Smells like Halloween out there- what better time to ring the death knell on our scariest exercise habits? I know, it seems that I spend a lot of time griping about all of the wrong happening out there. It’s just that there is so much wrong happening out there, and somebody has to say it. Let me raise my hand.
What I would like to do is to break down the six functional, everyday movements we make (and what I structure my program design around), address the proper way to perform them, and highlight some very common mistakes associated with each movement.
The good: Squats are a constantly-executed movement. Whether you are sitting down into your office chair, bus seat, sofa, or the john, it is important that we perform this seemingly innocuous task properly. Ideally, when in a squat, your shoulders and ankles line up and your weight is distributed backward, toward your heels.Your chest is open, creating a natural curve in your back, and your knees track in line with your toes. One cue I love to use when teaching a squat is to “wiggle your toes”. You cannot put your weight into your toes and wiggle them at the same time, thus shifting you back to good form.
The scary: I see poorly executed squats nearly every day. Pelvises tucked forward, heels lifting off the floor, wonky knees all over the place, rounded spines, heads pointed downward. Especially if you plan to start adding weights, you really ought to take the time to learn the fundamentals of a squat to ensure good habits and progressive gains.
The good: Arguably the most important of the functional movements we make, simply because of the high risks of doing it incorrectly. We bend over to pick things up from the floor throughout our lives, and most of the time those items are not symmetrical with conveniently placed, gripped handles. Babies, boxes of books, vacuum cleaners, televisions, and furniture all put our spine in a very precarious position. To pick up a box full of books, for instance, you would want to stand directly over the box, bend at the knees and hips, stick your butt back, open your chest, take out all slack in the arms, take a big breath in, and lift- all the while keeping (again) your weight in the heels of your feet.
The scary: I should say very scary here, because half of the time I witness the inevitable decline of innocent spines, rounded and helpless. Tucked hips are an issue, as well as standing too far away from the item in question, creating a significant reach and improper weight distribution. I know how easy it is to forget about good form when trying to pick something up. I find myself doing it more often than I’d like to admit. Pleading with myself and all of you: be deliberate in your movements; especially on the deadlift.
The good: Walking up the stairs, down the stairs, stepping over that snow bank or mud puddle: we lunge more often than you might think. When lunging, try to think about the tracking of your knees. If you can picture your knees pointing in the same direction of your 2nd and 3rd toes, you are in line. Again, the heel of your front foot should have solid ground before taking the next step. Shoulders should be back over your hips. Wiggle those toes.
The scary: You can probably guess. Shifty knees, heels off of the ground, and leaning too far forward.
The good: I put these two movements together because a lot of the cues are the same. Push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, and the bench press represent pushes and pulls. Think about rolling your shoulders into place before either of these movements. Keep your neck long. We need to support our spine, so “brace” your abdominal wall: pretend someone were about to punch you in the stomach. That is bracing. Sucking in your gut is not.
The scary: Breath is important here. You can observe the ramifications of holding your breath or shallow-breathing by watching old-school bench-pressers. They will sport the distinctive purple faces and popped veins. They are lucky not to faint, especially when holding 200 pounds or more over their body. Complete each breath to feed your muscles and your brain cells.
The good: Twisting happens oftentimes without even realizing it. Putting on your seat belt. Reaching for your coffee while sitting at your desk. Trying not to twist while walking your eager, energetic puppy who has no identifiable pattern to his movement. Try performing a Russian twist the next time you are at the gym. Sit on the floor, grab a medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell, and move the weight from one side of your body to the other. Couple of important things to remember: keep your eyes forward- this will maintain a neutral lumbar spine. Shoulders back, chest open, and abs braced. Add balance by lifting your feet from the ground once you feel confident in your form.
The scary: Total unawareness of one’s spine. Too-heavy weights. Limp midsection. Exaggerated effort. Pain.
My observations and criticisms are not intended to be a test. No one will think less of you for doing these things. The collective goal is to get stronger and live as freely as we can. The more open we are to updating our imagery with regards to evolving ideas about our bodies, the healthier and happier we will be.
Speaking of Halloween, plan on heading over to 303 Magazine’s ColoWeen Party next week to dance off that Halloween candy you keep sneaking out of the bag. It all counts.
Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer.