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11 tricks to make sure your form is correct, according to trainers

You can read exercise instructions, watch videos of the movements and quiet feeling like something isn’t quite right when you’re doing it alone. Maybe your back feels weird, or your arms are tiring while your core seems suspiciously fresh, or the movement just seems way too clunky. Whatever is going on, something is wrong.

Maybe you’re feeling ready to put a certain exercise on hold when you suddenly hear a simple phrase that changes everything for you—an exercise cue that suddenly makes everything click. By imagining your body moving in a certain way or doing something specific, everything falls into place. You’ll feel the right muscles working, the pain will go away, and you’ll feel ready to repeat a full set on your own.

These clues are training gold because they help you strive for proper form in a way that’s easy to understand, imagine, and visualize. And that’s important, because maintaining proper form is key not only to making your workout safer, but also to maximizing its effectiveness.

“Form is critical to making sure you activate the right muscles at the right time,” physical therapist Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, CSCS, founder of Fit Club NY, tells SELF. For example, if you’re in good form on the deadlift, make sure you’re engaging the muscles that should be working—your glutes, back, and hamstrings—so you’re reaping the full benefits of the movement.

Good form can be difficult to master, which is why many top trainers develop their own practice hints or visualization tips to teach it. An exercise clue might sound like a simple sentence, but it can make a really big difference in performing a movement by helping you understand things like what you should be feeling in your body, where you should be focusing your strength and what muscles should be burning.

We asked Scantlebury and 10 other top trainers for the best exercise pointers they use with their clients to really help them nail their form on some of the most common compound moves. Read on to learn their favorite visualization cues and how including them can help you avoid some of the most common form mistakes that could interfere with your favorite moves.

1. Run

The error: You stare at the ground as you walk.
What to visualize: Imagine you are holding a baseball between your chin and collarbone.

For new runners in particular, it’s common to look down while walking “to feel confident about a new activity,” Kaila DeRienzo, CPT and certified running coach, tells SELF. “It’s also common for people to stare at the numbers on the treadmill.” But good running form involves keeping your chin parallel to the floor, as this reduces your likelihood of neck strain and upper back pain, and also for an even run oxygen flow, DeRienzo says. By imagining a baseball under your chin, you can make sure your neck and head are in the right position.

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