Pay attention! If you’ve been mindlessly going through your workouts, you could be missing out on big results.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when people focused on a specific muscle during basic lifts—i.e. thinking about pecs during a bench press—they worked that muscle 22 percent harder.
Zeroing in on specific muscles can help you feel the exercise more, says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., cofounder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass.
“So often people rush through moves, but being mindful of the muscle you’re actually working can help keep it engaged,” he said.
Hit your targeted muscles even harder using these form cues for four common moves. (Want more cutting-edge tips and workouts from the world’s top strength trainers? Sign up for the Exercise of the Week newsletter!)
Extra Credit Cue: Tighten your butt, boost your bench. “Dig your feet into the ground and keep your glutes tight throughout. It’ll keep you more stable during this move, and allow you to handle more weight,” Gentilcore says.
Extra Credit Cue: Instead of simply going through the typical up-down and letting your knees fall in front of your toes, try this: “Sit your hips back and think of spreading the floor with your feet,” says Gentilcore.
“Your feet are planted and knees still point straight ahead, but isometrically ‘pushing’ them apart helps open your hips to allow for better depth throughout the exercise.”
Extra Credit Cue: Pull through your elbows. “Most people know this exercise targets the upper back, but pulling through the elbows can help you engage your lats more,” says Gentilcore. “From there, focus on placing your shoulder blades in your back pockets by pulling them together and down.”
Extra Credit Cue: Slow down and squeeze hard at the top of the curl to get the most out of the range, Gentilcore advises. And tighten your glutes: They’ll keep your back from hyper-extending while you stand, protect it from injury, and help stabilize the entire exercise. That way, you can further focus on your biceps, he says. (Want a new way variation of the classic curl exercise? How about 25 of ‘em? Discover 25 Ways to Build Your Biceps.)