4 Small Exercise Tweaks that Lead to Big Results

by Shannon Clark
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4 Small Exercise Tweaks that Lead to Big Results

Are you just not seeing results from the fitness program you’re doing? Whatever your particular situation is, it might be time to look at the way in which you are performing the important exercises in your plan. Very often, all it takes is one small tweak to that movement to get you seeing results again.

Let’s walk you through some of the common errors that many people often make with their exercises so that you can see for certain how to adjust them in your workout plan.

1. The Full Squat

Of all the moves you do in your workout program, perhaps the full squat is the most important. Squats work multiple muscle groups at once, boost your heart rate, and will enhance your balance and agility.

The biggest error made with this movement is not going all the way down to the ground. Remember, if you move halfway through an exercise, you’ll see half the results. By going all the way down to the ground in the squat, you’ll get greater glute activation, meaning better butt building results. If you want that round, curved backside, squatting as low down to the ground as possible is a necessity.

2. The Bent Over Row

Now we come to the bent over row. The biggest mistake here is letting momentum take over the exercise.

As you bend over, you want to really think of squeezing the shoulder blades back and together as you lift the bar up towards the chest. Never swing the weight upward or you’ll have very little muscle activation and put yourself at risk for lower back pain. Keep the back as stationary as possible and that too will help ensure it’s only muscular power driving this movement.

3. The Crunch

The front crunch is another commonly performed exercise that will help build muscular strength and endurance throughout the core – if you perform it correctly.

This move is all about the mind-muscle connection. You need to really focus on just squeezing those abs as you let the upper body rise up into the crunch position and then lower it back down again. Never pull on the back of your head with your hands or swing the body upward using momentum in this movement as well. Slow, controlled, and steady – that needs to be how this exercise is performed.

4. The Push-Up

Finally, when doing push-ups, make sure that you don’t short yourself here like you may have been doing on your squats.

Go all the way down to the ground so that your chest is just inches from touching. Half push-ups will do very little to build muscular strength. If anything, they’ll just put excess stress on your shoulder and elbow joints as you bounce up and down through the movement. Lower down on a three count, pause at the bottom for a one count, and then press up over a two count. This will really have you feeling the muscles you’re targeting.

Clean up these four exercises in your workout program and you’ll be amazed at the results that you start to see.

Related

  • Joshimar Hussey

    Fully agree with Shannon’s post. Also want to point out that sometimes not enough emphasis is placed in the negative aspect of the motion.

  • James

    So true. Little or no muscular activation with half hearted attempts at movements. I’m a beginner but I’ve learnt that the extra hard work doing a full movement is better for me than doing a full set of bad ones, I found it difficult to make full movement with wrist problems on my push ups but did as many as I could and have been building the reps up slowly.

    • Hadass

      I also feel my right wrist on push-ups… Never had any wrist injury or something and yet..?! Odd any tips on bypassing this…?

      • Chanel

        My right wrist is also hurting! I’ve managed to get around it when doing things like a ‘clean and press’ by just letting the bar rest on your hand, instead of having the thumb around it, all the fingers are on the same side. Not sure what to do with push-ups….plz excuse if I’m using incorrect terms, still new to this

      • Ben Bammens

        I also had this problem. Try using push-up bars. That helps a lot!

      • Kent

        Make a fist, lock your wrist, and do push-ups on your knuckles. Much less strain on your wrist and strengthens your forearms as well.

  • Katrina Hogan

    When I exercise I’m concerned more with form rather than how many reps I do

  • Donna Hopkins

    Shannon, Here’s a request for a future post. I’d love to see an instructional video of these 4 exercises with the correct and incorrect form demonstrated. I find the visual images so helpful. Also, on the squats, I don’t have enough hip flexibility to go all the way down to the ground (unless I hold onto a stable bar and lean back with my hips turned out). Hoping it’s worthwhile to do as low as my hips will allow. Any suggestions for modifications?

    • Exercise Proffesor

      If you don’t have the hip flexibility, do what you can within your own range of motion. You may find that over time, your mobility increases as your muscle strength increases and therefore joint integrity increases. You may also find that lower core strength (abs, low-mid back) will help increase your range of motion. This happens because your core is responsible for supporting your entire body while your legs squat and if it’s not as strong as it needs to be, your legs will bear the brunt of that exercise, and affect your balance and range of motion.

      • Donna Hopkins

        Thank you!

        • Willie

          I was always told that going all the way to the ground, doing squats, put unnecessary strain on the knees. Taking the knees to a 90 degree angle is usually sufficient. But that information was passed on a lot of years back. I could be wrong.

