A beginner's guide to lifting, pt. 2: Technique
|Pretty good advice, actually|
General Tips for the Major Lifts
|Courtesy of Mark Rippetoe's article, "The CrossFit Total"|
- ALWAYS hit parallel. "Parallel" means that the top of the crease of your hips is below the top of your knee joints when you're "in the hole" (the bottom position of the squat). Doing this ensures that you won't injure your hips, knees, or lower back when the weight starts getting heavy. If you don't hit parallel and instead have your hips above your knees, at heavy weights the shearing stresses will simply rip the ACL and MCL apart- and recovering from a tendon tear is neither easy nor pleasant. I've got tendon injuries in my left hip and right shoulder that still hurt, years after they happened.
- High bar vs low bar: I personally prefer low bar squats. This means that the bar sits across your shoulder blades, rather than right at the base of your neck. From what I've seen, high-bar squats make it slightly easier to hit depth, but low-bar squats are more comfortable- the knurling of the bar doesn't bite into your shoulders unless your form is bad.
- Open up your hips. If you're having trouble hitting depth, it may be because your stance isn't wide enough. When you start the lift, your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width, toes pointing outwards at an angle rather than straight ahead. This will open up your hips, allowing you to go to depth properly.
- Knees over your feet at the bottom. If you had the time or the ability at the bottom of the squat to draw a line perpendicular to the floor, piercing through your foot and travelling straight upward, that line should also go through the middle of your knee. If your knee starts to "cave" inwards, it means that you're weak at that point in the lift.
- Keep your back arched on the way down. Pretty much self-explanatory. Arch your back, hard, under the bar when you unrack it, keep it that way until the bottom.
- The "butt-wink" is normal, don't fight it. This is a very difficult thing to explain, but once you've seen it you'll know exactly what I mean. The "butt-wink" happens at the bottom of a squat when your cervical spine "flexes" a bit and your arse travels in a quick "down-up" motion. If you ever see a bloke in the squat rack doing squats down to depth properly, you'll probably see this. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with this, your spine is doing what it is supposed to.
- If your back rounds on the way up, you're doing it wrong. The critical thing to remember in powerlifting is that your body will always put itself in the position that it is strongest in order to move the weight. If, on the way up, your back starts to round or the bar begins to roll forward toward your head, your body is telling you that you are weak at that point in the lift. Dial back the weight, concentrate on form, and keep repping until you fix the problem.
|"The meat of all exercises"|
- Chest out, shoulders back. When you set up for the bench press, your eyes should be right under the bar. At that point, pull your shoulders back and dig the shoulder blades right back into the bench. At the same time, push your chest out. This combination will allow you to fully engage your chest muscles and push the bar back up.
- Thumbs AROUND the bar. The bench press and overhead press are different lifts, you can't use the same grips and grip positions for both. For OHPs, it is not only OK but good to use a "thumbless grip"- i.e. your thumb is under the bar rather than around it. For bench presses, though, you WANT to have your thumb gripping the bar, so that you can control it better.
- Keep your hands the right distance apart. Too narrow a grip and you won't be able to push the bar back up. Too wide and won't be able to control it on the way down. Each man's grip width will be slightly different; the key thing to remember is that your forearms should be perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the lift.
- FEET ON THE FLOOR, DAMMIT! Good Lord but it pisses me off when people don't do this. When people put their feet on the bench, it's like seeing a woman going to her Ob-Gyn and putting her feet in those stirrups for an exam. You're not a woman (and if you are, you're not in the gym to get your lady bits examined). Putting your feet on the bench complicates a simple lift and greatly compromises your strength during the leg drive.
- Maintain the arch. The arch of your back should maintain three key points of contact. First, your shoulders should be digging into the bench. Second, your arse should be firmly planted on the bench, but there should be a narrow corridor of air, two to three inches wide, between your lumbar spine and the bench. Third, your feet should be splayed apart slightly and planted on the ground, heels on the floor.
- Bar to the chest. NO EXCEPTIONS. Any rep that fails to meet your chest is incomplete. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you don't touch your chest, you won't engage your chest muscles properly, and you won't achieve results. Don't be one of those idiots who have 30 invisible boards between the bar and their chests and flex their arms 40 degrees at most before slamming the bar back up and claiming that they "nailed it".
- At the bottom, drive the bar back up and push through with your legs. This is where the "leg drive" comes in. When you're pushing the bar back up, engage your quads and buttocks to drive your heels into the ground.
- Full range of motion. No excuses. The bar goes down. The bar goes ALL THE WAY back up. If you re-rack the bar before it gets back to where you started the lift, it's a zero. I don't care how much weight you've got on it, you didn't complete the rep.
|Do you even lift, brah?|
- Neutral spine at the start. A rounded back is going to get you injured- and trust me when I say that there is almost nothing short of limb amputation that will hurt as much, or set you back as badly, as a torn lower back muscle or herniated/pinched lower back disc. An arched back, though, is almost as bad- it puts pressure on the wrong parts of your body when lifting. Keep your back neutral and tight, and you'll be fine.
- Narrow stance. Your feet should be slightly less than shoulder-width apart (for conventional deadlifts- I'll get to sumo vs. conventional later).
- Overhand grip until it gets heavy. Deadlifts are as much about grip strength as they are about explosive power. If you want to develop a grip of iron, this is simply the best exercise you can do for it. But you won't develop it properly if you start by using "mixed grip"- one hand over the bar, one hand under it. Start instead by using double-overhand until the weight is just too heavy to lift with good form. Then switch to mixed. In my case, on my heavy deadlift days, I use double-overhand and "hook grip" until I'm deadlifting more than 405lbs, at which point I switch to mixed grip for my max-weight set.
- "Hook grip" is your friend. It looks like this. No two ways about this- until you get used to it, hook grip absolutely muthaf***in' sucks to use, because your thumb is being squeezed hard against the knurled part of the bar. It'll feel like you're rubbing it raw with sandpaper, at first. But you get used to it. And it allows you to lift double-overhand without compromising spinal stability.
- Bar position is crucial. At the start of the lift, if you draw two lines perpendicular to the ground shooting through the bar, each should go straight through one shoulder. To achieve this, keep the bar over the line where the base joints of your toes begin, and keep your feet pointing straight forward. The bar WILL roll back toward your shins a little. This is normal and natural, but if you start with the bar too close to your shins, your back will start to round and cave of its own accord- you don't want this.
- Keep your grip tight and close. When you set up for the lift, bend down with your arms hanging straight down. Your elbows should brush your knees. When your hands touch the bar, that contact between your knees and the middle of your arms should be maintained- and keep your arms straight.
- DON'T flex your biceps on the way up. Keep your arms straight at all times. Deadlifting with bent arms is a terrific way to pop the biceps tendon straight off the bone- which means you'll be spending some time on a surgeon's table getting that tendon reattached to the bone itself. I've never had this happen to me (thankfully), but this does happen to professional powerlifters and it's a damned nasty injury.
- NO HITCHING. The bar travels upward in one smooth motion. If it stops at any point on the way up, you failed to complete the rep. Hitching the bar up is a great way to herniate something, especially at heavy weights.
- Hip-thrust at the top. As the bar gets close to the top of the lift, thrust your hips out slightly- not so much that you're humping the air or anything stupid, just enough to push your hips forward and your shoulders back a little. This makes it easier to lock out the bar.
- Speaking of lock-out... This term refers to locking the knees upright at the end of the lift. If your knees are still slightly bent, you didn't complete the lift.
- Follow the bar back down. It's not enough just to lift the bar up and then drop it. You have to show control of the bar on the way up AND on the way down. Dropping the bar tends to piss off people in the gym- nothing says "meathead douchebag" quite like having 400lbs worth of weights crash down and cause a small earthquake while the gym bunnies are doing their stupid Zumba nonsense. On top of that, dropping the bar indicates lack of grip strength and control- and if powerlifting is about anything other than strength, it is about control.
- Don't try to lower the weights gently. You'll break your back. Let the weights crash down, by all means- but don't let go of the bar. This doesn't contradict what I said above. By dropping the weights, you're not using a full ROM (range of motion), but by lowering the weights quickly, yet under control, you're keeping your back and body tight. It also helps set you up for the next lift if you're doing reps, which is really important- by dropping the weight completely, you'll have to setup from scratch for the next rep, whereas if you follow the bar down properly, it'll land more or less where it started.
More Points About Form
Perfect Versus Good
However, don't let perfect be the enemy of good. If you're spending your entire workout at the gym cocking about trying to perfect your form, you're not going to make much progress.
|See? Nothing to worry about.|
Parallel Versus Arse-to-Grass
|No excuses, bro|
I don't disagree with either camp. Arse-to-Grass, or ATG, squatters do seem to be far stronger- the deeper you go, the harder it is to get yourself "out of the hole".
That's not an excuse, and I don't use it as one. If I don't hit parallel on a particular rep, I can usually tell, and I don't count it.
Always try to go as deep as you can while maintaining good form.
Sumo Versus Conventional Deadlifts
|Note the difference in the starting position|
Sumo lifts use a slightly different set of muscles and emphasise slightly different strengths than regular deadlifts do, so if you injure your hips or arms doing conventional deadlifts, it helps to have the ability to lift sumo in order to continue training (assuming your injury isn't too severe, obviously).
|Remember these? Also, why does this chick look like she's about to fellate them?|
- A comfortable shirt
- Comfortable shorts or pants- I always wear simple sweatpants to the gym
- Comfortable, flat-soled or minimalist footwear
- A real powerlifter's belt
- Powdered chalk
|Not exactly what I meant when I said that most supplements are BS, but pretty close...|
- Whey protein powder. High in protein, low in carbs, doesn't cost an arm and a leg, the end. Good brands include GNC's house protein, Optimum Nutrition's 100% Gold Standard Whey, and Dymatize Nutrition's Elite Whey. A solid 2kg tub of the stuff will last you at least 3 months.
- Creatine Monohydrate. You can get this in capsule form (not cheap), or powder (dirt cheap). This is one of the most heavily researched and widely studied supplements out there. It works if you use it correctly. So go get some.
- Fish oil capsules. Lots of benefits to fish oil, but don't get the cheap stuff- shell out a few extra bucks and get some of the triple-strength stuff.
- DHEA. Not a powerlifting supplement per se- this is just a useful thing to have for increasing cognition and mental alertness. Dirt cheap, well researched, legally available from most nutrition stores in the US, and not a steroid.
Pre-workouts, post-workout shakes, mass gainers, testosterone boosters- all of that is just marketing BS.
Get thy ass into the gym and LIFT. The end.
|DND- just did deadlifts|
Injuries and Recovery
|Now campaigning for Mayor of Snap City|
|One of the few times when a spotter is going to enjoy himself|
Powerlifting As Foundation
|Mariusz Pudzianowski. Five times World's Strongest Man. Mixed Martial Artist. All-round BAMF.|