Today, I’m sharing tips for maintaining proper form in the deadlift, squat and split squat—three of the most popular exercises. If you’re struggling or experiencing pain during any of these exercises, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your form.
Deadlifts are a very good exercise for developing lower body and total body strength. Whether you’re performing traditional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts or deadlifts with a trap bar, there’s a few key components to maintaining proper form throughout the lift.
First, when gripping the bar try to engage the latissimus dorsi (lats) before lifting the bar. By engaging the Lats we are helping to keep the integrity of a neutral spine throughout the lift. Rounding the back is NOT something we want to occur during any variation of the deadlift. Furthermore, when performing a Sumo Deadlift make sure to have the feet wider than shoulder width apart with feet point slightly out. The smooth notches on an Olympic Bar can be used as a marker to help with setting the feet. Allow your arms to hang down naturally towards the bar and that is your grip width in a Sumo Deadlift.
To help with the deadlift, you’ll need to strengthen your posterior core. Don’t hammer out 200 crunches a night and expect it to help with the deadlift. Deadlifts are a very posterior lift in relation to the muscles being used. Therefore, the back is at risk for injury. Try to focus on strengthening the posterior muscles of the core, that way when under the bar on a deadlift, the body has the strength to better prevent injury. The erector spinae, glutes, latissimus dorsi and trapezius are a few core muscles that can be worked on to help maintain a neutral spine in the deadlift.
Lastly, if you’re someone who struggles with a traditional deadlift, try the sumo deadlift or trap bar deadlift. If you think about picking up something heavy from the floor, spread your feet out wide to lift the object. This same movement occurs with a Sumo Deadlift. This exercise is a great way to lift heavy in a safer and more relatable way.
Squats are another exercise where maintaining proper form is incredibly important. One of the biggest aspects of the squat that we need to watch are the knees. While performing the squat, we want to make sure our knees are apart, in line with our toes and not caving inward. If the knees are caving inward it’s a sign of weak glutes and weak hip strength.
Outside of working on the hip and glute strength, next time you go to squat place a band above your knees. The band is going to try and pull the knees inward throughout the squat pattern; don’t allow it to do so. By placing the band above the knees, it is giving us a cue to activate our glutes while we squat. This will allow you to move through the squat pattern and actually use and engage the glutes.
The band above the knees can also be used if you ever feel pain in the knees while squatting. The band, like mentioned above, will force us into external rotation of the hip by engaging the glutes, which should help alleviate the pain in the knees.
Lastly, during a squat, try to keep your core tight and push through the heel of the foot. Keeping the core tight will help to maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift. Our strength comes through our heel, not our toes, when pushing through the ground to stand up.
Split Squat/Static Lunge
Similar to the squat, many individuals may feel some pain in the lead knee while performing a split squat or static lunge. Just like placing the band above the knees on the squat, we can perform this same cue to turn on the glutes and relieve the pain in the lunge. If you feel pain in the lead knee, place a band above that knee only and either attach the opposite end to a bar or rack, or have partner slightly pull the knee inward. The slight pull will make the glute activate and externally rotate at the hip to help relieve the pain in the knee. Remember the band should only be tight enough to feel tension. Also, don’t forget to push through the heel of the lead foot.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “no pain no gain”. Well that pain may be your body’s way of saying, “there’s something wrong” or “there is a weakness and we need to work on it”. Listen to your body and make sure you are maintaining proper form through every exercise to maximize the benefits you are working hard to achieve. At FAST, we offer one-on-one personal training sessions to help our clients safely achieve their goals. Contact us today to set up a free fitness assessment.