So you can do squats, pushups, and other classics with your eyes closed. Challenge yourself—and maximize results—with these simple tips from the new Women’s Health Little Book of Exercises (published by Women’s Health’s parent company, Rodale).
Miami University of Ohio researchers found that gazing down while doing a squat—which many people instinctively do—causes your body to lean forward about five degrees, straining your lower back. By keeping your chest lifted, you can increase your reps and weights over time without risking low-back injuries.
Actually, they should be called chest-ups. That’s because you should aim to pull your chest (not your chin!) to the bar to reap the max body-strengthening benefits. Doing so stops you from relying solely on your biceps and better engages the muscles around your shoulders. The result: more upper-body power.
Holding a dumbbell on just one side of your body during moves like lunges means your lower back muscles and obliques have to help keep your body stable. Read: It turns this leg exercise into a core move, too, making your workout more efficient.
The next time you do a bench press, keep your feet on the floor. Researchers found that raising them—or resting them on the bench—shifts as much as 30 percent of the load off your upper body, significantly weakening your lift. Following the proper form (as in the images below) could up your bench-press speed by more than 180 percent, allowing you to blast through sticking points and lift heavier weights.
If, during a hip raise, your knees tend to fall outward, you probably have weak adductors (a.k.a. groin muscles). Holding a towel or cushion between your knees as you lift (don’t let it fall!) will help strengthen those muscles, as well as activate more of the muscles in your thighs.
Placing your hands flat on the floor during pushups can strain your wrists. Instead, grasp the handles of a pair of hex-shaped dumbbells. This will help straighten out your wrists and ease any pressure—so you can work on clocking as many reps as possible.
Excerpted from The Women’s Health Little Book of Exercises: Four Weeks to a Leaner, Sexier, Healthier YOU! by Adam Campbell (Rodale). Available wherever books are sold.
For more great workouts, check out the January/February issue of Women’s Health, on newsstands now.
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