Doing body-weight exercises? Learn right from wrong

For a safe and effective workout, brush up on some basics.
Published April 22
Updated April 29

Do you have days when you feel like you’re on overload at the office? Sometimes the last thing you want to do after clocking out is head to the gym, but your body is begging for a good workout. Consider introducing that body to a body-weight routine you can do anywhere, any time, all by yourself. You’ll be improving balance, strength and flexibility without any equipment. And if you want to add cardio, you can easily inject 30 to 60 seconds of active intervals between such strength movements as pushups, squats and lunges. For variety, I like to include a mix of both body-weight exercises and strength training with weights in my classes. The key to effectiveness and safety is to perform the moves correctly. With that, here’s a look at four body-weight exercises and some rights and wrongs that will help you steer clear of crazy crunches, lazy lunges, lousy leg extensions and sad squats.

FORM FAILURE

Abdominal crunches

Target the ab muscles. Poor form can place too much stress on the neck and lower back.

Incorrect

Performing crunches with your legs extended on the floor.

Pulling on your neck and rounding your shoulders.

Tucking your chin into your chest.

Lifting too fast and too high off the floor.

Forgetting to breathe.

Not keeping your abdominals contracted throughout the movement.

Correct

Bending your knees with your feet on the floor and contracting your abdominals to protect your back.

Exhaling on the lift and inhaling on the descent.

Keeping your neck in alignment with your upper back, eyes looking straight ahead.

Lifting up until your shoulders are about 2 or 3 inches off the floor. When you go higher than that the abs are no longer major players in the movement.

Forward lunges

Target the lower body. Poor form can place too much pressure on the lower back and knees.

Incorrect

Rounding your back when you step into the lunge.

Bending your torso from the waist.

Looking downward.

Stressing your knees by allowing your front knee to extend beyond your toes.

Correct

Maintaining good posture, with your back straight, shoulders retracted, chest lifted and abdominals contracted.

Looking straight ahead as you step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until your knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle.

Keeping your back knee and back heel off the floor.

Keeping your weight on your heels as you return to the starting position.

Basic squats

Target the thighs, hips, buttocks and calves. Poor form can place too much pressure on knee ligaments and stress the lower back.

Incorrect

Letting your knees fall inward.

Leaning too far forward.

Extending your knees beyond your toes.

Forgetting to engage your core.

Correct

Placing your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, toes slightly turned out.

Extending your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor, to help with balance.

Keeping your abdominals contracted and back straight and dropping your hips back toward the floor.

Keeping your weight on your heels.

Sitting back and lowering yourself as if you were settling into a chair.

Working to keep your thighs parallel to the floor.

Making sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes.

Pushing through your heels as you return to the starting position.

Leg extensions

Strengthen the lower body muscles. Poor form can stress the back and knees.

Incorrect

Standing with rounded shoulders.

Bending forward when extending your legs.

Lifting too fast.

Forgetting to maintain contracted abdominals.

Locking your knees.

Lifting your leg too high and hyperextending your back.

Correct

Standing tall with your abdominals contracted.

Keeping a slightly bent knee in your standing leg.

Letting the movement come from the hips rather than the waist.

Performing slow and controlled movements.

Avoiding leaning on support.

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