Form follows function --Want some simple workout tweaks to boost the effectiveness of your workout? (Of course you do — I know I’m always looking for little ways to make the most of my workout time.)

The other day when I was looking through some old writing clips I came across an article I wrote for Fitness magazine back in the day: Surprisingly Easy Ways to Get A Better Body. I originally pitched the article to them as a list of ways to tweak your workout technique but their take on the title was sexier than mine. 🙂

Anyway, I’d forgotten all about this article till last week and you know what? It holds up, with a few caveats and extra bonus add-ons.

(Wanna see the original Click this link for a PDF version.)

Tips 1, 2 and 3: Target your abs better.

How do you do that? Anchor your tongue. When you are working your abs, placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth — just behind your front teeth — helps to support your neck, which helps you focus on your abs. (Want to further fix your ab workouts? Check out this post on proper crunch form and this post on perfecting your plank. These are tips I use every day to help people get the most out of their ab exercises.)

Tip 4: Challenge your balance.

Back in 2003 when this article was published, fitness gurus believed that balance training — such as lifting weights while standing on a balance board or BOSU — benefited your core. Now we know that may not be the case.

However, balance training is still good for working on … you guessed it! … your balance.

And also, if you have ankle mobility/stability issues, focused balancing training might help you feel more stable on your feet.

How to do it? Stand on one foot while doing biceps curls or side raises (something I have my older clients do, as balance is a special concern for the 50+ crowd). Or you could perform lunges while placing one foot on an balance disk, or stand on a wobble board. Bonus: It’s fun!

Note: if you lift weights in an unstable manner — like on one foot — make sure you lift lighter weights than normal to keep great form and avoid injury.


Tip 5: Get a (different) grip.

When you’re working your back muscles by doing rows or pulldowns, try putting your thumb on the same side of the bar as your fingers. That takes your biceps out of the equation and puts more emphasis on the back muscles.

Same thing goes for triceps (back of the arm) exercises.

Also, if you have elbow issues (like tennis elbow), you might find that you can train your back/triceps pain-free by changing to this grip.

Tips 6 and 7: Squat central.

Wiggle your toes every few counts when you are doing squats to make sure you’re targeting your hamstrings and glutes. That prevents you from putting too much weight on your toes.

Why does that matter? If you’re leaning too much into your toes, you are focusing most of the work on your quads (front of your thighs), which might worsen/cause knee pain.

Also when squatting, turn your thighs outward slightly so the outside of your knee is in line with your pinky toes. This helps eliminate the knock-kneed posture that takes the work out of the muscles you’re trying to hit and helps create a stronger, more balanced foundation for the movement (and better legs and butt, too!).

Tip 8 and 9: Hello, abs!

Did you know you can turn almost any exercise into a core/ab workout if you think about it? Take a hint from pilates and draw your navel in (slightly) to turn on your core muscles — it can also help to think about ever-so-gently pulling your ribs in toward your spine.

Also, make sure that your knees are “soft” — not locked — when you lift. Locking your knees = turned-off core.

I have a whole riff on lifting with athletic posture, which involves building a strong foundation from the ground up. I’m going to save that for another more involved post. In the meantime, if you want more info on this, check out this article.

Tip 10: Raise the incline.

When you’re on the treadmill, walking (or running) on a 3 percent incline most closely simulates the same level of effort it takes to run/walk on a flat track. Plus, bonus, you’ll burn more calories at a steeper grade!


Do you have any special tips or struggles when it comes to figuring out how to do a certain exercise? Leave a comment or inbox me — if you have a question, you can be sure that someone else is wondering the exact same thing!