By: Barbell Logic Team

We can use models to describe any kind of loaded human movement. You don’t need to understand physics and moment arms to lift. But as you learn how these concepts feel while you are lifting, as you gain a deeper understanding of the model from your world under the bar, you give yourself more opportunities for the “aHa!” moments that lead to bigger jumps in your lifting progress.

Why we use models in barbell training

The Deadlift Game

Host:Contestant #1, describe your perfect deadlift.

Functional Fitness Trainer: “I actually prefer a trap bar deadlift because….

buzz—

Host:I am sorry, but a trap bar deadlift is not a deadlift. Contestant #2, same question.

Powerlifter: “First, place your feet as wide as they can go, preferably touching the plates. Take a deep breath and squat dow….

buzz—

Host: “I’m very sorry, but that’s a sumo deadlift… better luck next time. Contestant #3, same question.

Average Lifter: “First, I would set my feet under the bar so that the bar is directly over the middle of my foot, toes slightly out. Then I would grip the bar just outside my legs. Next, I would bend my knees until they touch the bar, but not so much that I move the bar forward. Without dropping my hips or moving the bar, I would set back in rigid anatomical extension, take a deep breath, and then drag the bar up my legs. I would finish with fully extended knees and puts at the top. To set the bar down, I would just reverse the movement, keeping a rigid and neutral spine the whole time!!!

—Ding-ding-ding—

Host: “We have a winner!

If you described a well-executed deadlift for any lifter of normal anatomical description, it should look pretty much like the description above. This is because the correctly performed deadlift is dictated by certain immutable things: The barbell, how your body works, and physics. Without changing the nature of the lift or the equipment, these things have to be the same for every lifter, every rep. This sameness is what makes up a “model” for lifting. And, understanding that model can help you get better at the lift itself.

We use models that take concepts like force, balance, and leverage and combine them to explain loaded human movement. As coaches models help us teach and troubleshoot the lifts. As lifters, models aid our learning processes. While you don’t need to know every aspect of a lifting model, being an informed lifter can help you improve your own lifting or maintain good lifting form under the heavy training weights.

We can use models to describe any kind of loaded human movement. One key element for any lift performed on your feet is the concept of balance. The Master Cue of the squat is predicated on the lifter learning to feel and control her balance during the movement. You don’t need to understand physics and moment arms to lift. But as you learn how these concepts feel while you are lifting, as you gain a deeper understanding of the model from your world under the bar, you give yourself more opportunities for the “aHa!” moments that lead to bigger jumps in your lifting progress.

A model is the distillation of environmental, mechanical, and anatomical constants. How your bones and muscles connect to each other and the basic functions of human anatomy is one example, as is the presumption that you are lifting in a flat, stable environment with the right shape and size of equipment. Each lift has certain goals that come from the basic premise that we are trying to build strength. We lift in ways that maximize our ability to produce force over a long range of motion and using a lot of muscle mass. We try to stay balanced, since falling over wouldn’t be very functional. Basic principles and wide-ranging observations help us piece together how we should lift.

When you are learning how to lift, this also means you are learning a model. Understand the difference between a model and a “bag of tricks” or collection of untethered cues, cues unrelated to your own lifting experience and needs. “Knees out,” “Sit Back,” “Squeeze the bar off the Floor” are all great cues for lifting, in the proper context. For example, earlier this week we explained the concept of squeezing the bar off the floor for helping your deadlift, we also explained the context—what does this cue help accomplish, when it is appropriate?—rather than just say “do this.” Understanding plus context leads to better lifting. This kind of model-based lifting builds your deep-down knowledge of how to lift heavy weights, the kind of reptile brain, muscle-memory that can take over when the weight on the bar blocks out every voluntary thought you might want to conjure.  

Practicing the five-step deadlift setup is an exercise is model-based learning:

Step 1: Place your feet so that the bar is directly over the middle of your whole foot (about 1 inch from your vertical shins).

Step 2: Take a grip that is just wider than your hips and legs.

Step 3: Bend your knees and touch your shins to the bar. (Do not move the bar!)

Step 4: Squeeze your chest up by pointing it at the wall in front of you. Simultaneously, point your butt at the wall behind you. This sets your back in extension.

Step 5: Drag the bar up your legs.

These five steps, when executed correctly will produce a correct deadlift according to the model. As we all know, deadlifting is a little bit more difficult than that. Accomplishing each of these steps while maintaining an extended spine, keeping the bar on your legs, and staying in balance when the weight is very heavy can be challenging. Let alone the struggle of sticking with a very heavy weight. That’s where you learn more details about the model, why these steps produce good movement, and how to execute them with precision and accuracy. This is where it helps to have a teacher (a coach) who can help identify the parts of the model that will help you learn. Barring that, the better you understand the model the more you can develop your lifting.

To help take a deeper dive into each of the main lifts, check out our YouTube Playlists:

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