Most trainees like to think they’re killing it in the gym, but many are not as effective as they could be. One major component that determines your success is how you execute each rep. Exercise technique is also a big factor that can influence your injury risk, but most important, it will determine if all your hard work results in you looking like Thor or Zach Galifianakis. Whether your goals are to be as strong as Captain America, built like Thor, or to jump like the Hulk, your technique needs to be close to perfect.
Increase your effectiveness in the gym by putting your technique to the test with these four tips.
Technique test 1: Squat pattern
The barbell back squat is traditionally seen as a “basic” lift; however, it is commonly performed incorrectly.
- Insufficient depth
- Rounded back
- Valgus (inward) knee collapse
Technique fix tip: The goblet squat
- Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest lengthwise with your elbows pointing downward
- Sit in between your feet while keeping your chest up/out
- Squat ass-to-grass with your hip-crease below your knee-crease
- Finish with your elbows on the inside of your thighs
- Allow your torso to lean forward slightly to maintain balance over your mid-foot
- Do not allow your back to round forward—stay tight and strong in your core throughout the exercise.
Over several weeks, progress to the heaviest dumbbell you can find. Not only is this challenging, but, also, banging out perfect goblet squats with 125lbs is pretty badass. The motor patterns, mobility, and stability you’ll develop will set you up for wicked front and high-bar back squats.
Technique test 2: Hip hinge pattern
This movement pattern is essential for performing perfect deadlifts, Olympic lifts, and Russian kettlebell swings. For optimal utilization of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, back extensors), the hip hinge with zero back flexion/extension is imperative to improve athletic potential.
Technique fix tip: Standing hip hinge drill
- Stand with your feet 8-10” apart
- Place one hand on your low back and one on your stomach
- Slightly bend your knees
- Push your hips back, back, back while you bow forward—you should feel tension in your hamstrings as you reach 90° at your hips
- Use your hands to feel if your back starts to round
- Stay long and tight in your core and keep your chest out.
Learn and own this movement. Apply it to your training. Don’t worry if you have to sacrifice a bit of weight to perform a perfect hip hinge. Your strength will build fast. Being able to move through the hips will develop strong glutes and hamstrings, while sparing the spine and knees.
Technique test 3: Shoulder pack
Packing the shoulder is a term coined by Grey Cook in his Secrets of the Shoulder DVD. This cue is essential for all upper-body exercises and shoulder health. Optimal pressing and pulling movements begin with a strong foundation: the shoulder. Pressing with a "loose" shoulder joint is like firing a canon out of a canoe. When packing the shoulders, the shoulders are pulled into the body, toward the opposite hip pockets. Not only will this improve shoulder and scapular stability, it will prevent poor postural adaptations from bad postural habits/exercise execution. All your lifts will improve with proper shoulder packing, even lower-body lifts.
Technique fix tip: Shoulder packing
- Think of drawing your shoulders toward your opposite hip pockets when pulling in the horizontal (any row variation) or vertical (any lat pull down or chin up variation) directions
- Cue this shoulder pack when pressing in the horizontal (any bench press variation) or vertical (any overhead press variation) directions
- Lastly, cue this shoulder pack when doing deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, RDLs, and any other lower-body lift.
Technique test 4: Neutral spine
Most people know that full range of motion situps are old-school, and place high loads/stress to the spine. The neutral spine position is required in EVERY exercise but, unfortunately, most trainees don't know what it is or can not achieve and maintain it.
Technique fix tip: Front plank with pelvic rotations
- Go into a basic front plank on your elbows and toes
- Move through full lumbar hyperflexion and hyperextension by rotating your pelvis
- Squeeze your glutes and find what feels like a neutral middle position between the two extremes you just moved through. The goal of this drill is to teach the two extremes of WRONG while you achieve the middle, most optimal position. Apply the neutral spine to all your lifts to minimize your injury risk and to keep a healthy back.