In my training, I use body- weight exercises to drill in form and technique.
Body-weight exercises are the place I start and often a place I revisit if an athlete has a movement issue that needs conquering.
If everything looks good at body weight, I slowly add resistance to see where the flaw manifests. Too often I can see the flaw at body weight without having to add weight.
One of my favorite movements to correct form flaws is the single-leg step-up. It has many elements that transfer into weighted movement and it even lets me single out which leg my athlete is having trouble with. If you look at this movement from the side, it looks like a squat. That is by design. It lets me train the athlete unilaterally, providing proper stimulus and allowing for an abundance of muscle patterning. Facing a mirror can also let the athlete both see and feel the movement.
The first place I look is at the foot and hip. If the heel comes off the box and the athlete uses the toes to stand up, the knee is being overloaded and the hip is being used improperly. If the heel stays down, the hip gets loaded correctly. When returning to the starting position, if the knee hinges before the hip does, it is a major cue that the athlete will benefit from this exercise when done properly.
You have heard me warning about how bad it is when knees buckle inward during a squat. This fault is overly apparent with the single-leg step-up. If the wrong muscles fire, the knees can do anything from crashing inward, bringing with it a fallen foot arch, to winking slightly inward at any point during the movement. The correction is simple: Push the knee outward while standing up. This turns on the glute instead of relying on the inner thigh to stand.
If you’re having trouble getting the correct depth in your squat, hip crease below the knee, you can practice it here. Viewed from the side, this movement resembles a below-parallel squat. If your hip flexors, glutes and outer thighs are not tight, you can train this area of your squat with the single-leg step-up. If you have tight muscles, spend some time on the foam roller to relax those tense muscles. See my earlier columns on foam rolling for specific techniques.
Raw strength is needed to perform this movement. If you are lacking in that area, you can use your arms to help you out of the bottom of today’s movement. Swing the arms from the sides of the body to an overhead position. This helps until you have the strength to do it on your own. The raw strength needed is minimal and should be built as a prerequisite to progress to weighted movements of all varieties.
My favorite benefit from this exercise is the stability that comes with proficiency. Instead of just bouncing through the motion, try counting a four-second tempo on the way up and on the way down. Your legs will burn and you will be able to see all your faults and correct them right away. This movement transfers directly to improving your squat and lunges.
It is common for athletes to have different issues with each leg. One knee might wink inward while the other ankle lifts and the foot turns out. Don’t be discouraged. Work on the different form flaws as they arise. Be patient, this exercise may take time to master.
The jumping pullup is a good variation on the traditional pullup. It requires less upper-body strength and still uses the correct upper body patterning of its more difficult cousin. This exercise fits well in circuits because multiple repetitions are both possible and exhausting.
You can progress this exercise by lowering the box you stand on. This makes the upper body work harder for the pullup and slowly conditions it to perform unassisted ones.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a Las Vegas trainer and want to share your love of fitness as a guest coach, please contact him. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.