Squats and deadlifts are two big exercises and are almost always featured in any good training plan. They work big muscle groups and recruit smaller muscle groups (like your core) as well. Today I wanted to talk about training cues for both of these exercises.
Training cues are what I used as a personal trainer to get my clients to do an exercise correctly. Sometimes you just need to hear someone say “chest up” to straighten out a bit. I use my own cues in my head while I’m lifting weights, just as a reminder to maintain correct form.
Correct form is so important with these two exercises. Which is why I’m going to give you a few cues for each one that you will hopefully repeat to yourself the next time you’re are the gym!
So we’re mainly going to discuss barbell squats here but some of these are applicable to any sort of squat (I’ll use an * for those that are).
Here are the steps and cues from the moment you step up to the squat rack:
- Step under the barbell. Make sure it’s not too high or too low. You shouldn’t be getting onto your toes to unrack the bar.
- Get strong as soon as you step under the bar. Flex your core and legs, and really grip the bar hard. A cue I like from trainer Tony Gentilcore is “melt the bar with your hands.”
- Unrack, step back and get set. Stay flexed.
- Pop your hips back as if you’re sitting back into a chair*, this is the first move. You do not want to just squat down. First, move your hips back and hinge forward a bit.
- As you squat down, keep your shoulder blades tucked (think down and back).
- Also, think chest up, shoulders back*. This will help you maintain good posture and not have a rounded lower back. Really focus on keeping your lower back straight. If you feel it rounding, you have gone too low.
- From the bottom, think of exploding up. Chest up, shoulders back! Come up and focus on keeping your knees out*. Do not let them sag inwards. If they do, you need to decrease the weight.
- Pop your hips forward at the top*. Just a little bit. Almost like a hip thrust.
Another key thing to keep in mind is to try to keep a neutral spine throughout. You already know to keep a flat back, but don’t look up when you’re coming up from a squat. This puts a lot of strain on your neck. Try to keep your gaze forwards at all time.
If you feel like you can’t get your legs parallel to the floor, try putting small plates under your heels to elevate them. You should be able to get lower this way, and work your way up to removing the plates.
If you’ve never done deadlifts, I highly suggest you ask a trainer at your gym to go over proper form. They’ll gladly help.
Let’s go over some cues for deadlifts. I’m going to be talking about Romanian deadlifts, but most of these work for other variations as well.
- Set the bar up right in front of your feet. Your feet should actually be under the bar, with the bar grazing your shins.
- Same as the squat, as you grab the bar, get strong! Before you even lift the bar, flex your back and squeeze your shoulder blades.
- Keep a neutral spine. Do not look up as you pull the bar up. Look down and keep your neck neutral throughout.
- Pull up with force. Remember to keep a flat back the entire time. Sometimes I’d tell clients to imagine almost arching their back (like a U shape), which would get them to flatten it. Obviously you don’t want a U shape, but thinking of that arch helps some people get their back to be flat as opposed to rounded. You should not have a rounded back.
- Once you get to the top, pop your hips forward and squeeze your glutes. Then slowly lower the bar, grazing your shins, and keeping your shoulders and back tight the whole time. The bar should be very close to your shins because if you have it out in front of you, that’s a lot of stress on your lower back.
- Lower the bar fully and repeat.
This is as much a back exercise as it is a hamstring and glute exercise. The pulling motion engages your lats, which is why it’s important to squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your back muscles tight throughout, as opposed to just letting your arms hang. This same cue actually goes for dumbbell or barbell rows too. Next time you do them, flex your back/shoulder blades first and keep them flexed throughout, as opposed to just letting your arms hang and then rowing. You’ll notice a difference.
And as always, as with any exercise, use your core! Both of these will work your core. I’ve had sore abs before from squats and deadlifts. Make sure to brace your core as you go through each exercise.
I feel like I’m forgetting some stuff but hopefully this is a good starting point. If you only remember one cue make it this one: chest up shoulders back! This pretty much goes for any exercise and will help you use your core, keep a straight back, and flex your shoulders.
Do you like doing squats and deadlifts? Do you prefer barbells or dumbbells?
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