Cleanse your fitness form

Improving your movement patterns is the best workout resolution.

For high-performers, the start of a new year inspires the opportunity to cleanse mental and physical buildup from the past, and focus on constructive ways to achieve your fitness goals. Furthermore has partnered with science-based haircare company Living Proof to celebrate the launch of their Perfect hair Day™ Triple Detox Shampoo, which removes hair and scalp buildup (from product, hard water, and pollution). Together, we present The Cleanse Movement, featuring actionable, inspiring ways to cleanse your fitness mindset and routine, and unlock your true potential.

Even the strongest exercises crumble when executed with improper form. Alex Zimmerman, CSCS, director of Equinox’s Tier X program says that lifters of all levels should take time to examine and correct form flaws—the start of a new year is the perfect time for a once-over. Consider some of the body’s most fundamental actions: The squat, lunge, hinge, push, and pull. While these exercises are essential in our lives inside and outside of the gym, without the right technique, they can end up providing no physical benefit, or worse, inviting injury.

Cleanse your body of faulty form with advice from Equinox experts.
When squatting, don’t straighten your hips before knees.

The squat is all about taking your hips and knees through their natural range of motion to fully work all of the muscles of the lower body. However, athletes often perform the upward phase of the exercise in two distinct steps, says Ariel Comeau, Tier X coach at Equinox Tribeca. The knees extend, and only after that’s happened do the hips extend as well. This movement doesn’t teach the lower body to work as one unit, and places pressure on the low back.

Clean it up:
When rising from the bottom of each squat, focus on having your hips and knees raise at the same time and speed, Comeau advises. To do so, prioritize keeping your weight in your heels and mid-foot rather than in your toes. It may be necessary to lighten the amount you’re lifting—form is always more important than weight—or to adjust the positioning of an external load such as a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Experiment with different variations of the squat until you find one that allows you to extend your hips and knees together.

Since it can be difficult (if not impossible) to watch your side profile in a mirror while squatting, consider recording yourself on your phone and reviewing afterwards.

When lunging, don’t shift onto your front toes.

Exercisers tend to put a lot of stock in the “don’t let your knee go past your toes” conventional wisdom. But, in reality, the body is designed to allow the knee to shift forward when necessary—like when you take the stairs or lower yourself onto a desk chair, Zimmerman says. The lowering of the knee is a normal and healthy movement when done correctly.

What is problematic for the knee, however, is concentrating your weight into the joint. This is what’s happening when you feel the toes of your front foot press into the floor or the heel rise mid-lunge. Also, by taking the onus off of the hips, putting the weight in the front toes (and therefore the joint) compromises the glute-building benefits of the lunge.

Clean it up: If you can’t keep the weight in your front heel, try taking a bigger step into each lunge, advises Zimmerman. Also, focus on performing reverse lunges under control before progressing to forward variations.

When deadlifting, don’t overly bend your knees.

“Many people don’t understand the difference between a squat and a hinge,” Comeau says. As a result, they end up squatting their deadlifts. But there’s a clear distinction between the two exercises: A squat uses maximal hip and knee bend, while a hinge, or deadlift, requires maximal hip bend and minimal knee bend. The knees only bend as much as is required to allow the hips to move backward. By squatting your deadlifts, you are missing out on many glute-and hamstring-strengthening benefits.

Clean it up:
Muscle memory is key to perfecting the deadlift. Familiarize yourself with the correct movement by performing wall taps: Stand with your back facing a wall, about six inches away from it, with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back until your glutes tap the wall, then push through your heels to return to stand. Perform 10 reps, then step an inch farther from the wall, and repeat. Continue this process until you are about a foot from the wall, pushing your hips back and letting any knee bend be a byproduct of your hip positioning. This is the same lower-body movement that you should use in the deadlift.

Master wall taps before performing the deadlift with load. You can also perform wall taps as part of your warm-up.

When doing a push-up, don’t flare your elbows into a “T.”

If your elbows are in line with your shoulders at the bottom of a push-up, you are dramatically cutting your performance and power. As Zimmerman explains, “When you punch a bag in boxing, you don’t raise your elbow up to shoulder height because it reduces the amount of force that you’re able to produce.”

Plus, the up-high position can stress the muscles of an injury-prone shoulder and allow for its muscles and connective tissues to get pinched in the joint, he says.

Clean it up:
When preparing for a push-up, squeeze your lats to draw your shoulders away from your ears. Then, maintain this position as you lower your body to the floor so that your elbows form a 45-degree angle between your trunk and upper arm, Zimmerman recommends. In this position, you are able to produce the greatest amount of force, while minimizing any excess stress on the shoulder joint. For more tricep use (versus chest), tuck your arms into your sides.

When doing a pull-up, don’t use momentum to drive the movement.

Pull-ups are an incredible exercise for training total-body tension, strength, and core stability. However, powering the movement with momentum, commonly called a kipping pull-up, sacrifices many of these benefits in the name of higher rep counts, Zimmerman says. Injury risk is another big concern here, as jolting down at the bottom of each rep can put stress the shoulder joint.

Clean it up:
To recruit muscles throughout your entire body, start your pull-up from a dead hang. Your legs should be straight (or bent if you’re hanging from a low bar), feet (or knees) just in front of your torso, and core braced. From here, draw your shoulder blades down and together, then pull through your arms to raise your collarbones to the bar. Pause, then lower your body slowly and with control. If you’re not yet able to perform this, modify by using a box to get up to the bar and then slowly lower down to the bottom. Then, use the box to get back up and repeat. You can also perform assisted pull-ups with a machine or resistance band looped over the bar (with the feet in the bottom of the sling).
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