          • As

            That would depend on how much weight is used. Super heavy weight like more advanced lifters use certainly would hurt the knees some if gone past 90 t
            oo far

          • Holz44

            As a couple others have stated, I have always been under the impression that squats should only go 90 degrees and knees not to go beyond the toes. I have been taught this is TAFE fitness course as well as multiple personal trainers over the years so as expected, im a little sceptical about this but I would be willing to give it a go. My only issue is that when doing my squats as I have been taught to, even when I go a little lower than I meant to, it does feel like a fair bit of strain on my knees (im only 26 and a fairly fit build) and when I try not to lean forward too much and push through the heels more than the knees, then I lose my balance and almost fall backwards haha I don’t understand HOW to go to the ground without placing great strain on the knees but also without falling on my backside in the middle of the park! 😛 I agree that an instructional video would be amazing to accompany this as id like to see someone actually do it well. Cheers!

    • UrbanGirl

      I can do the squat until I am all of the way down to the ground and of course I do them weighted since the weight makes it harder to achieve and also equals better results. However, My knees start cracking and popping a bunch (you know that sound that you hear as you get older?) when I go down that far. I do not want these squats ruining my knees later on in life but I feel that the squat is definitely necessary to achieve great results in a persons lower region of their body. Great exercise for all bottom muscles. I also agree with Donna Hopkins. I am more of a visual type of person. I would rather someone show me the incorrect and the correct way too. It really does help to show an example of someone doing this rather than reading it. BTW… I am 47 years old. 🙂

      • Sunnyhorse

        My trainer is also the physical therapist who rehabbed my running-injured knee and hip for me. She has me concentrate on pushing the knees out and shifting my weight to the outer part of each foot as I move down into the squat, then squeezing with the hips, pushing the butt out, and remembering to keep the knees pushed out as I come back up. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to do squats without pain, let alone weighted ones, but now I do them twice a week with no trouble. (I’m 48, BTW.) You can do it! 🙂

    • MrWhoopAss

      Donna, you don’t need to go any future than your “thighs being parallel to the floor” in a squat. Going beyond parallel might open you up to some injury. Its better to slowly extend your range of motion over time, so your body can slowly adjust to the changes. And always stretch afterwards, holding each pose for 12 to 15 seconds.

      My wife and I have found that adding some gentle yoga to our exercise routine has helped with our all around flexibility. Maybe your local gym offers some classes. Once you have gentle yoga down, maybe try hot yoga; a friend of ours who does the smaller triathlons has started with hot yoga because it helps her stretch further once the body gets warm.

      You might try looking on youtube for some instruction on the different exercises mentioned in the article.

      Good luck meeting your goals!!

  • Rb

    A true squat when doing with weighted bar should never go past horizontal (maybe barely). There are tons of videos on stack to see how they all should be done properly.

    • Exercise Professor

      Actually, anatomically that is incorrect-and a common misconception. Your personal ability to load appropriate weight in the eccentric phase is lower than what you are generally able to load for the concentric phase. There are several reasons for this including gravity. So if you cannot get back up from a full or near-full squat, you’re lifting too much. This is common with nearly all humans since we tend to have weak hamstrings, especially in relation to our quads.

      Think of it this way: in real life, would stop performing a task (lifting a child, perhaps) simply because you have judged your thighs to have reached horizontal? Hardly. That’s not how humans are built.

      • Bob Dobbins

        They call it the yogi squat in yoga class. It really works and is worth the few months of practice it will take you to get there. I am 54 and never thought I could do it – but with warm-up and practice, I am there now.

  • just a question

    i had a ankle fusion last year and can not do a full squat unfortunately, does anyone have any suggestions??

    • Stabja

      The deadlift would work well as a replacement for an overall body movement due to your ankle restriction. Start light and go heavy as your body adjust to the movement. Like any exercise do it correctly – watch the pros on YouTube for best form.

    • Christine D Sledge

      You may want to look into getting suspension trainers such as the TRX or Jungle gym straps. I find that using them help clients with limited mobility (hip, knee or ankle) to get lower and use the squat movement more efficiently. They’re also great for MANY other exercises.

    • Hazel

      Try it on one leg 🙂

      • just a question

        that is a great option however i want to strengthen my bad leg as well, its approx half the size all the way up to my hip. in the last 4 years i have had 3 operations so i have major muscle atrophy. for the last year i have been using a personal trainer twice a week, we use the straps and we also do squats with plates under my toes to help me push off of my heels. i was just wondering if anyone knew of any other tricks.

  • Joakim

    Might want to mention the form of the pushup above as well, elbows should be touching your sides not point outwards during any part of the exercise. have fun 🙂

    • karen24060

      Isn’t that a tricep push up you are suggesting? There are many different types depending on which area you wish to work.

      • Priya

        Tricep push-ups are when your elbows are glued to your sides. In regular push-up s, just don’t have your elbows out all the way in a T

  • mandy

    I’m a big person and I’ve been trying to do sit ups and find I can’t do them. In the last 6 months I have been loosing weight but I need to tone up. Does anyone have some ideas please.

