Dumbbell Press Tips

There are a couple technique tips I coach on the DB press that don’t show up in your typical technique description:

  1. Keep your shoulder blades pinched tightly together, just like you would for your bench press. Don’t push your shoulders up off the bench when you lock your elbows out.
  2. Angle the dumbbells in slightly – don’t press them up straight like you would a bar; bringing your elbows in a bit to take some strain off your shoulders.
  3. Don’t bring the dumbbells together at the top, push them straight up, then bring them back down. This will keep more tension on your pecs and anterior delts throughout the set.
  4. Bring the dumbbells down with good control, then blast them off the chest with every bit of power you can muster. Visualize driving up hard from the back of your upper arms/triceps. This builds explosive strength and can build greater strength and muscle mass using a lower weight (if you don’t have good control of the dumbbells, and good speed off the chest, they’re likely too heavy).

Have fun ya’all!

Squat Thrusters

Hammer your glutes!

Squat Thrusters, AKA ‘Butt Stuff’

I’ve been wanting to play with these for a bit, and Becky messaged me saying she wanted to do some butt stuff.

OK then…

What exactly are we doing here?

  1. The second eccentric descent at the bottom end of the ROM increases the time under tension at the portion of the ROM that works the glutes the hardest. You typically get heavy glute activation at the point in the lift from just above to just below parallel. For this lift, squat to about 2” below parallel, come up to 2” above parallel, then go back to 2” below parallel before coming all the way back up.

[We need to do a bit of work on these in practice, as Becky is coming up a bit above the target range in the ROM, getting out of the heavy glute training zone, and into the quad zone midway in the ROM]

  1. Reduce the assistance from the stretch reflex. On the first rebound, you’ll have more assistance from the stretch reflex, triggering the glutes and hamstrings to contract as they near a full stretch. With the second stretch coming from a partial ROM, the contraction should provide less rebound, forcing you to work harder for the lift.
  • Now this is kind of my hypothesis, and the stretch reflex will not dissipate as much as with a pause squat. However the dynamic motion within that range above and below parallel, coupled with a decrease in stretch reflex should result in some smoked glutes with the right set and rep scheme.
  • Again, we need to shorten the ROM with which Becky comes up after the first rebound to increase this effect.

Have fun ya’all!

Modeled By: @beck.dao

Deadlift – Lumbar Flexion

Lumbar flexion is a rounding of the lower back when you lift. Flexion of the spine puts it in a vulnerable position with a much higher risk of serious back injury. Often this occurs during a heavy or near max load in a big lift.

What if you experience it even during your lift setup, even while not under a load?

This isn’t uncommon with newer lifters. As you set up for the deadlift, bending to reach for the bar your lower back rounds. Often this is because your hips are rotated to the anterior – the upper portion of the hip shifts backwards creating a rounded lower back.

It can be difficult to consciously rotate your hips to the anterior – shift the upper portion of your hips forward. Here is a tip I’ve used successfully to address this issue during setup, until the lifting pattern is internalized and becomes automatic:

  • Instead of simply bending over to grab the bar, treat this first setup step like a Romanian Deadlift: push your hips back and arch your lower back slightly, bringing your chest down as your hips push backwards. Allow your knees to flex as needed to reach the bar.

In addition to this setup tip, there are a couple other things you may need to work on:

  • Hip Mobility: If your hamstrings are tight, you will have limited mobility for hip flexion (can you bend over and reach your toes without bending your knees?). Work on your hamstring flexibility.
  • Strengthen and Activate your Spinal Erectors: High volume/low weight Romanian Deadlifts, emphasizing flattening or slightly arching your lower back can help internalize the hip pattern for these movements.

If you have issues with your lower back rounding, make sure you have your hips set right for the lift.

Squat Setup – Foot Position

To unrack the bar, you get the most power and stability if your feet are directly under your hips (not too wide) and centered under the bar (bar over shoelaces).

  • If your feet are too far forward (as in the first video example) you won’t be under the bar when you unrack. Since it will force your lower back to work much harder to unrack, the weight will ‘feel’ much heavier than it has to.
  • Second example, the lifter’s feet are centered under the bar. It is ‘over the shoe laces’, and the bar pops straight up.
  • If you are too far forward, it will be off balance and the weight will pull you backwards awkwardly once it comes out of the rack.

