Form check

Hey guys! IT’S FRIDAY <3 Thank goodness, ehh?

All I’ve got for ya is half a breakfast:


Someone is going through a growth spurt, and things have been a little cray over here. She discovered a new octave in her repertoire and the first time she did it, I couldn’t help but laugh because she sounded like a tiny opera star. The best? When she stopped shrieking, she smiled at me because I was smiling. Funny girl 🙂

So today I thought it would be fun to talk about something near and dear to my heart: workout form. In my confessions of a personal trainer post, I mentioned that I’d love to be able to talk to other gym-goers about form without being a weirdo, because there are quite a few workout moves that are easy to complete with less-than-fab form. I was guilty of it myself for at least a year, until I hired a personal trainer to help me out.

Here are a few ways to get the most out of these workout moves:

1) The abdominal crunch. First off, I think crunches are kinda silly because they’re not very functional. When in real life do you find yourself doing a crunch-type movement? Sit-up type movements, yes, but tiny crunches? Notsomuch. Planks are more functional.

Anyway, here’s a form check for the crunch:

abdominal-crunch-1.4-800x800 Source

This guy has great form:

-elbows out to the side. Make sure that you’re not trying to smash your face with your elbows- try to keep them in line with your ears

-chin is lifted, keeping the spine in alignment. This will give you a fuller range of motion

-feet flat on the floor in front of you. (You can also crunch with your toes lifted, weight on your heels, to challenge stability a little more)

-bellybutton tucked in towards your spine. The goal is to bring the abs in, not push them out- keep your core tight.

-inhale as you lower your shoulders to the floor, exhale as you crunch up.

Take it up a notch: try combining a crunch with a reverse crunch at the same time, or my personal fave, frog crunches 🙂

2. The deadlift.

Deadlift-front Source

This is a great exercise for legs (mostly hams) and lower back- one of my faves.

Some tips:

-Keep your back flat (don’t let the spine round)

-Shoulders back and down

-Knees are slightly bent and hip-width apart (feet directly under each hip bone)

-Bring the barbell or dumbbells just below your knees, and keep your back flat as you rise back up. Imagine that you’re folding your body in half, and your hips are the hinges. Keep your spine exactly in line and make sure it stays flat as you perform the movement- think of a book opening and closing.

-What the above picture is doing incorrectly: looking forward. When you raise your head up to look at yourself, you’re compromising the alignment of your spine. As you hinge forward, your gaze should actually be on the floor in front of you.

-Abs tight!

Take it up a notch: complete the deadlift movement with legs steady in a deep plie squat (thighs almost parallel to the floor, toes turned out). WHEW!

3. Assisted pull-up

assisted-pull-up-strength-machines-02-fiss431 Source

Some common mistakes:

-Letting your body dangle as you hold onto the handless- make sure to keep some tension and resistance

-Too much weight = too easy. This machine is a counterweight, so the higher it’s set, the easier it will be. To start off, choose a weight around 30 lbs less than you weigh and go from there- it should be challenging to pull yourself up!


-Pull yourself up so that the handles are just in line with your chin, and exhale as you rise

-Keep shoulders down and back- they don’t go up with your body when you pull up

-Abs tight

-Pretend that you are squeezing a lemon with your shoulder blades as you pull up

Take it up a notch: try doing 10 full pull-ups, and 10 tiny pulses at the top. Or, holding the top position for 10 seconds after completing your reps.

4. Squat

chairsquat Source

This one is a doozy, because I’ll often see people squatting with the weight in their toes and knees jutting forward, which can lead to injury.

Here are some squat tips:

-Pretend that there’s a chair behind you (like in the pic above). If it helps, put a chair behind you or stand in front of the weight bench, and lightly tap it with your booty as you squat down.

-Weight in your heels- you should be able to lift your toes off the floor when you’re in a full squat position.

-Feet hip width apart.

-Ideally, try to get your thighs almost parallel to the floor. If you have knee considerations, tiny squats are fine with proper form

-Chest stays lifted- try to keep it from collapsing onto your legs by keeping your core engaged

-A ball squat is another great option, especially for those just learning proper form or with knee considerations:

image14 Source

Take it up a notch: play with tempo. Slow squats, fast squats and pulsing squats will make your biscuits burn

5. Cable tricep pressdown

tricep-pressdown Source

Some tips:

-Stand up straight- it’s tempting to lean forward

-Abs engaged

-Keeping your elbows glued to your sides, straighten your arms and press down

-Bend your arms, keeping the elbows glued to your sides, to raise the bar or rope up to a 90* angle (no higher) <— this will maintain higher resistance

Take it up a notch: change the type of handle you typically use. If you usually roll with a V-rope, try a straight bar. Also, make sure to think about squeeeeeezing your triceps as you press down

Are there any workout moves you’ve avoided because you aren’t quite sure of form? Deadlifts scared me for a long time.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry and avoid risking injury. If you have questions about particular exercises, don’t hesitate to ask a local trainer for tips! If they’re nice, they should be more than happy to help you out 🙂

I’ll be back later with a Family post!

