When it comes to working out, simplicity can be the best teacher. “New Year, New You” doesn’t have to mean fancy workouts, trendy crazes, or adding the newest training tools to your routine. But before you return to your go-to set of exercises, make sure you’re doing them right. “Mastering the squat, hinge, lunge, pull, push, and carry will make your body strong, durable, and resilient,” says Adrian Richardson, a certified personal trainer for the Fitbit Coach app. “These movements are the foundation on which a strong body is built, so put in the time and learn how to do them correctly.”
Prove that being basic can be a good thing and master form with these cues for making the most of your lunge, squat, sit-up, and plank.
1. Squat The squat is a foundational movement that targets your lower body—everything from the quads and hamstrings to calves and glutes. Your core even gets some time under tension, since you’re forced to keep your torso upright as you descend.
Common Mistake: Legs are too wide or too narrow.
Easy Fix: The stance of your squat sets up the movement. “For a standard squat, set your feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointed out slightly,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Chest is falling forward or spine is rounded.
Easy Fix: “Keep your back flat and your spine neutral,” says Richardson. “Your core should be engaged and your chest up.” Still rounding your back as you descend into your squat? A lack of flexibility in your glutes and hamstrings could be to blame. Try these stretches to open up hip flexors and hamstrings.
Common Mistake: Shallow (quarter) squats.
Easy Fix: “The depth of your squat largely depends on your mobility and flexibility,” Richardson says. “While you don’t have to go ‘ass to grass,’ you should aim to get to at least 90 degrees.” Just remember to listen to your body and only go as low as you can without feeling pain or compromising positioning.
Common Mistake: Knees collapse inward.
Easy Fix: Before initiating the squat, make sure your feet are planted and ankles screwed into the ground. “Spread the floor by pushing your knees out as you move through the lift,” says Richardson. Working on ankle and hip mobility can also help increase body awareness and help track your knees outward.
Common Mistake: Weight is in your toes.
Easy Fix: The weight on the bar isn’t the only place weight matters. “Keep the weight in the center of your feet and press your heels down as you move through the lift,” Richardson says.
2. LungeThe lunge is a great way to target your lower body while hitting your glutes, quads, and hamstrings simultaneously.
Common Mistake: Knees don’t track over toes
Easy Fix: Your lower body should move in and out of the lunge as one cohesive unit. “Prevent your knees from falling inward or drifting outward as you lunge by contracting (and firing) the glute of your front leg.”
Common Mistake: Torso is too vertical
Easy Fix: Contrary to popular belief, the lunge isn’t a completely vertical lifting-and-lowering movement. An overly upright torso places stress on your knees and lower back. “Instead, engage your core and sit your hips back as you lower down into the lunge,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Stance is too narrow (“tightrope lunge”)
Easy Fix: The width of your stance is key. “Take a normal-length step forward, keeping your legs about hip distance apart and slightly staggered,” says Richardson.
Common Mistake: Knees too far forward
Easy Fix: Don’t allow your knees to surpass your toes at the bottom of your lunge. “Keep your front shin vertical and push through your midfoot and heel as you return to the starting position,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Shallow lunges and half reps.
Easy Fix: Make each and every rep count, and go for quality over quantity. “Make sure you descend until your front leg is at a 90-degree angle with your thigh parallel to the ground,” Richardson says.
Sit-ups are a common, core-targeting move. Learn how to strengthen your core and back, and develop those stabilizing muscles the right way.
Common Mistake: Tightly gripping your neck with narrow elbows.
Easy Fix: Eliminate the tendency to yank on your neck by altering your hand position. “Loosely interlace your hands behind your head while keeping your elbows wide and neck straight,” says Richardson.
Common Mistake: Allowing your feet to move around.
Easy Fix: Focusing on core contraction means keeping your lower body still. “Firmly plant your feet on the ground and drive your heels into the ground during the contracting portion of the movement,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Rounding your spine
Easy Fix: A flat back is key to a proper sit-up. “Lead with your chest and keep your back straight and spine neutral,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Anchoring your feet.
Easy Fix: Sure, you don’t want your feet flailing around, but you don’t want them to be anchored in place either. “Completely fixing your feet changes the focus of this exercise from the abs to the hips,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Lifting your butt and using momentum to sit up.
Easy Fix: Don’t cheat on the way up. “Slow down and make your abdominal muscles work by taking the momentum out of the movement,” says Richardson.
4. PlankThis isometric movement is a great way to build overall strength. The best part: you only have to hold it for about 60 seconds to really start feeling the burn.
Common Mistake: Hips are too high.
Easy Fix: You don’t want your plank to resemble a Downward Dog. “Lower your hips until your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Hips are too low.
Easy Fix: “No one likes a saggy plank,” Richardson says. “Sagging stresses the lower back and are often a result of tight hips.” Take steps to improve your mobility with one simple stretch.
Common Mistake: Neck is arched.
Easy Fix: Instead of looking up and ahead, keep your neck in line with your shoulders. “Look down and at a spot about six inches in front of you,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Shoulder, wrist, and elbow aren’t in alignment.
Easy Fix: Even when you’re on your side, your upper body should remain stacked. “Ensure your shoulder is directly over your elbow or wrist joint,” Richardson says.
Common Mistake: Arched back.
Easy Fix: Prevent arching by making sure your glutes and legs are turned on and active. “Roll your shoulders down and back,” Richardson says. “Think about spreading the floor with your arms and shoulder blades.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.