Wide Stance Hip Thrusters

Knee valgus is a common squat issue, particularly with new lifters. The knees tend to cave in as the lifter ascends. I’ve talked about this a lot, and the catastrophic effect it has on your squat form. I’ve been working with lifters on technique and strengthening approaches to help correct the issue.

When it comes to hip extension, the glutes and hamstrings are the monster movers. We don’t think about the adductors (muscles that adduct the hips – pulls knees in). The adductors’ primary purpose is hip adduction, but they are also extensors, and get involved in driving your hips forward as you rise from the ashes known as your squat. When you think about it this way, it makes sense that when the adductors are engaged in the squat that they have a tendency to pull the knees in.

How do you address this issue? 

Balance. Balance the engagement of the adductors with engagement of the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius is also a hip extensor. Additionally it helps externally rotate and abduct the hips (knees out).

I’ve been working with a lot of abduction in mobility and warmups for squats, but being a powerlifter, I thought ‘why not find a way to put a heavy load on the abduction movement?’ 

Cue the hip thruster (and my lifters’ middle fingers). The hip thruster is like a leg press for the ass. You can load it up with weight and still have relatively low impact on the rest of the body. Now shift to a wider stance. This shifts the emphasis from the gluteus maximus to the gluteus medius – the target muscle group to correct knee valgus.

My rules for hip thrusters:

  • Proper execution of a set ends with you rolling into the fetal position with baseball sized cramps in your glutes; with the wide stance the baseballs should be in your gluteus medius.
  • Hip thrusters are a high volume, high weight lift; I’ve found sets of 10-15 reps with weights similar to your deadlift working weights to be very effective.
  • Make sure you’re getting full hip extension.
  • Instead setting the bar in the crease of your hips grinding on your hip bones, set your hands on the bar and push it down slightly to rest on the meat of your quad…it’s much less painful.

Smith Press Split Squats

I’ve touched lately on the benefits the Bulgarian Split Squat (BSS) can bring to your training. One big drawback of the BSS can be balance – some people just have an exceptionally difficult time maintaining their balance well enough to get good, full ROM reps with the BSS through an entire set. 

I happened to catch a guy doing split squats on the Smith Press, and a solution clicked right away. Not only is this an actual productive use for the Smith Press, but it can help lifters who shy away from BSS because they cannot maintain their balance. No more excuses!

  • Set the bench a full step back behind the press, so you can get a full rep and a deep stretch in the hips and quads at the bottom.
  • Drop into the squat until your rear knee points straight downward or lightly touches the floor.
  • Even with the smith press’ stability, keep your core tight for stability.

Your long term goal should still be to move to unassisted split squats, but even the most novice lifter should be able to do Smith Press Split Squats.

Low Bar Squats

The low bar squat has been synonymous with the powerlifting squat for decades. Why? Because (for most individuals) it allows you to move more weight. Why?

  • It creates a shorter lever out of the back
  • It brings the hips closer to the line of force
  • It shifts some of the workload from the quads to the glutes and hamstrings

All of these things translate to a more efficient and powerful squat. 

Now that you know the ‘whys’, let’s talk about the hows:

  • Bar Position: Generally speaking, a high bar squat places the bar on top of the traps, a low bar squat places the bar on the rear delts. There are lifters who elect to go as low on the back as they can support the weight. My preference is to lock the bar into the groove between the base of the upper traps and the top of the rear delts. This position helps you keep the bar in place limiting its ability to slide down your back.
  • Bar Path: As with any squat, the bar path should follow a straight line up and down over your center of gravity (keep it over your shoe laces). With the bar lower on the back, you will have a flatter back angle, so pay attention to make sure you are still hitting depth.
  • Keeping the bar in place: The bar may have a tendency to slide, even when nestled between the delts and traps. To help keep it in place: try to pick a straight bar with good knurling in the center (which will scrape the skin off your back), chalk up your t-shirt where the bar will rest, and wear a snug cotton t-shirt that will stay put on your back and give the bar something to grip.

The low bar position can have a tendency to torque on your wrists and elbows. You may need to adjust your grip out a bit wider to alleviate some of the tension, but make sure you still keep your upper back taught. 

