12 Tips from a Corrective Exercise Specialist to Help Perfect Your Form

Avoid injury and reach your fitness goals with these helpful tips from an expert!

Whether you’re an absolute beginner, or a seasoned gym-goer, chances are you have at least one muscular imbalance or form issue that needs fixing. These tips from a corrective exercise specialist will not only help to decrease your risk of injury, but also improve your performance for even greater results!

Jumping into a fitness routine after a long hiatus can be a major wake up call. You may realize that your body just doesn’t move like it used to. As we age, our flexibility and range of motion decreases (especially if we don’t regularly work on it!) Even if you consider yourself a gym regular, you may have some repetitive-use issues that you don’t even realize are there. Regardless of how long you’ve been working out, these tips below will help with your overall form!

12 Tips from a Corrective Exercise Specialist to Help Perfect Your Form

1. Maintain good posture at all times.

You would think proper posture while exercising goes without saying; however, my experiences in the gym over the years say otherwise. No exercise, be it warming up, walking, running, squatting, push-ups, planks, etc., should ever compromise good posture. Doing so can lead to all kinds of injuries. A helpful rule of thumb: If you’re too tired to maintain good posture, you’re too tired to continue.

Good Posture Cues: Through every exercise, keep your head in a neutral position (not up or down), shoulders back (think pulling your shoulder blades together), chest slightly out, and core tight. If you need to look up (when dead-lifting, for instance), look up with your eyes, not your head. 

Check Out: 3 Simple Ways to Fix Your Posture

2. Run on the balls of your feet, not your heels. 

Run on the balls of your feet, not your heels to keep good running form.

Improper running form can take a toll on the joints of your ankles, knees, hips, and even your back. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is landing on your heels and not the balls of your feet. Consistent, heavy impact to the heels is not only loud, but can also lead to all kinds of injuries. This can include ankle sprains, shin splints, and severe knee pain. On the other hand, landing on the balls of your feet allows your body to absorb the impact and protect your joints better. This also applies to jumping exercises like box jumps, jump rope, jumping jacks, and more! 

Related: 9 Tips to Improve Your Running Form

Bonus Training Tip: It’s okay to hold on to the treadmill handles if you’re unsteady. With that being said, if you need to hold on because you have the treadmill speed set too fast or on an incline, you need to lower the speed and/or incline. Holding onto the treadmill handles during power walking, or leaning back when walking on an incline defeats the purpose. Aim to feel challenged without having to hold on for support. If you want to keep speed and incline up, try letting go of the handles, swinging your arms, and leaning forward, towards the handles. You’ll feel a huge difference in the workout! 

3. Core exercises should be concentrated and controlled. 

To keep good form, core exercises should be concentrated and controlled

All too often I see people in the ab section of the gym flailing about. Aside from the fact that doing so can hurt their neck, lower back, or both, using too much momentum can take away from the muscles they’re trying to target.

For example, supporting your head and neck with your hands during a sit-up is completely acceptable (and even advised.) However, once you start to pull at your head with your arms to force yourself up, you take the tension out of your abs and place it into your arms. Additionally, any twisting ab movements, like Russian twists, should be slow and controlled. It’s not a race. Performing the exercises faster is not going to work your abs any harder. Breathe, concentrate on the muscles being worked, and control the movement. 

Try: 14-Day Beginner’s Core-Building Workout Challenge

4. Learn proper breathing technique.

Speaking of breathing, learning how to breathe properly during an exercise can greatly improve your results. When performing cardio, focus on deep belly breaths, not shallow chest breathing. Also, it is completely acceptable to breathe through your nose, mouth, or a combination of both. During resistance training, inhale on relaxation and exhale on exertion. In other words, when performing a push-up, breathe in while lowering down and breathe out when pushing up. 

5. Improve balance by… standing on a stable surface.

Standing on a Bosu ball while performing a bicep curl to shoulder press may look fun, but it can be quite dangerous if you haven’t yet mastered the exercise. Many people believe that performing exercises standing on an unstable surface will improve balance and core strength, however it actually just opens you up to injury. Trying to balance on a “half-ball” while you have dumbbells overhead is not the greatest idea and again, can take the focus off the muscles you were trying to train in the first place!

