You know, there are really a great many articles about technique tweaks for this or that strength training lift. Sometimes they are general, like the article came up when I searched, 25 Exercise Safer Lifts. Many times, they are very specific. Most, for instance, concentrate on the bench press. Usually, they promise that you will add an additional 50lbs or so instantly to your lift. Yet here I sit, having committed myself to expressing myself honestly and giving my readers something closer to reality.
The reality is that if a change in technique can put 50lbs or more on the bar for you it is MORE than a tweak. It’s more like an overhaul and you must have fundamentally changed your technique. A tweak, on the other hand, is one small change in one little thing, like the width of your grip or something like that. When you are a beginner, lots of little tweaks add up to a great many pounds on the bar, but you’d be hard-pressed to match the progress with the tweak because at any one time too many things are going on in your training. However, we can say that beginners don’t really need tweaks, they need good learning, otherwise constant tweaks are just like applying a little duct tape here and there as you go along, it sticks, but not forever.
Small Changes Can’t Make a BIG Difference for Beginners to Lifting
The “Add 50 Pounds to Your Bench Press Instantly!” articles are not usually aimed at beginning lifters but at much more advanced lifters. Therein lies the rub. For the advanced, small changes in technique cannot make that big a difference in load on the bar. Sorry, but it’s true. Small changes are more likely to make a difference in terms of training longevity, but not absolute weight on the bar, instantly. It just does not work that way. For the advanced, it’s work, work, work, that makes the difference.
We can see the problem here in American Weightlifting. There has been so much focus on technique and having some fancy camera filming lifters in slow motion so that a computer could analyze the bar path, hoping to find some little biomechanical this or that which leads to a little tweak that just makes all the difference…
Technique Tweaks Cannot Replace HARD WORK
And yet Olympic lifters, as well, need strength, and time under the bar, performing rep after rep. In other words, science cannot replace hard work and you cannot put all your eggs in the biomechanical analysis basket.
However, there are some very common mistakes that add up to big problems with progress that can be easily corrected (tweaked). Most tweaks on upper body exercises are one detail in several that make a big difference when put together. Chances are, a couple of them, or even all of them, will apply to you and you’ll see a big change from a series of small tweaks. I’ve written a number of exercise technique articles which I will be posting here in the near future. But meanwhile check here: exercise technique.
Fundamental Changes Can Make a Big Difference
However, for the deadlift and squat there are some BIG fundamental changes that involve a simple change in outlook. These are about how you think about the exercise. In other words, they are quite basic to the lift, and that is why they are such common mistakes made early on in training. Fixing these mistakes now will create big changes going forward.
How big is big? Measured immediately, not that big, but you may be able to expect 5 or 10 more pounds on the bar, depending on the lift. Measured down the road…could be huge. Here is the quick run-down:
Deadlift Mistake: Pulling Up on the Bar Instead of Driving Forward with the Hips
This is a common mistake because trainees think of the deadlift as pulling the bar off the floor. In fact, they are told to think this way. So, this is a problem with the ‘schema’ of the lift. The way you look at it affects the way you perform it. What happens here is what I call ‘top-down’ pulling. Trainees pull up on the bar with their shoulders. This effort at the mid to upper back, going through the shoulders, does not have very good transfer DOWN the chain to the hips, which is where the movement really needs to take place. So, the fix is to think of the lift as driving through with the hips. Get the full picture in the article, Is the Deadlift a Push or Pull Exercise?
Squat Mistake: The Flexion/Extension Conundrum
This applies to all bilateral squat lifts, but the ‘tweak’ is in your head and this small change in thinking helps to bring about big changes in the lift. I call it the flexion/extension conundrum because the problem with squatting is that squatting is not a movement, its a position. You know, once upon a time they called it a ‘deep knee bend.’ That has a connotation of being temporary. The squatting position, when we assume it naturally, however, is a comfortable and quite grounded position that we settle into for a length of time.
Therefore, what we call a squat exercise, isn’t really the squat at all but the “standing up” part. I know you’ve heard that said before but the implications of it may have been lost because most trainers just say it as a slogan (like most everything to do with lifting). What are the implications? Well, if you look at the squat as a SQUAT, you are going to think of it as a grounded position where your body moves toward the floor. That is, you will think “down” and your body, automatically, will react by going into a flexion mode. This will even tend to include the eyes, and we see the results as lifters look down toward the floor as they descend into the squat.
The solution is simple although hard to get used to and comfortable with. You must never think “down” during a squat. Even as you are descending, you can still focus on extending up into the bar. In this way, you allow the knees and hips to flex, bringing you down into the squat, while the spine stays extending so that you avoid the torso flexing forward and the chest falling. This is especially true for high bar deep squats. Those using a low bar squat position more like a powerlifter style will still find an advantage in it as well. By staying extended, the transition from the descent to the ascent is much stronger and less demanding.