You can find a more detailed walk through of the low bar squat in my Brute Force Strength Book of Techniques: BFS BoT – Low Bar Squats


The Powerlifting 3-Step

Squat Walkouts

I’d like to pick apart my squats and talk about some key points in a good squat. A good walkout sets you up for a solid squat. When I get new lifters in, I probably annoy them early on with my ‘rerack!’ commands, making them redo the walkouts over and over to get it right.

I was spotting in a recent meet, and wanted to make many of those lifters rerack. Some of them took haphazard steps out of the rack, then shifted their feet for four minutes trying to get them ‘perfect’ (ok, to be fair, since you only have one minute to get the ‘squat command’ I’m sure it was something less than four minutes…)

A good walkout goes something like this:


  • Start with your feet directly under your hips. This is a very stable and strong position, and you don’t have to shift the weight much to take a step.
  • Bring your first foot straight back. It doesn’t have to be a big step, just enough to clear the rack – heel to toe.
  • Bring your second foot back and out to the side into your squat stance.
  • Shift your first foot straight out to the side into your squat stance.

You should be able to get into your stance with 3 short steps, and adjust your toes if needed. Even in this video, I counted 4 shuffles to adjust my feet…that is at least 2 too many.

A solid setup makes the bar feel much lighter, builds confidence, and preps you for a strong lift.

Deadlift Cues – Pull Yourself In

An important aspect to deadlifting (and any serious lift, really) is FULL BODY TIGHTNESS. There are a couple of things I look for when assessing a deadlift to tell whether a lifter is really tight as she starts the pull:

– Do the shoulders move: When she starts upward, do the shoulders move downward initially as the body rises, until she engages the weight?

– Is there an audible ‘clink’ as the bar engages with the weight before it breaks the floor?

Both of these things indicate the lifter’s body is not tight, and that the lifter is not tight against the bar.

Cue the cues.

My main cue used to be ‘hips down chest up’ as the lifter rocked back into the starting position. The problem with this cue is that there is no instruction to get tight. It leads a lifter to squat to the bar, which in the deadlift creates no tightness whatsoever in the body, nor tension against the bar.

Contrast that with ‘pull yourself in!’

Now you’re not thinking about squatting down to the bar, you’re thinking about gripping the bar and pulling yourself to it. It creates the mental image of tightness, and guides to a tight and powerful setup:

– Grab the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades downward, tightening your entire upper back

– Pull up on the bar, creating upward tension

– Maintain this upward tension and pull yourself in to the bar; if you do it right, you feel tension grow in your quads and your glutes, loading them like a spring.

Now you are tight and ready to explode off the floor!

Squats – Rear Hip Shift

One of the most common squat technique issues I see is an initial backward shift of the hips as the lifter starts up out of the hole. This hip shift creates several problems:

  • It is an energy leak: Instead of using the squat’s rebound and knee extension to drive the bar upward, you lose that energy, allowing the hips shift backward. At that point instead of using good squat technique to come up out of the hole, you end up muscling the bar up, using largely posterior chain.
  • You drop your chest: As your hips push back, your chest drops, flattening out your hip/back angle, and likely let the bar to drift forward ahead of your center of gravity. This puts you at a mechanical disadvantage – it makes the bar heavier.

To get to the root cause, there are a couple of issues to look for:

  • Knee Valgus: If your knees collapse inward as you start back up, it often forces your hips backwards, causing your chest to drop.
  • Early Knee Extension: If you extend/straighten your knees without driving the bar up, it will push your hips back without doing any of the lift’s work.

How do you address this technique issue? I usually attack it from a number of directions:

  • Strengthen your Glutes: If your gluteus medius (abducts the hips) is less powerful than your adductor magnus (adducts and extends the hips), you will not be able to keep your knees tracking in the direction of your toes under load. One of my favorite tools to strengthen the gluteus medius is warming up all lower body sessions with banded side-walks.
  • Strengthen your Quads: If your quads are underpowered, they will not be able to drive the load upwards as you extend your knees. To build quad strength I like to use heavy, high volume leg presses.
  • Hip Thrusts: Thrust your hips forward hard as you come out of the hole. Use the thrust to maintain the hip/back angle out of the hole, then drive them forward hard as you pass parallel. I’ve added ‘hip thrust squats’ as the warmup sequence for squat working sets to build this pattern.

Taking the time to address this little technique issue can have a significant impact on your squat’s power!