Amplify your workouts by adjusting and perfecting your form.
Before you wonder why you are not seeing results and increase the amount of weight you are lifting, you will want to look at yourself in the mirror. Check your form as you do the six exercises below. Some are basic and foundational moves, but we can forget our form as we begin to complicate the exercise with speed and weight. Going back to the beginning will help strengthen the right muscles and prevent injury.
As you lower your elbows down for a push up, be aware of your hips and butt. Often unawares, we can let our lower body raise up to resemble a pike position instead of a plank. You want your body to stay in a straight line from head to toe. Lowering your hips will engage your legs, torch your core, and work your shoulders. It is a lot easier on your joints and tissues, but much harder on your endurance.
In order to prevent this from happening, push straight back with your heels and straight forward with the crown of your head. Imagine there is a string pulling your body in two different directions—but neither one of those directions is up.
When you assume your bench press position, do you think about the position of your legs? You want your feet firmly pushing into the ground, securing your butt to the bench. When you pick up the bar, your lower body will now help stabilize you instead of your back, protecting your back from potential injury.
You are not on the monkey bars, so don't swing your body up to reach the bar. While kipping is appropriate and necessary in gymnastics to swing between bars and rings, it is not necessary or appropriate for your workout. Gymnasts know how to kip safely, using their hips and not aggravating their shoulders.
Kipping has its place. But, when you are trying to perform a pull-up, you want to focus on your back and biceps pulling your body upward. Kipping uses momentum from your lower body to get you closer to the bar, but it does not help you reach the bar on your own in the long-term.
When picking up weights to do bicep curls or tricep extensions, check your elbow placement. Usually, if you notice your elbows flaring out, you have picked up too much weight. When you let your elbows wander out, you will cause your shoulders, neck, and back to engage, which takes the stress off your bis and tris.
Choose lighter weights for these reps and focus first on tucking your elbows into your rib cage (or in by your ears if you are doing overhead tricep extensions). Once you can perform these exercises with proper elbow placement, then move up in weight.
When doing squats—whether with bodyweight only, the bar, or with dumbbells, look down at your knees. You want to keep them directly above your ankles. If they drift over your ankles, your knees will take on much of the weight you are squatting and lead to injury.
You also want to make sure to constantly push your knees outward so that they track over your toes. They are going to want to cave in, so pushing them back will keep them facing forward. If you struggle keeping them from knocking in, try widening your stance.
In almost every single exercise at the gym, your neck will try to help carry the weight. If you are not aware of your neck placement, you might use it instead of your intended muscle or muscle group. Here are a few examples:
Pull Ups: You want to reach your chin over the pull-up bar, but straining your neck to do so won't strengthen your back muscles to help you achieve your long-term pull up goals. Do not let it jut forward, but keep it directly above and between your shoulders.
Sit Ups: Same goes with sit-ups. Instead of lifting your neck and head before lifting your torso, focus on lifting your upper body all together. This will target your core and leave your neck out of the equation. If your hands are behind your head, don't push your hands against your head to help yourself sit up, but let your head rest back into your hands.
Push Ups: When dropping down for a push up, keep your whole body in alignment. Don't look straight down below you, letting your nose touch the ground at the bottom of your push up. Alternatively, refrain from lifting your head up to see your instructor as you perform your push ups. Find a spot on the ground about a foot in front of you and keep your eyes glued to this spot. This will help keep your neck in alignment and avoid any straining.