This is going to be real simple.
I often blog on the importance of learning the foundation of training, and building it from scratch. The ABC’s, as it were. I’ve always been a proponent of learning the fundamentals before loading up on the weights. Though I rarely do too much direct training content within my blogs, I think it’s important to the readers to go over the fundamental cues for each basic movement.
Due to the fact that there are different schools of thought on many of the primal movements (especially squatting), there will be some grey-area information that the next coach may cue differently than me. I try to make sure all my cues are backed up by some form of logic or are in keeping with structural anatomy, physics, and geometry. Regardless, as long as science isn’t in question, there is plenty of validity in each school of thought, and on this blog, you’re going to see mine.
Here are the things to look out for to do a properly executed basic movement.
Get Tight, Bend the bar, and Squeeze the Chest Out!
It goes without saying that the back should be kept straight when deadlifting. Being able to “squeeze the chest out”, and arch the low back also is a cue that should always be kept in mind. But geometry is even more important, in my opinion. Having a proper setup will ensure you won’t injure yourself when performing this lift. Check out what I have to say about it here:
Remember to try to “bend” the bar before you try to actually pull it off the ground. Squeeze the slack out of the bar. The last thing you’ll want to do is wind up and yank the bar off the floor – I notice this as a trend for very heavy lifts as a way to attempt to be explosive. Sadly, it only heightens the chances for injury due to the fact that it encourages the tightness you just achieved to decrease. Tightness is key for the big lifts. Remember that!
Chest up, Butt Down!
Always remember to aim for the deepest depth you can achieve without losing your posture. That means a flat, straight spine with the heels always firmly planted on the ground. The torso doesn’t have to be completely vertical like an Olympic lifter, nor does it have to be bent far over like a powerlifter. It really depends on your body’s anthropometry and levers. When performing loaded squats of any variation, I encourage keeping a tight abdomen, by breathing in deeply and holding the breath through the lowering and part of the up-phase of the movement, and letting it out as the movement approaches the top position.
Keeping the knees in line with the toes is also important. Forget what they say about not letting the knees “pass the toes” by forward tracking. That almost needs to happen to encourage an adequate depth that will properly train the muscles on the front and the back of the thigh – especially if you’re long-legged. The way you should be most concerned with knee tracking is so that they remain congruent to the feet. The knees should always mimic the feet in terms of the direction in which they all point. This will ensure proper alignment and not leave any joints hanging out to dry.
If you suck at squats, the most general recommendation I can make would be to focus on improving your mobility, especially at the hips and ankles. Short and tight hip flexors and stiff ankles can wreak havoc when achieving a good quality squat is the name of the game. Often times the result is the development of chronic pain, which is definitely unwanted.
The standing press requires proper shoulder mobility as a prerequisite in order to perform them correctly. Too many times I see folks with insufficient shoulder mobility still practice this exercise which just exacerbates the ongoing problem they have. If you don’t have mobility restrictions at the shoulder, then this cue’s for you:
Press the Bar Over the Back!
Looking at this cue once, it may come across as severe and inaccurate, however a standing press is an axially loaded movement done in the vertical plane. The spine needs to be in the correct position to bare load. Heavy weights being pressed overhead can’t finish where the force of the weight comes down on open space. The bar must be located directly above the spine at its finishing position (see diagram). The cue of pressing over the back may be a bit over the top, but it helps clients “get it”, when compared to what many are prone to do, in pressing the bar where they can still see it in their periphery. This will ensure that the head travels through the “window” created by their arms, and the bar will be properly loaded over the spine.
With any vertical pushing movement comes spinal compression. It’s to be expected, but just how much of it we deal with is controllable depending on the techniques we use to perform the lifts.
Controlling our pelvic position is the key when it comes to avoiding a spinal position that’s unfavourable for the press. Cueing a client to keep the abs tight will help the pelvis stay neutral and not anteriorly tilted, which is the general propensity when moving a load overhead. The result of an overhead press with a forward pelvic tilt is plenty of overarch in the low back, and plenty of spinal compression, by extension. The diagram above shows the ideal pelvic and lower back position. The photo below shows what happens when this isn’t achieved.
Quick Side Note:
Another reason why this happens goes right back to insufficient shoulder mobility. When you want to force your arms into the ideal overhead position (to get the bar over the spine, and not in front of you), and you don’t have the range of motion available to do so, something’s gotta give. The back will compensate by overarching (hyperextending), in order to let the entire ribcage shift backwards to assist the arms into the added degrees of motion. The hyperextension can also act to loosen the lower abs and not keep them as involved as necessary during the lift, creating a domino reaction. Not good. Try to improve shoulder and hip mobility to avoid this from happening.
MORE TO COME
This was a quick run through my thoughts on three of the biggest lifts, and my favourite (SIMPLE) ways to cue them. Stay tuned for more lifts on the same note.
If you want to learn to get strong, use your muscles correctly, and avoid injuries, then it’s important to learn how to train correctly in line with physics and geometry. You’d be surprised just how much of that goes into moving a heavy load. Once you can achieve a greater understanding, moving your body’s weight and more in a given movement will feel like a piece of cake!