Instead, stand on a stable surface (like the floor) and perform the exercise. Once you have the movement down pat, you can up the challenge by increasing resistance or standing on one foot (still on the ground.) Please, leave the standing Bosu exercises to the trained acrobats. 

6. Bend those knees!

When it comes to performing exercises in the standing position (or even leg presses,) never lock your knees. Locking your knees transfers tension and weight from the muscles to the joints, which is a big no-no. Keep a slight bend in your knees when performing standing resistance exercises like shoulder presses, front raises, lateral raises, and more. This will keep tension in your muscles and minimize impact on the joints. 

7. Don’t cut your rest periods short. 

Allow your muscles to recover by not cutting your rests between sets - rest and rejuvenate!

Rest periods are incredibly important for not only reducing risk of injury, but also allowing your muscles to recover enough to successfully complete the next set(s). It is recommended that your rest periods be no shorter than 30 seconds, but no longer than 90 seconds. 

What about active rests? Taking an active rest means performing a light cardio movement between strength or resistance exercises (i.e. jumping jacks or high knees). We’re huge fans of active rests and encourage you to perform them, especially if weight loss is your goal. Just make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time (30-90 seconds).

8. Learn proper form before piling on extra resistance. 

If you’re unsure of what your form should look like, there are dozens of resources to learn from! Google it, watch instructional videos, ask a trainer or someone else that you trust to guide you through the exercise properly. Under no circumstances should you add resistance before you have a firm understanding of proper form. 

9. Don’t let any one muscle group take a back seat. 

Men and women alike have a tendency to focus on the muscles they can see. These are often referred to as our “aesthetic muscles.” Men tend to focus on the upper body, ladies oftentimes target the legs, butt, abs, or arms. But what about the chest and back? How about those deep stabilizing and functional muscles that we can’t see? 

We need to look at our body as a whole and train every single muscle group equally. Allowing one or more body parts to fall behind will no doubt lead to imbalances and injury. Imbalances follow the “domino effect” meaning if one joint or muscle falls short, another is bound to follow if left uncorrected. Targeting every major muscle group will keep us safe and allow us to build a beautiful, symmetrical physique. 

10. Learn the joint checkpoints for the main, basic movements.

Learn the joint checkpoints for the main, basic movements such as the push up

Watch the instructional videos for the Top 4 Barbell Exercises for an Athletic Figure. (This includes: Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts, and Shoulder Press.) Note: even if you don’t use a barbell, the set-up is the same for bodyweight exercises! Also, learn How to Do a Push-Up the Right Way. Mastering these 5 movements will ensure joint health, increased muscular strength & toning, and an incredible looking body!

11. Maintain a neutral spine. 

What does this mean? A neutral spine is the natural curvature and alignment of your spine. This oftentimes comes into play with exercises that require you to bend over, such as bent-over rows, tricep kickbacks, or deadlifts. When performing these exercises, you should never over arch your back or go “hunchback,” as I like to call it. This can place tension on your joints and compress your spine, potentially resulting in neck or back injury. 

Follow the steps in the first tip on the list to maintain good posture. Watch yourself in the mirror, have a trainer spot you, or ask someone that you trust to advise you. If you notice your spine falling out of alignment in either direction, decrease resistance until you can get your form right. 

12. Know the difference between soreness and pain/injury. 

Know the difference between soreness and pain/injury and when to stop working out

“No pain, no gain” is not a rule that you want to follow. Believe it or not, there is a difference between exercise related soreness and actual pain. When you exercise consistently, your muscles may feel tight, achy, or sore. This is a normal side effect of exercise that will pass in a few days. 

On the other hand, don’t ignore sharp, shooting pain during a movement; this may indicates an injury. If you ever experience this, discontinue the exercise immediately. If pain persists, consult your doctor. Pushing through actual pain will only lead to greater injury, and keep you out of the gym longer. 

If you believe you’re only experiencing exercise-related muscle soreness and tightness, you may want to consider yoga, foam rolling your upper and lower body, or even scheduling a massage. These are all great ways to recover quickly! 

Which one of these tips from a corrective exercise specialist did you find most surprising? Did you find them helpful? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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Erin Miller

Erin is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also a Performance Nutrition Coach, certified through the Clean Health Fitness Institute. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach, although weight lifting is her greatest passion. She says, “Weight training is one of the most empowering things a person can do. Not just seeing, but feeling yourself transform… There’s just nothing else like it.”

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