Starting Strong: the Basics of the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press


Remember the very first time you hit the gym to try to bulk up and get in better shape?

No doubt, within the first five minutes, you made a beeline for the bench press—a station that calls out to newbies with the promise of a big barrel chest and powerful arms.

Then, after looking around the room at more experienced lifters, you decided to take a stab at the squat. Sure, it was a little tough, and you weren’t able to pile on the weight—not yet, anyway—but at least it was a move that seemed straightforward enough. Finally, you moved on to the deadlift, and exercise that’s tough on the back…but one that left you with a satisfying feeling of soreness the next day.

Although that’s where most of us tend to start, as we become more exeprienced and better aquainted with the weight room, there’s a tendancy to shift away from the basics in favor of more complicated, muscle group-specific moves. But there are a few good reasons to take a step back and revisit these classic exercises: If you base your workout routine around these core moves, eat clean and throw some sprints in the mix, you’re be rewarded with higher testosterone levels, a fired-up metabolism and muscles that flare.

To get going, start with some basics: Get some heavy weight in your hands, challenge yourself, keep challenging yourself and get ready for your new and improved body.

Before you begin: Test your maximum lift to see what your starting numbers are.

Frequency: Go heavy with each of the “big three” once a week. Giving our muscles a lot of time recover will help you avoid doing damage to yourself.

Rest 3-5 minutes between heavy sets.

Reps: Do 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Tempo: Always be explosive on the hardest part of the lift.

Remember: Always warm up extensively, use good form, use a spotter, and know your limits.

Key coaching points for bench presses

  • Squeeze the bar. Think about pulling the bar apart with your hands. This will get your elbows into better position, keep your body locked in tight, and get your supporting muscles ready to fire.
  • Keep your elbows closer to your body. This incorporates more of your triceps vs. your shoulder muscles.
  • Get a wider grip on the bar. This shortens the path the bar has to travel.
  • Use a leg drive. Bringing your feet back and arching your back will shorten the path the bar has to travel.

Key coaching points for deadlifts

  • Take off your shoes, or wear flat shoes like Chuck Taylor All-Stars or deadlifting slippers.
  • Your elbows should be directly outside of your knees.
  • Strengthen your grip.
  • Rather than trying to yank the bar off the ground, steadily apply force as you attempt to lift the bar. This will reduce the “shock” of a heavy weight and cue your body to the load.

Key coaching points for squats

  • Keep your upper back tight. Keep your shoulder blades pinched together to give a stronger base for the bar to sit on.
  • Your body follows your head. Keep your eyes forward and head up.
  • Push from your heels. This will activate more of your posterior chain.
  • Activate your glutes. Avoid letting your knees buckle in as you rise from the squat.
  • Push your knees outward slightly, as if you were to open a fissure in the floor between your legs. This will help activate your strong glute muscles.

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