One of my biggest pet peeves in the gym is seeing people doing an exercise with bad form. Using proper form is the MOST important thing one can do when lifting weights. If you don not use proper form you are putting yourself at risk for injury and you aren’t working the proper muscles correctly. The two exercises that I see the most people doing wrong are the squat and the straight leg deadlift.
The squat is one of the best exercises for overall lower body strength and core conditioning. The squat movement is basically the same movement as if you were to sit back into a chair. The key to a proper squat is sitting back and not just down. The following are the proper steps to a perfect squat.
1. Stand with and even stance. Your feet should be at least shoulder width apart with your feet slightly facing out.
2. Keeping your shoulders back, and chest out, and head looking straight ahead of you, bend at your hips and sit back into the squat. With younger athletes that I have trained, I always used the somewhat goofy analogy that you should pretend you have a bee stinger on your rear and you are trying to pop a balloon behind you. The hips should always bend/hinge before your knees.
3. While keeping your glutes back, start to bend at the knees. Keep your knees out. Your knee joints should be pointing in the same direction as your feet all the way down. If your knees buckle in it normally means that the weight is too heavy. Your weight should be back on your heels, NOT on your toes. At the bottom of the squat you should be able to wiggle your toes freely.
4. Once you get to the bottom of the squat, think about driving your heels through the floor and pushing up using your glutes.
The straight leg deadlift or Romanian deadliftis another great lower body exercise which works the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. The following are the proper steps to performing this great exercise.
1. While standing upright and holding the weight in front of you at your waist, keep your shoulders back and chest and head facing forward, unhinge your hips back, just as you did with the squat. Contrary to the name, you should actually keep a slight bend in your knees and never lock them out.
2. Instead of bending at the knees any more, continue to keep pushing your glutes back, while bending forward at the waist. It is important here to keep your shoulders back and entire back straight. Keep the weight (bar, dumbbells, kettebells, etc.) close to your legs. Continue to lower the weight without rounding your back! You can slightly look up, without extending at the neck too mush. Go down until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
3. At the bottom of the lift, you back should still be flat, and how far you are able to go down will be based off of how flexible your hamstrings are. From the bottom, reverse the movement and push your hips forward and begin to raise the weight by extending at your back and actively squeezing your glutes.
By following these proper technique cues, you can prevent future injury while also building strong and flexible leg and core muscles.