25 Sep Stuff you might not have thought about that will totally help the big lifts
This is a list of helpful little tips that come up somewhat frequently when I’m coaching the powerlifting club. I tend to post these on facebook in batches as I think of them; so the information isn’t compiled in any particular order. I remember I used to compile “nuggets of wisdom”, helpful standalone tips from various sources and these are definitely within that category.
All of this is practical advice for competitive powerlifters.
How do we move the biggest weights safely and efficiently?
How do we train with purpose, organize training effectively, maximize our technical effectiveness?
A lot of the tips are ‘how to’ for technique performing the lifts themselves. Over time I will probably post more about programming and how we organize training cycles, choose and progress with accessories, and so forth.
- One of our lifters (while squatting 315 for 3×9 weighing 170, I might add) remarked to me that it was easier in front of a mirror. This is probably true–if you’re watching yourself in a mirror your eyes will naturally track up, engaging the extensor reflex just the right amount to get through your sticking point. It’s easy to get stuck watching one point on a blank wall; practice letting your eyes track up while coming out of the hole no matter what you’re looking at. Super important for deadlifts too.
- Learn how to belly breathe, learn how to use your abs. Apart from being good for longevity–taking needless stress off of your hips and low back and making an injury less likely–being able to use your midsection properly while squatting will make you much, much stronger. The most common error is people doing some sort of low bar squat but with their chest facing the wall in front of them the entire time, this separates the pelvis and ribcage and disengages the entire core.
- Proper upper back tension is an absolute necessity to protect the low back and also to back squat effectively. A lot of lifters lose tension in the hole, their elbows drifting down to point at the ground. In a high bar squat, this is a loss of tension that will take pounds off the bar, fast; for a low bar squat this could be a disastrous safety issue if the bar slips down off the rear delts. The solution—think of keeping the elbows back at least in line with the torso throughout the lift. Focus on squeezing the mid-back together, bunching the rear delts into each other and pulling the bar down into the back to create tension. At the top of the lift, some lifters tend to hunch over as they finish, rather than standing tall. Be sure not to collapse the chest and lose that upper back tension at the top; it will be that much harder to regain balance and tension for the next rep.
- Your hands opening or shifting at all when benching is a bad thing. Yes, it’s a natural reflex and it’s one to fight off. The bar becomes less secure, shoulders rise, plus there’s tension leakage throughout the upper body. Quick fix: do a low rep set of kettlebell bottoms-up presses between warmup sets on bench. Engaging the grip and lats properly will become a habit right away.
This is even more important if you go suicide grip of course. We have a 242 who is fast closing in on a 450+ bench who prefers suicide grip and you’d better believe his hands never move in the middle of a set.
- Do some soft tissue work on your traps before or in between warmup sets. Lat activation will be much easier. One way to check if your traps are overactive and keeping your lats from firing is watching the front delts at lockout–if they relax you’re likely shrugging up at the top.
- Keep your elbows under the bar! A lot of beginners tend to think too much about where they’re putting the bar on their chest. If they do this ‘from their hands’ without thinking about elbow placement, the bar tends to drift down further toward the feet than the elbows. The elbows being behind, or ‘above’ the bar, if the lifter’s head is ‘high’ and their feet are ‘low’; is dangerous and also not very efficient for a solid drive off the chest. Thinking about slightly leading with the elbows as the bar descends tends to keep them right under the bar. Then, thinking about pushing not with the hands but from the armpits will engage the largest muscles and help make the concentric portion of the lift more powerful.
- The setup makes or breaks the lift since it starts at the bottom. Taking the slack out of the bar is vital to pulling big consistently and it is a complex skill. I teach it in segments; weight placement/hip direction/corkscrewing, breathing/abs/hip flexors, and lats/hands/head. Done properly, taking the slack out will prevent yanking the bar at the start while giving a little artificial stretch reflex and solidifying the whole body for better power off the floor. Having a repeatable, almost ritualistic setup will help all the lifts but the deadlift possibly more than any other.
- Push or pull? External cues are important for the big lifts, they help manage things like weight placement on the feet and muscular engagement… as a unit. That is, if you’re thinking about contracting your erectors or hamstrings in a deadlift you’re doing it wrong. Some people think of the DL as a pull–these tend to be conventional stance, back dominant deadlifters. A ‘pull’ mindset will shift the weight to the heels and in general result in a hamstring and low back dominant lift; the bar is generally better placed slightly farther away from the shins with this imagery. A ‘push’ mindset is more for sumo deadlifters or conventional pullers who use a lot of quads, almost olympic-pull style. There is not just one that should be universally used.
- Where do my hips go? Don’t think about it. Find out what part of your body goes over the bar (shoulders or chest) and where the bar goes over your feet (anywhere from the shin to the ball of your foot but never further forward) and your hips will take care of themselves.
- Arms. Think too much about squeezing your shoulders back or gripping the bar tightly and you’ll tend to carry too much upper body tension in the wrong place (traps, biceps, rhomboids) and you’ll waste energy, probably bend your elbow, and bad things will happen. I can’t think of anyone who I don’t think would benefit from eventually learning how to treat the arms like cables; relaxing them maximally and learning to connect that ‘rope’ directly to their core through the lats. Relaxed arms = much better lower body drive.
-written by Aris Demarco
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