Your cart

Whatever the reason is, you’ve decided to get into the gym… but that’s only half the battle. Make sure your workout matches your goals and that you are knowledgeable about each and every exercise.

Without a basic understanding of how to properly train, you may end up creating more issues than the spare tire you want to get rid of. Read below to learn more about common form mistakes for basic movements, and how to correct them.

Bench Press

There are innumerable ways to train chest. The vast majority include variations in pushing activities. The bench press is a basic way of accomplishing this, and should provide the basis for all other chest exercises.

Bench presses seem easy enough, but it’s relatively easy to perform even the simplest movements incorrectly. The bad news is that deviations in proper technique can lead to nagging pain or debilitating injury.

Avoid extremes in grip distance; it should feel natural. A good rule of thumb is to have your forearms perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the movement. Go too wide or too close with your grip, and you may experience shoulder or elbow pain.

While on your back, keep your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees aligned, and your feet planted firmly on the ground. This keeps your spine neutral as excessive neck flexion or back arching can cause injury to those areas.

Perform controlled reps lowering the bar towards your nipples, and forcefully pressing back up towards your shoulders. Both phases of the movement can be quick, but you should never be out of control. Refrain from bouncing the bar of your chest as this can injure your sternum. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up.

You should not advance in weight until proper form becomes second nature. This form should be applied to all other chest exercises, whether you are working cables, free weights, or body weight. Once you no longer have to think about form, it is safe to move on to other exercises. Remember to use clips and a spotter.

For more on bench press form, check out: 


The squat is probably the most recognizable exercise, yet it is commonly performed incorrectly. Posture and core play a large roll.

Bar placement over your upper back is basically preferential. High bar placement rests on your traps. It is optimal for those that prefer an upright torso or want to target quadriceps. Conversely, the low bar placement rests over your scapulae, targets the hamstrings, and is associated with a more flexed torso. Either is sufficient; choose whichever allows for a fairly neutral spine. Avoid excessive neck and back extension.

Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground, at about hips’ width. Point your toes straight ahead…. slightly out-turned is also acceptable. Keep your weight over your heels throughout the movement.

Perform a controlled descent, as if you were sitting back into a chair, until you reach a depth of at least parallel to the floor. Pause at maximal depth, and forcefully use your quads and glutes to return to the start position. Breathe in on the way down, and out on the way up. Keep your core tight throughout.

Your knees should never traverse past your toes as this causes shearing forces at your knee-caps …. a low bar position helps with this concept. Likewise, ensure your knees do not collapse towards each other during either phase of the movement.

For more on squat form, check out:  


The deadlift is one of the best total-body strengthening exercises. If done incorrectly, it can cause more bad than good.

Fortunately, what you have just learned about squatting can be applied directly to deadlifts, as well as many other lower body movements. The technique is virtually the same; what differs is the placement of the bar.

Again, your feet should be about hips’ width, firmly planted, and pointed straight ahead or slightly out-turned. Likewise, weight remains through your heels for the duration of the movement.

Grip the bar just outside your feet, and ensure the bar is abutted against your shins. Your spine should be fairly neutral; avoid excessive arching at your lower back. Keep your chest up, shoulders retracted, and butt back as if you were sitting in a chair.

Once this checklist is complete, it is essentially just a matter of standing while holding the weight. Keeping your chest upright, drive through your heels, maintaining the bar as close your shins as possible. As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward, making sure to fire your glutes. You should finish the movement with your hips tucked firmly against the bar. Breathe out on the way up, and in on the way down. Keep your core tight throughout.

To return to the start position, drive your hips backwards as if you are sitting in a chair, bend your knees, and keep your chest upright until the weight has returned to the floor.

For more on deadlift form, check out: 

To Sum It Up

Know the basics. To ensure safety, master movements that can be generalized to many other exercises. Once you have these down pat, progress to other activities.

A strong core and competent postural musculature is the foundation for almost every movement.

Make sure your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees are aligned (where applicable). This reduces the likelihood of placing excess stress on your neck or back. Be aware of foot placement, and how it effects movement at the knee.

As always, if you don’t know, ask!


Anthony Dugarte M.D., C.S.C.S.


About Dr. Dugarte

Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S. is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has enjoyed success in sports, as well as academics. He accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend Kent State University and graduated, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. At Kent, Dr. Dugarte was a member of the Golden Flash Football Team and earned Academic All-American Honors as a defensive lineman.

He is currently the Research Fellow for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Dugarte has 8 years’ experience as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Keywords: Chest; legs; squats; bench press; deadlifts; form; proper form; core; neck; back; pain; knees

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published