Spotting Good Exercise Form

Maybe you aren’t comfortable at the gym, or you just don’t have the energy to exercise. There are myriad reasons why people put off working out, and they can be major roadblocks between you and the health goals you’re trying to achieve.

But what happens when you finally lace up your sneakers and cut out the excuses? For some people, trying to exercise without the right form or technique can be even worse than if they decided to stay home. From lifting weights to running on the treadmill, protecting your body from poor form means protecting yourself from serious injury.

So how well can most people spot poor form on some of the most popular pieces of equipment you’ll find at the gym? To find out, we tested over 1,000 people using pictures of correct and (possibly dangerous) incorrect exercise forms. From lunges and situps to squats and bench presses, read on to see what we uncovered about attempting certain workouts.

Can You Tell the Difference?

Regardless of how much experience you have (even rivaling “gym rat” status), working out can still lead to injuries. And depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, those workout injuries could range from muscle pulls or strains all the way to sprains and dislocations. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should write off going to the gym completely – if you aren’t paying attention, you could hurt yourself walking down the street! But exercising with the correct form can be a lot harder than it seems.

How Well Can You Spot Correct Exercise Form?

According to our survey, more than 1 in 5 people had been hurt while exercising as a result of poor form. When we looked closer at the data, we discovered there were a few workouts that people were more likely to be injured from due to bad form than others:

  • Standard squats with barbells
  • Dead lifts
  • Barbell shoulder presses

Our quiz results showed that spotting correct form was the most difficult when observing the lat pulldown. With equipment involved, it can be easy to see the confusion when hands, legs, and posture are all part of the equation.

Spot the Correct Form: Quiz Results

Preceded only by the lat pulldown (33%), just 40% of people were able to identify the proper form for squatting with a barbell. Sixty percent of respondents identified a standard barbell squat as either needing the knees tucked in or spread too far apart – instead of keeping their legs shoulder-width apart.

You don’t need to pick up weights to accidentally hurt yourself at the gym. Thirty-five percent of people incorrectly identified how to perform a traditional situp (either by pulling at the neck while the body is in motion or by leaving the arms overextended), and 32% incorrectly identified how to do a forearm plank. Among the exercises respondents were quizzed on, they most identified proper form for the standard pushup (87%) and bench press (90%).

Unsolicited Advice

Bad form at the gym can be a precursor to serious injury, but having to take unsolicited advice while you’re still learning the ropes can be discouraging. Even professional athletes need advice or corrections from time to time, but getting called out from someone you don’t know can be degrading.

Percentage Corrected While Working Out

According to our study, men corrected women on their form five times more often than women corrected men. Compared to 47% of men who had someone try to correct their posture or stance while exercising, 53% of women had the same experience. While more than half of women identified feeling moderately to very encouraged by the feedback, 13% of women and 11% of men felt discouraged instead.

Overwhelmed From the Start

There is a multitude of reasons why walking into the gym can be intimidating. The person at the front desk is bound to pressure you into a sale (or try) at some point, the room is packed full of people you don’t know, and working out in public can be a very vulnerable experience – not least of all exacerbated by the seemingly endless rows of workout equipment. From cardio to weight machines or free weights, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might not know where to start.

Most Intimidating Gym Equipment

Forty-three percent of people identified the pullup bar as the most intimidating workout equipment, including 13% of people who considered themselves moderately to extremely fit and 20% of people who injured themselves working out. More than 1 in 4 people also felt intimidated by the bench press setup (34%), dipping bars (28%), and the hammer strength machine (25%).

Finding Your Comfort Zone

No matter how much time you spend at the gym, working out – especially with weights or weight machines – can be dangerous. If you don’t have the proper form, you could overextend your muscles and joints, sprain a ligament, or fracture a bone. The proper form for lat pulldowns and barbell squats were the least likely to be identified correctly, but hundreds of people were also confused about the basic technique for situps and pushups.

At, our mission is to help you find the best workout equipment you can use from the comfort of your home. Without the danger of weights or weight machines, we’ll help you compare the best treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes on the market today. Our passion for fitness means we’re excited to help you find the best tools to reach your health goals and beyond. Learn more by visiting us at today.

Methodology and Limitations

For this project, we surveyed 1,014 total respondents who worked out weekly, and then we quizzed them on images illustrating 10 different exercises. Respondents were asked to choose the image with the correct exercise form. They were awarded a point for each and, in total, could receive a total of 10 points. We compared quiz scores across each exercise to determine the moves in which correct form was the most difficult to determine. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 77 with an average age of 37.5 and a standard deviation of 12.1. 47.9% of respondents were women, and 52.1% were men.

Our data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are merely exploratory. Self-reported data can carry issues such as telescoping and limited memory. No statistical testing was performed. The data were not weighted.

Fair Use Statement

Interested in sharing this article about proper exercise form? Feel free to share our study for noncommercial purposes, but don’t forget to link back to our findings to give us credit.