    • Hannah

      Just exercise the most u can in the time i have 🙂 and diet and have A small fatty treat only twice a week,i find this helps 🙂

    • Gboss

      When my back was injured I started with just laying on my back and raising one leg, holding it until i felt a burn in my stomach, then lowering and repeat on the other foot. Eventually I started lifting them both off the ground at once. It could strengthen your core enough to get you started on small sets of sit ups or crunches. You could also ( if you go to the gym ) see if they have the sitting variation where you can set a weight, just use a very low weight and SLOWLY work your way up. You wont get far if you accidentally injure yourself.

    • Cindy

      You could do “wall push ups” that will work on your upper body strenth.

    • gwendt01

      Try to do bicycle crunches. Don’t attempt to bring your full body off the floor and focus mainly on using the ab muscles. Force your back to be flat on the floor. My advice is always strengthen the core before you begin to move to a lot of the exercises that people post on this site.
      Check out this article
      5 Moves for a Stronger Core (Search the blog)
      If you have never done these before, start the Plank from your knees for 30sec . Work up to a minute. When you can hold for a minute easily go to the balls of your feet. As you progress use small dumb bells to increase the effort.

    • ConroyDawn

      Maybe try Callenetics. It’s a type of exercise from the 1980’s, which if done correctly, gives great results. The trick is to control the movements, not to bounce. I started using them after I broke some ribs, and wanted something gentle to keep me in shape. I could not do the ab stuff at first, because of the ribs. Because I had such great results with my legs and backside, when I could, I started the ab workout. Even if all you can do is get into position and hold it to begin with, it will work. There is only one arm exercise, which I find is not enough, so I do other upper body workouts as well.

    • Tim

      I have a cool couch workout I give to friends who want to start training but have the same issues as you’ve said. Of you would like it, just drop me your email and I will send it through. Lots of planks, leg raises, standing crunches and other things to get you there.

  • Kate2015

    As a newbie, I am physically challenged doing a squat or lunge. I have fractured my kneecap in the past. Getting down and up off the floor is very difficult! Is it possible to do exercises in or on a bed? I can do leg lifts and side leg lifts in bed. I can also do standing exercises, too. However, running and jumping are out. I find walking is my best option. I would appreciate any advice or ideas regarding exercises. Thank you.

    • Alice Hernandez

      I also have knee problems and cannot do floor exercises. A personal trainer gave me an exercise using a medicine ball that is pretty good. I uses a non bounce ball that weighs about 15 lbs. All you do is with both hands raise the ball over your head and throw it down on the ground as hard as you can. It does work your core and allows me to work muscles that I cannot do otherwise. You can give it a try and see how it works for you. the ball is kind of expensive so maybe you can borrow one first and see how much wt. would be good for you.

  • Victoria

    Any ideas on how to do a push up when I can’t bend my left wrist back. This works my right side harder while leaving me with an aching left wrist. I have tried push ups using fists which seems to put extra stress on my shoulders giving me a sore neck, I’ve used handles but I can’t get the balance right. My doctor suggests an operation which might not work and might even make it worse. Any advice greatly appreciated.

    • Tracy

      You may want to find a Massage Therapist who has a in depth knowledge of movement of the wrist. Right now would I say the flexors of your forearm are shortened and are not allowing full extension of the wrist. So they need to be elongated. If you are working in any sort of job that includes computer work it is something is becoming the norm.

    • JS

      Agree w/ Tracy’s post. Also, check out the Egoscue method. There are books on Amazon “Pain Free”, or they have clinics around in different areas, or you can skype with them if no clinic in your area. I’ve been working with them and it’s helped so much for muscle balance, hips, knees, wrist, etc.

    • Jess

      I too have problems with my wrist and find that they just don’t want to bend that way. I have found that if I do an angled push up off of a slight elevation (like a step class step) it greatly reduces the amount of bend my wrist have to do.

  • spinner

    I am under the impression that a squat position below 90Degrees puts excess stress on the knees.

    • Exercise Professor

      Actually that’s not the case when done properly. The force of your weight should be through the heels, placing the load on the hamstrings and glutes. If you’re feeling a squat or lunge of any kind in the knees, you’re shifting your weight too much to the front of the foot and placing undue stress on your knees when your hips are meant to be the load bearer.

      • Kiara

        That is very helpful for me to know because I have always wondered why it sometimes hurt my knees when I did squats. No one ever told me to put most of my weight on my heels, so this might be what’s causing the strain on my knees. I will remember to put the weight on my heels when doing squats next time, thankyou.

        • CrystaL Erin

          Also when doing squats you want to make sure your knees don’t go forward over your feet. You can mess up your knees that way.