Make today amazing <3



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  1. Ali @SeeAliEatSeeAliRun on March 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    YES! I can never get into plank position correctly. I always stick my butt out too high or tuck in too low. I think this is also a really common mistake!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      it definitely is. just keep your abs tight and picture your body as a straight line from your head to heels

  2. Claire @ Live and Love to Eat on March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I’m intimidated by the weight lifting section at my gym in general. I feel like people hog the machines and feel entitled to 2 or 3 at a time, and feel silly when I move the pin to a lower weight on the machines. I do the majority of my strength training at home!

  3. Katherine on March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I think you meant crunches are not very functional. I am a Pilates teacher trainer and think forward flexion in general is not very functional. There’s so much of it out there and so many better ways to get your ab strength on that are more functional! I think the crunches pic above puts a lot of stress on the sternocleidomastiods. There’s a balance between flexing the cervical spine a bit to follow the curl in the rest of the spine and asking the frontal neck muscles to counter hanging the head back too much. Just me two cents. Great post on form…no essential!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      haha i did. i added the “not” in there 🙂

  4. Jayme Riley on March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    These are great tips! I can’t wait to get back to the gym and try the assisted pull-up machine. I’m a bit intimated by it.

  5. Pinky on March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Anything similar to a deadlift scares me! I also still am afraid of the back extension/rear leg lift from one of your workouts.

    Awww newborn cry all gone, so sad 🙁


    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      girlfriend found her lungs. haha

  6. Christabel on March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    This is super helpful. Especially the squat and assisted pull-up info. I’ve definitely been doing my pull-ups wrong.

  7. Jenny on March 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I agree with planks. I feel like I stick my butt up too much, and not sure if I should Benin toes with heels back or forward in relation to my toes?

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      heels will be slightly forward 🙂

  8. Jaima on March 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    This post was super helpful! I’m teaching my first Body Pump class tomorrow and we do a lot of these moves in the class. It’s always great to hear different ways of informing people how to do things properly, like on deadlifts to think of your body as a book opening and closing. Thanks for posting.

  9. Kerry @ Totes My Oats on March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I am always intimidated to go over to the free weights because there are usually all buff guys… I get nervous that I will do something wrong!

  10. Hillary on March 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Love this. I often avoid deadlifts because I’m afraid of hurting my back. I know how to do it right, but it’s just a bizarre fear I have!

  11. Brittany on March 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Crunches and sit ups freak me out. I’m always worried that I’m doing something wrong and I’m gonna get hurt.

  12. on March 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    i love deadlifts!! but ya, those are an easy one to mess up form with…but they’re so effective!

  13. Steffany on March 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Oh man, I worry about my form a lot with plenty of things. I try to ask my BF to watch me when I’m not sure of something or I think I’m slacking on form.

  14. Rosalie on March 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I’m not too positive about lying dumbbell pullovers. Every other lying-down-on-a-bench move has you keep your lower back flat, so I’m uncertain as to how much to let my lower back arch. Or whether or not I should be letting my shoulders rotate back slightly, or stay completely in one plane in the socket.

    And with reverse flyes, are you supposed to have the arms fully extended (ie only a minimal bend in the elbows to prevent hyperextension), or bent at the elbows. The latter makes it easier since the weight is closer to my centre of gravity, so I can use a higher weight, but I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

    Help? 🙂

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      for the pullovers, you essentially want your arms in line with your torso, so the shoulders will rotate back slightly. if you make sure to pull your bellybutton in and abs tight, it will help keep your back nice and flat 🙂
      for the reverse flyes, i keep my arms almost straight with a slight bend. i think it targets the rear delts more effectively, but you have to use lighter weights

  15. mary @ what's cookin with mary on March 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm


  16. Lauren J @ The Barn on March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I actually had a very muscular man come up to me in the gym two days ago and give me a lesson on bicep curls of all things. Only after he explained he had a degree in kinesiology and was the father to two grown girls. My husband stood about three benches over laughing.

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      so awkward! was he nice, or creepy?

      • Lauren J @ The Barn on March 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

        I would say nice overall. Although I should also mention this was after he spent a good 15 minutes prior grunting so loud through a few sets of shoulder presses that a guy actually came over to offer him a spot because he didn’t seem like he was going to make it through them. So I guess that made it a little more awkward haha!

