If you struggle with basic movements like squats, lunges or push-ups, there’s no shame in that. Everyone starts somewhere and there’s nothing wrong with you. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, we get it. Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that you can’t avoid them. These three movements will pop up in almost any group workout. That’s because they’re fairly straightforward, they work multiple muscle groups and they’re effective without needing any equipment. They also represent three of the seven primal movement patterns (squatting, lunging and pushing) that form the basis of fitness training. The good news is that there are easier variations that are just as effective and will help you build the strength you need to master these moves once and for all.
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Try it if: You feel like you’re going to topple over when you do squat movements; your squats are shallower than a teenager on Tinder; you can’t sit on your haunches without raising your heels.
What’s going on: It’s very common for women to be quad dominant — meaning the muscles at the front of our thighs do all the heavy lifting when we run, jump and squat. The lower you squat, the more your body weight shifts backwards and the less your quads are able to carry the load. That’s where your glutes should kick in and balance it out. But if your glutes are under developed and lacking a good mind-muscle connection, they’re not going to do their job. A box squat eliminates the risk of falling so you can focus on that glute activation.
How to: Start sitting on a chair, feet apart and facing forward, back straight, core engaged. Hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Now plant your feet flat against the ground, squeeze your bum, and stand up without lifting your heels or using your hands to assist. Without relaxing your muscles, immediately lower back onto the chair, then stand up again. Do 10 reps before you rest. Then repeat for two more rounds.
Practice makes perfect: Do three sets of ten reps three to four times a week. As it becomes easier, start grazing the chair with your bum at the bottom of the movements instead of sitting down fully. Eventually lose the chair altogether. In addition to your weekly workouts, practise this conscious movement every time you get up off a chair.
Try it if: You wobble when you lunge; your boobs graze your front knee and your shoulders are hunched; your back leg hardly bends; your front knee is way beyond your front toes; you struggle to push back up to standing.
What’s going on: That familiar wobble has little to do with your balance and everything to do with your stabilisers — the muscles that keep you, well, stable as you perform exercise movements or just move through life. It is a balancing act of sorts though — the delicate balance of muscles acting against each other to keep you upright. If you’re hunching forward and not using your back leg, your weight distribution is going to be forward heavy, throwing your balance off and loading your front knee joint. Holding the pipe or broom keeps you upright so your weight distribution is more even.
How to: Hold a PVC pipe or a broom across the back of your shoulders. Stand tall, tighten your tummy, look straight ahead (not at the ground). Take a big step forward, plant your front foot and lower down so both your knees are bent ninety degrees. Push through your front foot back to standing.
READ MORE: Fitness 101: How To Master The Lunge
Practice makes perfect: Do eight each side before you take a rest. Repeat for two more sets. Do this twice a week. As it gets easier, start doing more reps, working up to 15 each side. Then decrease your reps again, but try it with a light barbell across your shoulders or hang identical water bottles on your broom.
Try it if: Your bum sags or sticks up when you do push-ups; your arms are hardly bending; you can only do push-up movements on you knees.
What’s going on: The push-up is so much more than an arm exercise. In fact, it uses multiple muscle groups. To do it well, you’re going to have to get your chest, shoulders, arms and core in on the action. Your chest, shoulders and triceps (the muscles on the backs of your upper arms) push you up; your core (including your glutes!) keeps your body in a straight line. By raising the level of your hands, you’re having to control less of your body weight, making the exercise more manageable while you build strength and your mind-muscle connection.
WATCH: How To Do A Push-Up
How to: Get into the top of a push-up position with your hands resting on a table, in line with your shoulders and your neck in a neutral position. Tighten your tummy, squeeze your bum and lower your chest towards the table. Push back up to start.
Practice makes perfect: Do 10 push-ups before you rest. Then repeat for two more sets. Do this three to four times a week. As the movements get easier, move to a lower surface, like your bed or a sturdy chair. Keep moving lower until you’re repping out sets of ten with your hands on the floor. Then start increasing your reps.