    • Sunnyhorse

      Not if you do it correctly. 🙂

  • eilynn

    As a 59 yr old woman with years of knee injuries, Squats may be ideal for someone but not for me. Im very active and limber but knee heavy exercises like lunges etc are way outside my repertoire. And push-ups are impossible with arthritic wrists/hands. i bet there is an untapped market for gentler exercises. Would you all considered looking into those? A video would be amazingly helpful.

  • Judy

    So what are the best options for an overweight 60 yr old woman, who has not exercised in a long time? These exercises: push-ups, crunches, and lunges are very difficult for me. What is the best way for someone to get back into shape, lose weight, and slow the aging?

    • Bob Dobbins

      my two cents worth-bicycle. I have a lot of bicycle friends that have lost a lot of weight that way. The advantage is that you can ride for much longer time frames than you can run – thus burning more calories. Plus, it is fun.

    • gwendt01

      Hi Judy,
      I was 58 and 30lbs overweight when I stated serious training 3 years ago. These exercises are not for the beginner nor for someone that has not strengthened their core. Please find a good trainer that can take you through the different levels of strengthening. If you start incorrectly you will hurt yourself. Bob’s suggestion of riding a bike is a good idea. Just have it fit properly so that you don’t hurt your knees while riding. A good bike shop can set your bike up for you

  • Hi, what exercises can I do to lose back fat and to tone up the upper torso. Thanks

  • sierra

    I agree with the tips except for the squats one. Unless you are really an expert bad@$$ you should aim to go to 90 degrees with your thighs parallel with the ground and knees behind your toes. That is more than enough especially when you add in a barbell or heavy dumbells. The advice to ‘squat to the ground’ was vague and I can see people getting injured.

  • Gary

    I agree on all your advice except for the squat advice. Then I will agree to disagree. As others have noted going beyond the point where you stress your knees is not recommended. I’m a 51 y/o male and have incorporated variations of squats into workouts I have done my entire life with success. As you mentioned .. a good form deep squat is one of if not the best exercises you can do. The example of lifting a child or anything for that matter and going beyond .. or knees above your butt isn’t good. Form is essential which includes your back shoulders head and neck. Deep squat form focused and you will help keep your knees healthy by strengthening muscles above and below your knees and not get injured. I have seen people go beyond and hurt themselves and are forever afraid to do them again. As I said .. I will agree to disagree, No offense, I just felt your readers need to decide to do their research before and listen to all the advise, not just an article.

  • shawn

    Any ideas on how to lose my butt?

  • Full squats are excellent, but I’d caution anyone (especially beginners or someone without great hip flexibility) to work with a trainer at first to make sure your form is on point.

  • relkcam1

    This is almost useless to me without accompanying examples or videos of correct technique.

  • Be

    A question, what is a half push up? And is the women’s push up with the knees bent included in the description of the push up?

  • Leslie Ann

    Hi, I’m 62, and have not been able to do pushups in the last year d/t wrist problems. Wondering if there is anything as effective for upper body that I could do comfortably.

  • Michael

    If you go all the way down to the floor with your squats are you not putting all the weight on your knees and destroying all the cartilage in your knees?? There’s a link between many high up professional bodybuilders in the past having knee surgeries due to going down to the floor (too far down).

  • Dana

    Shannon,

    I appreciate your message that push-ups need to be deep to benefit, but I can’t even do 1 deep one. I can complete a 3 1/2 minute push-up routine (The Biggest Loser workout videos) with shallow push-ups, and my form is good. I can do many push-ups on my knees.

    So what’s a good transitional phase that can get me doing deeper, full push-ups? I’ve been working out for a year and have made much progress, have lost 54 pounds, and have worked hard to get through these routines. Reading that I’m not getting a benefit is not true, though I know I can benefit more. (I am still very large-chested and wonder how much that plays into my difficulty.)

    • Peggy

      I would love an answer to this too.

  • Scott

    Thumbs up on the ass to grass squatting, even if it means lifting less weight, it’s definitely better to get all the way down there if you can.

  • Bean

    Regarding the full squat, do you mean the buttock should touch/nearly touch the ground? I have never seen this demonstrated. Please give a reference that will show the proper technique for this, I would certainly topple over and I’m not sure if that is my own inflexibility, instability or simply poor technique.

  • Mysty Nyckel

    Push ups … also, keep your elbows closer to your body, not flared out.

  • Tee

    Excellent I’m adding these four exercises to my Zumba class workout!!!!

  • older american fitness

    i receive this info, and i have a problem with the type of exercises you suggest. one size does not fit all. For us with injuries, replacements, squats, push ups are not good choices. Everyone can’t run, i use to play tennis but with knee replacement out of the question. I would like to see work outs tailored to sport injured ordinary everyday people.

  • Dan Hitch

    How about exercise for a 73 year old man who has had 5 back operations with metal inserted.