  17. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat on March 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Great topic Gina! Even though I’ve been using the assisted pull-up machine for a while now (with small gains being made!) it’s definitely my nemesis machine and I feel it every time! I love that you highlighted that abs should be tight. It wasn’t until I started trying to do full chin ups and pull ups that I realized how much the abs need to be activated!

  18. Laura @ She Eats Well on March 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Using machines at the gym tends to intimidate me. I don’t know why I just don’t ask for help from a trainer!

  19. Carrie on March 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Something that is super-hard for me is keeping proper wrist alignment, especially on the tricep and bicep moves. I see so many people bench pressing with their wrist cocked back, especially the “beefy” guys! Ouch!

  20. Corrie Anne on March 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I know it sounds crazy, but I kind of avoid push-ups for that reason. I feel like I don’t know what to do with my elbows!! Plus I have a really hard time pushing myself back up!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      try doing it on your knees to make it a little easier <3

  21. Averie @ Averie Cooks on March 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Form is so key to staying injury free in everything from lifting to yoga to running. Bad form is one of those things that once you start doing the pose or exercise properly and it finally “clicks” how you’re supposed to do it, you kinda can’t believe you were doing it the wrong way for so long. At least that’s how I feel about certain things!

  22. Cerissa on March 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I just did deadlifts this morning! It was nice to double-check my form. Thanks!

  23. Emily @ Glitz Glam Granola on March 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    This is such a great post! I worry about my form all the time because I’m worried that I’m going to end up straining and hurting my back which usually leaves me with headaches for days! I’d also love to see something simple like push ups highlighted and any other ones where you traditionally see bad form!

  24. Nicole on March 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks for tips, I always try to be on top of my form, it makes things so much more challenging though! I have a question about the deadlifts. I’ve always thought deadlifts were when you snap up quickly at the end of the move. So, you raise until your back is at a 90 degree angle or so, then quickly snap into a standing position. Is that correct, or can deadlifts also be just a fluid motion where you slowly hinge from the hips from a standing position, down, and then back up?

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      i would do them as a fluid movement- haven’t seen the type where you snap back up

  25. Aylin @ Glow Kitchen on March 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I am definitely guilty of poor form. I do weights after cardio and often am just dying to get it all over with due to lack of energy that I whiz through without much thought or precision

  26. Jaime on March 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Deadlifts scared me forever too. I thought I was doing them wrong and hurting my back, but every time I checked my form it looked right! Turns out it was something else hurting my back and my deadlifts are fine!

    The thing I realized I was messing up was bench tricep dips. I wasn’t keeping my butt against the bench while dipping…now that I’m keeping it straight I can barely do them! So hard. haha.

  27. Ali on March 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    LOVE all these tips! You are getting antsy to get back atter, yes?

  28. Michelle on March 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Speaking of form…thought you (or any other group ex instructors out there) may be able to help me out…I’m trying to perfect my cueing for a few new styles of classes I’ll be teaching (intervals & boot camp-ish in nature). I know you teach lots of different types of classes – how do you keep things flowing & them moving without stopping them to explain every single move? I have “trainer problems” and think I may be cueing too much before they get started. Any tips?

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      i get them started and while they’re doing the move, i give them pointers on form
      “*start squatting* ok, we’re going to take it into a squat, feet hip width apart, weight in your heels, booty back, let’s go!”
      as they start doing the move, i’ll say “keep your core engaged, make sure that your knees aren’t extending past your toes, etc”

      • Michelle on March 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm

        Thanks, Gina! I appreciate your POV, and it’s close to what I’ve been doing anyway, so hearing this tip from you makes me feel better about my method :). Now if only I can get using the timer during class down smoothly. Haha.

        P.S. I wrote a Focus On Kettlebells post for you last year, and since then, not only have I started training and teaching, but now I teach that very same KB class! Full circle, haha.

        • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 11:36 pm

          that is awesome!!

  29. K on March 23, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Gina. Great tips, but I’m an NSCA-certified trainer and have to disagree with a couple pointers…

    Concerning the deadlift tip to keep your gaze at the floor in front of you – I was taught to look up at the ceiling to encourage the back to stay flat and not round. This has helped me a great deal and I’m currently deadlifting 140 lbs. (at 127 lbs. bodyweight) for multiple reps with an absolutely straight back, and I’m also able to add weight to the bar every couple weeks.

    Also, below-parallel squats are not BAD if your knees are healthy and if your form remains spot-on otherwise (chest up, back straight, core engaged, knees tracking with toes, pelvis not tucking under).

    Otherwise, I completely agree with everything you said and enjoy reading your blog very much!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      thanks, girl!

  30. Talia @ Bite Size Wellness on March 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I used to have a mug like that! Pier One? I think mine was a giraffe or a monkey…I forget because my husband always hoarded them and left me the boring mugs. Haha. Great post today. It is always important to check in with the basics!

