little game called “What’s wrong with this picture?” Can you spot the most common technique problems in these pictures?
Is your plank more like a broken plank? The plank should be flat like a plank of wood. Does yours look more like a downward dog?
Push the hips down, until they are in-line with shoulder height.
Push the shoulders forward until they are stacked over the elbows.
Align head and spine.
If you can’t hold this position, lower your knees to the floor.
Is your side plank tipping? The side plank should be long and lifted, and stacked perfectly. Could you side plank between two panes of glass?
Bring the top hip and shoulder directly over the bottom hip and shoulder.
Align bottom shoulder with elbow.
Line up chin to belly button to lengthen the neck.
If you can’t hold this position, try doing it with one or both knees on the floor. Build your strength first; only then should you move up to a more difficult option.
Is your push-up sagging? The push-up should be straight and strong. Do you feel like someone is stepping down on your lower back?
Brace your abs tightly toward your spine to support your back.
Open through your chest, to prevent your upper back from rounding.
Lead your chest toward the floor.
Keep your head in line with your spine.
If you can’t keep your belly and hips lifted, drop to your knees. If that is also too difficult, place your knees directly under your hips and push up from there.
Is your lunge more like a squishy lunge? The lunge should be balanced evenly over both legs, and open with room to breathe. Would you bust out of a box, or get squished into it?
Step the back leg further back for a longer stride; this will allow knees to align safely with ankles and not move forward of toes.
Lift your chest to keep your upper body long and perpendicular to the floor.
Lift your back heel high off the floor.
If you struggle with balance, step your feet a little wider apart side wise. If you struggle with strength, keep your range of motion smaller and gradually increase it as you get stronger.
Is your squat more like a knee squat? The squat should be grounded through the heels, open through the chest. If you sat down only to find the chair wet, would you bounce back up or lose your balance?
Dig heels into the floor and shift most of your weight back onto them.
Sit back and down with hips.
Resist the urge to bend your knees forward; keep them behind toes.
Lift the chest.
If you struggle with strength, keep your range of motion smaller and gradually increase it.
Practice these moves in front of a mirror and check your alignment carefully — you will feel a difference when you do it properly. The more your practice, the better you will get and the quicker you will see and feel the results. Remember: It’s better to choose a lower option and do it perfectly than to choose a harder option and do it incorrectly. Just keep at it. You will get stronger. You will improve. You will progress to the next level. I promise!
Katya Mohsen is a personal trainer with over 10 years of experience in fitness and sports training. Catch her practical fitness advice Thursdays on Slice.ca.