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Improve Your Exercise Form | Eight Fundamental Body Movements to Master

Updated: Apr 12, 2021


When it comes to exercise, or moving against resistance, the body takes the path of least resistance. In other words, the mind will tell the body to complete the task in the simplest way possible that burns the least amount of calories. It is a survival mechanism. We naturally do not want to make exercises difficult. This can result in compensations and improper form when it comes to complex movements like that squat, pull-up, or push-up. It is time to start making things harder on yourself! When I train newer clients I constantly put them into the weakest position possible. This way they must work harder by using muscles they may have never used before. This is accomplished by cueing very specific joint movements & positions. However, this is only effective when we start thinking of most exercises as a full body movement that requires specific thought at each joint of the body. In this post we will highlight eight (8) joints of the body and how you should control them when exercising to improve your form and maximize the efficiency of your workouts.

How to improve exercise form through cueing


Eight movements reflect eight major joints of our body:

  • Ankle

  • Knee

  • Hip

  • Pelvis

  • Spine/Ribcage

  • Shoulder

  • Elbow

  • Wrist

Focusing on these eight fundamental movements will provide you the following benefits:

  1. Safety, consistency, and efficiency with every exercise and workout.

  2. A better understanding of human movement and improved mind & body connection.

  3. Apply to your everyday life to prevent acute or chronic injury or pain from surfacing.

  4. Specific muscle targeting to always engage the proper muscles.

  5. Full body engagement for stability, increased calorie burning, and a time efficient workout.

If you are not big on remembering technical, anatomical based terminology, that’s okay! Learning to apply verbal cues in place of complex body movements is a very effective way at remembering and comprehending advanced concepts. Just put it in your own words! For simplicity we are going to take a bottom up approach starting with the ankles. Each section will provide a couple verbal cues to THINK about when during exercises. Experiment, practice, and feel the affect these cues can have on your body. Come up with a phrase that makes sense and you can remember!

PLEASE NOTE: There is a video at the end of this post that highlights each movement. Please watch the video while taking note of the information below.

#1 | The Ankles

Over pronation of the ankle (rolling in) is one of the leading causes of chronic foot and ankle pain. Millions of dollars are spent on orthotics and special shoes to curb the effects but body control and exercise can be a far more affordable and effective remedy. Try actively rolling your ankle out (supinate) and increase pressure on the outside (lateral) portion of your foot. Your entire foot should still remain flat as the focus is to distribute the weight in your foot to the outside. If done properly you will create alignment of the calf muscles and achilles tendon as it crosses into the ankle joint and improve sensation and activation of the gluteal muscles.

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Push Ankles Out”

“Tear Paper Apart w/ Feet”

“Pinky Toe Pressure”

#2 | The Knees

Knee positioning is dependent on “Q-Angle” and is a measurement of the angle between the quadriceps muscle and the patella tendon. The greater the angle, the greater risk of injury or development of a chronic pain condition. Our goal is to minimize “Q-Angle” by pushing our knee over our ankle joint and maintaining alignment and stability throughout a range of motion. Not only will this help prevent injury and pain but will place leg muscles in an optimal position to be worked. Remember, efficiency is key!

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Keep Knee Cap Over Pinky Toe”

"Push Knees Out”

#3 | The Hips

This is referring to hip rotation movement (rotational torque) in a closed chain position or feet firmly on the ground. When you apply these cues, you are feeling for engagement on the outside of your hips. By developing rotation through our hip joints during exercises like that squat, deadlift, and lunge we are creating increased force production and stability throughout the range of motion. This concept is what gives us the feeling of strength and control during a weighted lift. Additionally, allowing the hips to rotate will prevent compensatory pelvic and spine movement.

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Tear Paper Apart w/ Feet”

“Knees Straight; Rotate Knee Caps Out”

#4 | The Pelvis

Posterior pelvic rotation synergistically engages the gluteal, abdominal, and hamstring muscles to create pelvic and spinal stability during dynamic movements, such as a squat or dead-lift, and static exercises, such as a plank. During heavy resistance exercises the pelvis should maintain stability as we move and rotate about our hips or shoulders to create movement.

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Tuck Tail Between Legs”

"Lengthen Your Low Back”

"Squeeze Your Butt”

#5 | The Spine/Ribcage

Spinal stability is largely dependent on our ability to activate and maintain abdominal engagement. This often works synergistically with pelvic stability as the abdominal muscles are used to stabilize both bones/joints. Our goal is to create a flat back or straight line from the back of our head down to the tailbone (sacrum). This is the core concept behind straight leg forward bend exercises, squats, and most abdominal exercises. For example, when performing double leg raises think about pulling the ribs down, drawing abs inward, and keeping the chin tucked. If done properly you should feel your low back and spine press into the ground while the abdominal muscles work hard to support your legs.

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Pull Ribs Down to Pelvis”

"Draw Belly Button to Spine”

"Tuck the Chin”

#6 | The Shoulders

Incorporating the shoulder blades (scapulas) the shoulder joint is very complex and one, if not, the most susceptible joints to minor and major injury. Gravity can have a debilitating effect on the head and shoulders as it is always forcing us into a forward head and rounded shoulder posture. By lifting the chest and squeezing the shoulder blades back we are preventing poor posture and even protecting the spine and low back!

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Pinch Pencil Between Shoulder Blades”

"Open/Lift Up the Chest”

#7 | The Elbows

Elbow positioning is affected by muscles above and below the joint and have a close relationship with shoulder movement and positioning. During pulling exercises, like the row, focus on pulling the elbow across the side of your trunk and maintaining strict elbow and wrist alignment during the pull. During pushing exercises, like the push-up, focus on keeping the elbows rotated together. If done properly you will engage and feel your triceps working hard to stabilize the shoulder joints.

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Tuck to Your Side”

“Rotate Elbows Together”

#8 | The Wrists

They may be last but do NOT underestimate their importance. Wrist positioning has a dramatic effect on shoulder and elbow muscle engagement during all upper body exercises and even some lower body exercises. During tricep extensions, try pointing your wrist down to the ground at the end range. With rows and bicep curls, try keeping your wrist curled and pressure through the pinky side of your palm. Push-ups? Think about screwing your palms into the ground. You should find a direct relationship between this movement and keeping your elbows rotated together!

How to correct with verbal cues?

“Point Your Wrist”

“Keep Your Wrist Straight”

“Screw Palms into Ground”

Please use the following link for a full-length video demonstrating and explaining each of the fundamental movements!


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