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      thank you- i’m glad you liked it 🙂
      have a great weekend <3

  31. Cristin on March 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I cringe when I see people doing clean and presses wrong… I’m so afraid they are going to hurt themselves

  32. Stephanie @ Legally Blinde on March 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for all of these great tips! I always like to review moves I do frequently (like planks and squats) and learn about other moves I should try incorporating. I have yet to try assisted pull-ups or cable triceps pull-downs, but this definitely gives me the knowledge I need to give them a shot. I did finally try out something I’ve been wanting to do for a LONG time today – the rowing machine! And I loved it!

    Great post! And I loved the story about Liv’s “opera” performance 🙂

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      so glad you tried and loved the row! it’s a great machine 🙂
      haha yes, she is quite the little singer already

  33. geetha on March 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Hi gina,
    Thought about you and livi when i came across this on pinterest today. 🙂

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      i had to add it to today’s family post- thank you!

  34. Allison on March 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    ah babies, i can’t wait til my niece is finally born. about 3weeks and she will be here! i can’t wait, even if she shrieks all the time, i’ll still love her.

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm

      it’s funny because the shrieks are even really, really cute 🙂

  35. Anne on March 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    It’s good to review all these proper form tips! I’m always worried I’m doing crunches wrong. My jaw and neck usually start hurting, but I never know if it’s from TMJ or all the tension I carry in my upper body.

  36. Life's a Bowl on March 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I avoid a lot of free weight exercises because I always feel silly doing them, rather I use the machines…

  37. Negar M on March 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you for these! Even though I have heard these tips in passing, I am reminded to get my butt into gear and get my workout on.

    About the planks: I always feel like I’m doing them wrong because in order for my body to be straight, my butt sticks out (if my back is straight from head to toe, it’s because I’m thrusting my hips waaay out).

    Bubble butt.

    I can do without, but I think my husband would die if I lost it. Die.

    Oh and I just had goat cheddar from TJ’s (I can handle regular just fine, but I love goat cheeses in general and just mix things up from time to time). Just like the goat cream cheese, it’s similar to the cow’s milk version, but different… tangy. Check it out! Unless you have already 🙂

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      haha the pilot is the same way 😉
      yes, i’ve tried it! LOVE

  38. Jessica on March 23, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    This is really helpful. I’m always nervous about any kind of squats or lunges because my knees and ankles tend to pop a lot and it worries me!

  39. Ilana on March 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I am suuuper anal about alignment and form (thanks Joe Pilates + Eric Franklin!) and right now I’m still recovering from a SI joint injury so I’m totally freaked out about twists. For a while I wouldn’t even do them because I knew I couldn’t keep the joint stable. It’s so frustrating to have been at a really high place of physical capability and then have to go back to what feels like square 1, but honestly it’s been a really wonderful learning experience- as I find out more about how I injured myself and why it’s also informing my teaching in new ways. Also my body is much quicker to inform me if it feels like it’s not in a good place while I’m moving and it really does help me correct my alignment and work better at what I’m doing. So, still sucks, but at least it’s productive!

  40. Tara on March 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I love to do squats, but the ballerina in me ALWAYS tries to make my feet turn out. For some reason it just feels really unnatural to do any squat like motion and NOT plie. I know you were/are a dancer and I wanted to know how you kicked the “ballerina brain” to get proper form.

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      it took a while! my first trainer used to tell me to stop weightlifting like a ballerina 🙂

  41. Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin on March 23, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’ve always avoided deadlifts because I don’t know how to do them properly – the first time I did them, my lower back was SO sore the next day and I knew that couldn’t be right. I feel like giving them another shot after reading this post though! 😀

  42. Michelle on March 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for th tips! As someone with bad knees Ive always stayed away from squats and lunges. Can you go in to more detail about doing “small” squats? Or do you have any other suggestions for those of us prone to knee problems but still want to work on our glues/quads?

    • Fitnessista on March 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      for smaller squats or lunges, you just don’t do the full range of motion and stop before it hurts or becomes uncomfortable. if it still hurts or bothers you, i say skip it
      for my clients with knee problems, we avoid doing the full range of motion, and also play with resistance bands

  43. Evilcyber on March 23, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    One tip about crunches that has helped me keep the correct position: fixate a spot right above you (that little smudge on the ceiling, for example) and when you do the movement, make sure you are always looking straight at it.

  44. Bonnie @ pastepants on March 24, 2012 at 7:38 am

    That zebra mug is ADORBS!!!

  45. Laura on March 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    On deads and squats ALWAYS make sure that you are using your glutes as well. If you use only your back on deads and quads on squats, I can compromise your back. As evidenced by my back pain…

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