How To Get the Perfect Exercise Form for Better Results

Her Campus teamed-up with Sweat Therapy Fitness, a locally-owned boutique fitness studio, to curate a list of do-anywhere exercises to keep us sweating all the way to Spring Break! Writer Rachel Dix-Kessler has been working out at Sweat Therapy Fitness for two months and agreed to let us share one of her personal training sessions which her trainer dubbed: “Back to the basics.”

“Form is everything,” says Sweat Therapy Fitness Director Cecily Armengol (a sports management graduate from FSU). “Only after you’ve mastered the basics do you need to try more challenging and complicated moves. You’ll be shocked how simplistic movements like a plank, push-up and squat will change your body.” 

The Perfect Plank

The plank is a total body toner challenging your glutes, hamstrings, shoulders and, of course, abs. Before trying more difficult variations, master the plank on your forearms.

Do

  •  Stack your shoulders directly over your elbows
  •  Flex your feet and engage your hamstrings and glutes (squeeze your butt)
  • Maintain a tight core by pulling your bellybutton towards your spine
  • Look right in front of your hands

Don’t

  • Don’t let your lower back or ribcage sag towards the floor
  • Let your hips hike up towards the ceiling like the downward dog yoga pose

Crush The Core Game

The basic plank is the foundation for so many exercises. Here are just a few that Rachel knocked-out during her training session that you can do at home or at the gym.

Fully Extended Plank: Same form as the forearm plank but with your arms fully extended. This variation is more challenging on the wrists so always go back to the forearms if you experience wrist pain.

Side Plank: Use the side plank to target your oblique muscles. Laying on your side, put the heel of your top leg in front of you so it’s touching the toes of your back foot. Make sure your elbow is directly under your shoulder before lifting your hips off the floor and holding this position using your abdominals to keep you stable. Once you have mastered the side plank with your top arm on the floor for support, you can try the fully extended version by raising your top arm toward the ceiling. 

Mountain Climber: In the fully extended plank position draw one knee into the chest at a time. This movement is very effective both done slowly as if you’re moving through molasses and quickly as if you’re running in place on the floor. 

Ballast Ball Plank & Crunch: Start in a plank position with your shins resting on top of a ballast ball (available at most gyms and at big box retailers like Walmart). Lift your hips while bending your knees towards your chest to roll the ball towards your arms. Return to plank position. 

TRX Plank & Crunch: Start in a plank position with your toes in the foot cradles of a TRX Suspension Trainer; there’s normally one of these yellow and black trainers hanging around at most gyms. Similar to the ballast ball crunch, lift your hips and bring your knees into your chest (using your abdominals) before returning to the plank position. Flex your feet through this movement to engage the lower body as well. 

The Perfect Squat

Now that Rachel's core work is done it's time to train the low body, specifically the glutes and quads with squats.

Do

  • Place feet shoulder-width distance apart
  • Keep chest lifted
  • Shift weight into heels
  • Sit back
  • Have hamstring parallel to the floor

Don’t

  • Let your knees go over your toes
  • Let glutes tuck under curving your lower back
  • Arch your back

Oh My Quad

Add intensity to the basic squat with these variations.

Jump Squat: Start in your squat position with your hands in front of you palms touching. Use your legs to propel yourself into a jump straightening your legs and pushing your arms behind you. Land softly back into your squat absorbing the impact with your quad muscles.

Weighted Squat: Mimic your same basic squat form, but with dumbbells in each hand. Start light and slowly progress to heavier weights as you master your form and get stronger. 

Goblet Squat: In your standard squat form hold one dumbbell by the hex with both hands at your chest. Lower into your squat by bending your knees and pushing your butt back and down. Bring your elbows in-between your knees and pause at the bottom before standing up. 

Sumo Squat: Start with feet wider then shoulder width distance apart. Turn the toes to the front corners of the room. Hold a single dumbbell by both hexes at your chest. While keeping your back straight, bend your knees out to the sides and sink your butt down so your inner thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause at the bottom and then stand back up. 

The Perfect Push-Up

There isn’t a better bodyweight exercise for targeting the arms, chest and shoulders than the push-up. Master the move and you’ll have a sculpted strong upper body in no time.

Do

  • Start in a perfect plank position (you must master the plank before you can do a push-up)
  • Keep your neck and head aligned with your spine (Rachel’s head is a little low in the picture to the left, but hey it’s a work in progress!)
  • Tuck your toes under and reach your heels towards the wall behind you
  • Lower yourself until your chest touches the floor
  • Elbows can stay close to the sides of the body or may flare out slightly

Don’t

  • Let your hips or ribcage sag towards the floor.
  • Allow your hips to hike towards the ceiling
  • Don’t let your head drop below shoulders

Suns Out, Guns Out!

Once you have perfect push-up form, you can progress to some more challenging exercises to increase intensity.

Bosu Push-up: Bosu balance trainers are available at most gyms or big box retailers. Use these bubble-like pieces of equipment to add instability to training to make basic moves much harder. To do a Bosu push-up, flip the Bosu so it’s dome is facing down, and place your thumbs in the small indents on the flat surface (made specifically for plank and push-ups). Once you're in position, use all the same Do’s and Don’ts when doing a push-up on the floor. 

Bosu Alternating Push-ups: Place the Bosu dome side up on the floor. Position one hand on the very top of the dome and one hand adjacent to it on the floor. Do one push-up brining your chest parallel to the Bosu. After returning your chest to the starting position, walk your hands across the Bosu so your opposite hand is on top of the dome and do another rep. Continue to alternate each hand on top of the Bosu before doing your next rep. 

Renegade Rows: Start in push-up position gripping one dumbbell in each hand with your wrists stacked directly over the dumbbells. Do a single push-up and return to plank position. In plank position lift one dumbbell to your armpit keep your elbow close to the side of your body and squeeze your shoulder blades as your lift. Return the first dumbbell to the floor and repeat on the other side. 

Need more instruction? Watch the video! Visit STF’s Instagram @sweattherapyfitness Click for video tutorials of all the Rachel’s exercises.

Rachel Dix-Kessler & Kathryn Adair Wolter

 

All photographs courtesy of Kathryn Adair Wolter