Everyone wants to improve their performance on the ‘Big 3’ – the bench, squat and deadlift – but it takes serious consistency, dedication and time.
…and by time, we mean 24 hours. We aren’t talking Mexican pharmaceuticals – we’re looking at technique, and these 10 technical tips can improve your lifts literally overnight!
1. Get a lift-off
Getting a spotter to lift off the barbell before you bench isn’t cowardly – it’s essential to hitting a bench PB. Pulling your own barbell out of the rack is a fantastic way to ruin your setup, and the act of reaching for the bar is enough to take the tension out of your posture and reduce your core stability.
Once you’ve set-up for the lift, let your spotter lift the barbell out to you. Focus on keeping your posture tight and stable, and gradually take the weight of the barbell from your spotter. Once you’re comfortable with the weight, it’s time to bench!
2. Plant your feet
Whole-body stability is crucial to a decent bench, and stability starts from the feet. When you’ve set up on the bench, make a conscious effort to ‘walk’ your feet a pace or two towards your shoulders – and then plant them solidly into the floor.
This creates a stable core to bench from; as well as an arch between your upper body and the bench. This reduces the distance the bar has to travel, and recruits more muscles for the lift.
We’re essentially mimicking the range of motion of a decline bench press – and if you’ve ever tried heavy decline, you’ll know that you can bench more in this position.
[P.S. – Don’t even think about putting your feet on the bench; I’ll find you and shred your gym membership]
3. Tuck your elbows
Benching with your arms at 90 degrees to your body is great for recruiting your pectoral muscles – but if sheer strength is the goal, you need to tuck your elbows in.
By angling your elbows at roughly 45 degrees to your body, you significantly reduce the distance the bar has to travel – which is why professional powerlifters bench exclusively with tucked elbows.
4. Crush the bar
Your bench is only as strong as your weakest link – and for most people, we’re talking grip. Your hands are the sole connection between your body and the barbell; and all of your energy and effort is transferred to the barbell through your grip.
Making a conscious effort to squeeze the barbell will help you to transfer all of your effort to the bar, as well as subconsciously encouraging you to activate every other muscle in your body.
5. Try a low-bar squat
If you’re serious about your squat, you probably have a decent range of motion – and whilst there’s not always a need for ‘ass to grass’ squatting, it’s important to recruit as many muscles as possible, over the greatest range of motion.
Conventional squats are known as ‘high bar’ squats, with the bar resting on the top portion of the traps. If you allow the barbell to rest on your lower traps instead, you put the body in a much better position for deep squatting – creating a more stable base for the barbell, and reducing the strain placed upon your back and neck.
If you’re into your deep squats (and you should be), switching high-bar for low-bar squats will allow you to squat more comfortably, and even more heavily.
6. Use a More Narrow
Speaking of a stable base for squatting, it’s essential that the barbell is truly locked-in place when going for a PB. The best way to do this is to squeeze your shoulder blades together, locking the bar in place by increasing the tension on your traps.
When you’re set-up and ready to lift-off, make a conscious effort to bring your hands an inch closer to your shoulders. This is the easiest way to increase the tension across your traps, and it draws your shoulder blades together without any conscious thought.
7. Belt up
Correctly using a belt could easily add 20lbs to your squat, straight away. When you’ve put your belt on, tighten it until you can just fit a couple of fingers under the belt – it should be uncomfortable, without being painful.
Practice breathing with your diaphragm – imagine sucking air into your stomach – and intentionally tense your abs against the belt. This raises your intra-abdominal pressure, and offers greater support during the weakest part of the lift, the bottom portion (also known as ‘the hole’).
With a bit of practice, you can significantly improve your 1RM.
There’s no need for subtlety in the deadlift. In order to recruit as many muscles fibers as possible, you should view the deadlift as pure, explosive power – and once you’re set-up, your aim is to get the barbell off the ground as quickly as possible.
The deadlift is an extremely taxing lift – and subjecting your body to slow deadlift reps will only damage your form, and risk injury.
9. Push, don’t pull
For most people, the hardest part of the deadlift is the initial drive – and if you’re able to get the barbell off the floor, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to lock it out.
Whilst the lock-out portion of the deadlift is very definitely a pulling motion, the initial drive phase is a push – using your leg muscles to push against the floor, and get the barbell off the ground.
You can significantly improve your deadlift by focusing on this push phase of the lift, and attempting to push the ground away from you. Doing so allows you to recruit the strongest muscles of the posterior chain – the legs and hip muscles – and you’ll be able to lock-out heavier weight as a result.
10. Buy some Converse
We’ve saved the easiest tip for last – and simply swapping your shoes out for a pair Converse can have a transformative effect on your deadlift.
Stability has been a recurrent theme across these 10 tips, and the deadlift is no different. All of your energy and output is transferred through your feet and having thick, foam-soled shoes will make deadlifting much harder than it needs to be.
Grab yourself a flat, comfortable pair of Chucks, and watch your deadlift jump up!