How To Do 8 Basic Exercises Using Good Form

Get strong—and avoid injury—with these full-body moves.

When you get started with exercise, it's not enough to be active. To truly be effective, your form is everything, especially while doing strength training exercises like lunges and deadlifts. 

Here's what you need to know about what makes good form while doing some basic full-body exercises.

Strength Training Benefits

Exercise is the ultimate form of self-care. Having a good strength training regimen can do wonders for your physical and mental health, including:

  • Lower the risk of injuries
  • Improve bone health
  • Increase muscle strength and mass
  • Promote a better quality of life

But when you're doing strength training—or any exercise, for that matter—you want to make sure that your posture is correct for the moves you want to do.

Why Good Posture Matters for Strength Training

Good posture is how well your spine is positioned when moving and when you're not. Good posture can prevent pain, injuries, and problems with flexibility, your joints, and other areas of your health.

To determine if you have good posture, check if your neck is straight with your head. Then, see if your shoulders are aligned with your hips. Proper alignment of your head, neck, shoulders, and hips signals a neutral spine, the base of every exercise you do.

Analyze your alignment before you get moving, Tatiana Lampa, a New York-based ACSM-certified trainer, told Health. Look at a picture of yourself facing sideways to see if you have a neutral spine. If something looks off, make adjustments, and note how it feels. 

"Checking alignment is really important [for body awareness]," noted Lampa.

Then, take a video of yourself doing each of the moves in the following workout, whether it's your first time or you've been doing them for years. 

"Look at these exercises and reevaluate them," added Lampa. "Nail down how to do them properly, and you'll feel stronger and prevent injuries."

Who Should Take Caution With or Avoid Strength Training?

Strength training makes for great exercise. However, some people may have to limit or avoid that type of exercise. For exercise, you shouldn't be physically active if you have an acute illness or injury. Instead, wait until you're fully recovered before attempting any workouts. 

If you have certain health conditions, you'll want to take it easy when you exercise. Working out too hard at high intensities can be harmful. Those conditions include the following:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Nephropathy (kidney function issues)
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage beyond the brain and spine)

Also, people with major eye damage issues due to health conditions, such as diabetes, should avoid strength training.

Pregnant people can do strength training exercises if a healthcare provider clears them. If pregnant, exercise at a light or moderate intensity unless a healthcare provider instructs otherwise.

Additionally, people with disabilities can do strength training. However, they might need help if, for example, weights are involved.

8 Basic Full-Body Exercises

According to Lampa, the following tips and corrective-exercise advice can make sure you're hitting each of the following moves with precision:

  • Push-up
  • Bent-over row
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Plank
  • Side lunge
  • Single-leg deadlift
  • Leg lift

Also, to complete some of these moves, you may need dumbbells and a mat.

Push-Up

Muscles worked: chest, core, and shoulders

  • Start in a straight-arm plank position, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bend your elbows to a 45-degree angle and lower your body, keeping your core engaged and spine neutral. You should be in one straight line from shoulders to heels. 
  • Push back up to the top of the plank.

To correct it: Hips sinking or raising? Perform your push-up on an incline, with your hands on a bench, chair, or couch. You can even take it to the wall. No matter how you do it, maintain a neutral spine.

Bent-Over Row

Muscles worked: biceps, shoulders, triceps, and upper back

  • Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Hinge at the hips and maintain a neutral spine, keeping your shoulders away from your ears. 
  • Holding this position, bend your elbows and pull weights to your rib cage, keeping elbows close to your sides. 
  • Straighten your arms to lower weights back down.

To correct it: If you feel your shoulders or low back rounding (a common mistake for this move), do a round of Cat-Cow yoga poses and find your neutral position. Hold that neutral spine while performing the row.

Squat

Muscles worked: calves, core, glutes, quads, and shins

  • Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes slightly turned out, holding a dumbbell at your chest. 
  • Keep your chest up, send your hips back, and bend your knees as if sitting in a chair. 
  • Drive through your feet to stand back up.

