Back to Basics: The Fundamentals of Technique

Ep 1: Programming is Secondary

Figures in the fitness industry debate issues such as using RPE, including power cleans in linear progression, programming for older people, and prioritizing intensity or volume. Some argue whether a certain program provides better results than another program. While coaches may enjoy debating the finer points of programming, form and consistency–more than programming–determine how fast you progress toward your goals.

Improved, consistent form allows lifters to lift weights more efficiently. Consistent form also allows lifters to focus on driving the bar up. Novice lifters learning the lifts spend much mental energy working to improve their form.

Much of the early work for coaches and lifters involves improving form. Although a tiny minority seem to be able to improve their form without a coach, a coach greatly aids lifters in their ability to lift more efficiently and get stronger.

Consistency leads to long term progress, as it enables the lifter to receive the regular stress from which he can recover, adapt, and get stronger. The goal for early lifters should not be specific numbers on the bar but rather completing all assigned workouts.

Programming matters, but programming is secondary to form and consistency.

Ep 2: The Squat

The squat builds strength, adds muscle, and increases mental toughness. The squat begins each training session at the beginning of a lifter’s linear progression and often requires the most work from the coach and lifter to correct form issues. The squat deserves its nickname, “the king of the lifts.”

Learn how to squat, which cues help lifters get in the correct position, and why we advocate for a low bar squat. Whether you’re a lifter or coach, this episode will help you begin squatting or get your client squatting correctly.

Ep 3: The Knees Out Cue

Certain form issues pop up regularly with lifters. Common cues arise to address these issues. “Knees out” remains a staple cue for coaches looking to fix errors in the squat, including knee cave and knee slide.

As a lifter descends in a correctly performed squat, the muscles lengthen under load, and the lifter should feel an increased tightness as she approaches the bottom. This provides a stretch reflex that assists the successful completion of the lift. Knees caving in and knees sliding forward alleviate the tightness in the bottom, increasing the comfort in the bottom but decreasing the mechanical efficiency of the squat.

Learn intricacies of knee slide and knee cave, how the “knees out” cue helps the knees stay out and reduce or eliminate knee cave and knee slide, and how this causes a more efficient squat.

Ep 4: Diagnosing Back Angle

A more horizontal back angle characterizes the low bar squat compared to other squat variants. The back angle throughout the squat provides important information about whether the squat is being performed correctly or not.

During the descent, the back angle should set somewhere before halfway down the squat. Once the back angle sets, the back angle should stay nearly constant during the rest of the descent and coming up out of the bottom.

Two common errors occur on the ascent of the squat. Both involve an excessive change in back angle out of the bottom–the back becomes too horizontal or more vertical coming up out of the hole. Both involve a joint–either the knees or hips respectively–extending without much of contribution to the bar going up.

Explore these common squat errors, why they matter, and how to correct them as a lifter or coach.

Ep 5: The Press

Though its prominence has increased due largely to the increased popularity of CrossFit and StrongMan, the press remains an undervalued and underperformed lift.

If you haven’t included presses in your program–or if you want to improve your press–learn about the importance of the press to a well-rounded strength program and how to correctly perform the press.

How much do you press?

Ep 6: Cues for Building a Big Press

Heavy presses–more than any other of the big four lifts–do not forgive form errors. Certain cues help novices begin pressing competently and, if you are a coach, must be cued early and often to your lifters.

The combined cues “close grip, elbows forward, wrists straight” help the lifter get into the correct bottom position, which contributes to a mechanically efficient bar path. For the press, this means a bar path that stays close to the lifter’s face and moves in a straight line from the bottom to the top position.

Learn the most important cues that coaches use on novices and find themselves regularly using with all clients.

Ep 7: The Bench Press

Though the bench press’s importance may be overvalued, it cannot be denied that this lift is unparalleled in building upper body strength. Because of the stability provided by the bench, no other lift contributes to force production for the upper body like the bench press. The bench press and press provide the foundation for lifters’ long term strength progression.

Because this lift is performed so often in gyms and garages throughout the world, many should pay greater attention to proper form and safety. Learn more about the over-performed but under examined bench press.

Ep 8: The Deadlift

The deadlift tests raw strength possibly better than any other lift. It differs from the other main lifts because it starts in the bottom position, without the benefit of a stretch reflex provided by an eccentric–lowering–portion prior to the concentric–up–portion. Luckily, we have a simple 5-step process to help you get in the correct position each time.

5 Step Set Up

  1. Stance
  2. Grip
  3. Shins to bar and knees to elbow
  4. Squeeze your chest up
  5. Drive the floor away and drag the bar up your leg

Explore the finer details of each step so you can deadlift correctly, improve your form, or better coach your clients.

Ep 9: Push The Floor: The Essential Deadlift Cue

You have diligently executed the first four steps of the deadlift set up. You are tight–and uncomfortable–and ready to get the bar off the ground. What now?

For many, no cue works better to get the deadlift moving correctly off the ground than some variant of “push the floor away.” In a correctly performed deadlift, the bar moves up off the ground in a straight line with the knees first extending and then the hips extending. At the top, the knees and hips simultaneously finish their extensions.

Common errors to initiate the first part of the deadlift include extending the hips, not the knees; extending the knees to cause the hips to rise without the bar moving up off the floor; or trying to use the arms to jerk the bar off the floor.

Learn how to avoid these common errors and dial in your deadlift.

Ep 10: The Truth About Barbell Safety

Barbell training is a safe, effective way to get stronger and improve one’s health. That being said, some basic precautions can increase safety and prevent needless injuries–and even fatalities. Proper spotting and correct placement of safety pins or spotter arms in a power rack or on a squat rack make the squat and bench press safer. Different lifts, however, require different safety considerations.

For the squat, if possible, squat in a power rack. Put the safety pins just beneath where the bar is at the bottom of the squat. This allows the lifter to lower the bar down to the safety pins, which will take the weight of the bar, and safely get out from underneath the bar. If spotters are needed, have two spotters on each side of the bar. Spotters grab the bar in the crook of their elbow and grab the plate with their fingers. The two spotters need to grab the bar at the same time. The spotters assist the lifter standing up with the bar and–because they can see the j-hooks–help the lifter guide the bar onto the j-hooks. The lifter cannot bail on a squat with spotters–this puts a dangerous amount of weight into the spotters’ arms with little to no notice.

The bench press presents the most danger, as lifters move the bar over their face and neck. Lifters should not put safety clips on the bar, so the weight can slide off the ends of the barbell if needed. Lifters should also use safety pins set up low enough that they do not hit the pins in the bottom of the bench press but high enough so that if they get rid of their arch and flatten their torso, the pins–not their chest–take the weight of the barbell. It is recommended, however, to have a spotter. One spotter is needed. She should stand behind the lifter’s head. The spotter should help lift the bar off the j-hooks and move the bar to the top position over the shoulder joints, stand back to stay out of the lifter’s gaze, and only grab the bar if the lifter asks or if the bar starts moving down. The spotter helps move the bar back from the top position to the j-hooks. The spotter uses a mixed grip to do this. For the lifter, he should never move the bar from the rack to the top position or vice versa without locked elbows.

Finally, the press, deadlift, and olympic lifts should not be spotted because they cannot be spotted safely.

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