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.

Proper form is critical when at the gym. One of our FAST® trainers, Michael Winters, has demonstrated the squat and describes how to make sure you do not injure yourself the next time you go to pick up the bar.

FAST® How To: The Squat <— Watch the YouTube video here.

FAST® How To: The Squat (side view) <—- And here!


1) Place the bar in a balanced position across the upper back and shoulders. Lift the elbows to create a “shelf” using the upper back and shoulder muscles.

2) Hold the chest up

3) Lift the bar off of the squat rack by extending the hips and legs

4) Take two or three steps back from the squat rack

5) Position the feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider with the toes pointed slightly out

6) Maintain a position with the back flat and the chest held up and out

7) Begin the downward movement by allowing the hips and knees to flex

8) Keep the heels in contact with the floor and the knees aligned over the feet

– letting the knees align in a position over the toes can place a great amount of stress on the patella tendon. To help avoid this common mistake it is good to keep the weight directed through the heels.

9) Continue to flex the hips and knees until; the thighs are parallel to the floor, the heels raise up from the floor, or the trunk begins to flex or round forward

10) To begin the upward movement extend the hips and knees at the same speed in order to keep a constant angle between the torso and the floor

11) Be conscious to not let the trunk round or flex forward

12) Continue to extend the hips and knees until a standing position is reached

13) When the set is finished, walk the bar back into the squat rack making sure there is contact with both sides of the bar before flexing the hips and knees to let the bar rest back on the rack.

Congratulations! You have completed a squat and are now one step closer to reaching your fitness goal!

For more information on training or for a FAST® location near you, visit!


Source: NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).