To correct it: If your knees buckle inward, place a mini band around the thighs. Practice the squat while pushing outward against the band. Check if your knees extend too far over your toes from the side view. If they do, sit your hips back more, sending weight to the heel to help maintain strong form.

Deadlift

Muscles worked: core, forearms, glutes, hamstrings, hand, lats, quads, shoulder, and spinal

  • Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and a slight knee bend, holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Send your hips back, maintaining a neutral spine and the slightly bent-knee position as you lower your chest toward the floor and dumbbells just below your knees. 
  • Drive through your feet and squeeze your glutes to stand back up, shoulders over hips.

To correct it: Don't consider this exercise a toe touch. To nail the hinge position, place your hands behind your head. Then, focus on sending the hips back, squeezing the glutes to stand, and keeping the shoulders down and back.

Plank

Muscles worked: biceps, core, lower back, pecs, shoulders, spinal, triceps, and upper back

Form-Function-Workout-Plank
  • Get in a plank position by placing your forearms on the mat, your elbows under your shoulders, shoulders pulled down and back. 
  • Tuck your hips slightly and squeeze your glutes, maintaining a neutral spine. 
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

To correct it: If hips are sinking or raising, drop your knees to the mat or place your hands on a bench, chair, or couch. Keep feet wide to help with stability.

Side Lunge

Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, and quads

  • Start standing with your feet together and dumbbells on your shoulders. 
  • Step your right foot to the side with your knee and toe pointing forward. 
  • Bend the knee and send your hips back, keeping weight in the heel and your left leg straight. 
  • Drive through your right foot to stand back up. 
  • Repeat for 10 reps, then switch legs.

To correct it: Make sure to push your butt back into a hinge. To help master that position, eliminate the stepping in and out: Stand with your feet wider than your hips, bend your right knee and push your hips down and back. Keep alternating sides.

Single-Leg Deadlift

Muscles worked: core, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back

  • Start standing with your feet together and holding dumbbells. 
  • Then put weight on your left foot, and step your right foot back. 
  • Lower your chest toward the floor as your right leg lifts straight behind you. 
  • Keep your shoulders down, and maintain one straight line from shoulders to heels, with a slight bend in your left knee. 
  • Drive through your left foot to stand back up. 
  • Repeat for 10 reps, then switch legs.

To correct it: Avoid turning your hips. Instead, keep your hips square to the ground to isolate the hamstring and glute. To better your balance before lifting your leg, do a staggered deadlift: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then step your left foot back slightly, keeping your toes on the ground as you do the deadlift.

Leg Lift

Muscles worked: core, hamstrings, hips, quads, and lower back

  • Start lying on your back, legs straight up with feet over hips, arms by sides. 
  • Lower your legs toward the floor, as low as possible, without arching your lower back. 
  • Lift your legs back up.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds.

To correct it: Press your spine into the floor and pull your ribs down as you lower your legs, so you feel it in your abs, not your lower back. Keep the legs as high as needed to avoid arching in the spine.

The Drill

Perform this workout in circuits, doing three rounds of each circuit before moving on to the next.

Circuit 1: 10 reps of push-ups and 10 reps of bent-over rows

Circuit 2: 10 reps of squats, 10 reps of deadlifts, and 30 seconds of plank

Circuit 3: 10 reps of side lunges on each side, 10 reps of single-leg deadlift on each side, and 30 seconds of leg lifts

A Quick Review

Strength training, using moves like push-ups, squats, and lunges, is one of the many ways to get exercise. Strength training exercises can have benefits like a lower risk of injury and better quality of life when done correctly and with good form.

Some people may not be able to do that type of exercise, so always check with a healthcare provider if you're interested in starting strength training.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Strength and resistance training exercise.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Guide to good posture.

  3. American Diabetes Association. Exercising with diabetes complications.

  4. Borhade MB, Singh S. Diabetes Mellitus And Exercise. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans. 2nd edition.

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