Nobody is perfect. I’m definitely not. My squats are funky, I battle tendinosis in my ankle, and I have scoliosis that exacerbates a cranky rotator cuff. Though annoying and often painful, these injuries keep me focused on one important element of working out: form.
After all, injuries can sometimes lead us to do exercises incorrectly—even trainers, like me. Yet bad form can be a product of more than just injury—sometimes our ownlifestyles are to blame. For example, if you sit at a desk or even just use your phone frequently (let’s be real, that’s all of us), your body might form to a highly-rounded position. (Psst… Do you know How Much Texting Harms Your Posture?) And this means you may end up doing exercises with improper form—which can lead to a possible injury like a torn shoulder labrum or even a herniated disc.
Too many times, I’ll glance around the gym floor and spot athletes with rounded shoulders, a scrunched neck, and a curved lower back (ouch!) while attempting exercises like mega-heavy deadlifts or a planks. I have to resist the urge to run over and correct them before something goes awry.
Not only are we making ourselves physically smaller by making these errors, we’re perpetuating posture that can actually hurt us.
Scary? Totally. Avoidable? Likely. The biggest challenge is learning to take your time—you need to make sure you can maintain a long spine throughout the entire range of motion for any move you do. So start with these easy steps—some you can do on your own; some for the gym—to fight back and perfect your own form. (Then try the Perfect Posture Workout.)
On Your Own:
1. Check your posture. Roll your shoulders back so your palms are facing forward. Your shoulder blades should feel like their being pushed down into your back pockets. Your chest is open and proud, like you’re presenting your clavicle to the hottie you spotted over the weekend. Your back shouldn’t be overly arched or super tucked in. This is actually the anatomical position, crazy as it may feel. Our chests and shoulders want to be this open, this is how the joints function best. Before you hit send on your next email, check to see how you’re holding yourself.
2. Relax your neck. Are you having a totally stressful day? Try gentle head nods and tilts to alleviate any tension that could be building, which may lead you to tighten your shoulders and upper back muscles.
3. Feel it out. If you happen to have an office or a private little nook, stand against a wall for a moment. Your shoulder blades should be against the wall. Your lower back should slightly be curving away from it. This tactile cue helps to train your mind what this posture should feel like.
In the Gym:
Seated cable rows are a great first step to strengthening your back. Just make sure you have an open chest while doing them!
A. Sit at a low-pulley cable station with a V-handle attachment. Place the feet securely on the platform and grab the handle with both hands using an overhand grip. Using your legs (not your back), sit back with arms fully extended supporting the weight.
B. Keeping your torso stationary, drive your elbows past your sides and pull the cable attachment towards the waist. Pause and squeeze shoulder blades together at the top of the row before returning to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Repeat for 10 reps.
Then try a core-buster circuit: dead-bugs, glute bridges, and Farmer’s Walks. Our abs and butt help stabilize our spine, helping to protect it from hyperextension and to avoid the rounding of the lumbar spine (hello, back pain!). These moves will also help you hold yourself taller throughout the day—complete the number of reps below, then repeat the whole circuit for a total of three times.
To facilitate a balanced and strong core, start with dead bugs.
A. Lie faceup with arms fully extended along sides. Bring legs to tabletop position, knees bent and lower legs parallel to the floor.
B. Brace core and reach left arm up and behind head while right leg straightens but doesn’t touch the floor. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side to complete 1 rep. Repeat for 10 reps.
Give your booty some love with glute bridges.
A. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Lift hips up toward the ceiling for a bridge.
B. Release your hips to lower your pelvis two inches from the floor, squeezing your glutes. That’s 1 rep. Repeat for 10 reps.
Finish out this round with a set of Farmer’s Walks to emphasize proper posture during your daily activities.
A. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Avoid leaning forward at hip. Stand tall and chin parallel to ground. Keep your shoulders pulled back and down throughout the entire exercise. Avoid letting your shoulders round forward.
B. Stand tall and walk forward for 10 paces, then turn around and walk 10 paces back to where you started.