When it comes to exercises, there are biomechanics guidelines to follow to make sure you are performing the movement safely. It can, however, be very overwhelming when you look online and there are so many opinions on what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ form for exercises. This can make you scared to even start exercise as you might not want to get it wrong, look silly at the gym or possibly injury yourself from bad technique. In this blog we are going to discuss 3 common movement patterns, the things to avoid when performing them, and how to modify them to suit you.
The squat is one of the most popular exercises to include in a workout and is also one of the most versatile. While there are many technical elements to consider in order to nail the perfect squat, the main points to focus on should be the foot stance, knee direction, weight distribution and torso position. For a regular squat, place your feet roughly shoulder width apart. They can be in a slight ‘turned out’ 45degree rotation, as long as your knees follow your second toe throughout the WHOLE squat. This point being the most important to remember to avoid injury. Moving onto the squat pattern itself, making sure you keep the same amount of weight on each leg is ideal, along with a tall chest and minimal amount of forward lean. I am sure we have all heard to stick our behinds out to get the best booty during our squats. Let’s remember back to a couple of blogs ago, squats are a quad dominant exercise… so no need to try and lean forward to accomplish that maximum booty engagement.
The type of equipment you use and where you distribute that weight is as equally important as the technique. A kettlebell goblet squat is the best weighted squat option for beginners. The weight is close to the centre of mass, can be controlled easily by going up or down in kettlebell weight and can be a great choice when perfecting your own form. Whilst the barbell back squat is the most popular variation, it is highly technical and should be done with guidance of a professional. Whether your choice of squat is an olympic lift, overhead barbell squat, or an assisted TRX squat, if depth is not your best asset, try elevating the heels slightly with a block or weight plate. This will help keep the torso upright.
Now onto the deadlift, ‘The King of Exercise’ as some call it, and the best exercise to strengthen the posterior chain. As with the squat, the deadlift requires you to determine your ideal foot stance. Deadlifts can be done wide in a sumo stance for more adductor activation, however generally using your squat stance will be comfortable for a universal lift. If a nice flat back can’t be maintained throughout the lift, it is recommended to strengthen the back muscles using a variety of different back exercises or decrease the range of motion of the lift. A deadlift doesn’t always have to be all the way from the ground, a rack pull for example is an excellent approach to learning the movement pattern.
A trap bar deadlift is also a good piece of equipment to consider using when starting out. It can reduce the angle of hinge at the hips, which will take some of the pressure off the hamstrings, and also help keep the shoulders back by having the handle bars sit more side-on on the body. On the reverse, using a trap bar can be a safer way for weight lifters to add more load onto the bar safely. Romanian dumbbell deadlifts are also important as they train the opposite movement pattern, starting and finishing at the top. If you notice that your shoulders round forward during a deadlift, incorporating this type of deadlift pattern will help strengthen the upper back.
If you feel like your body isn’t moving comfortably when you deadlift, there are so many ways to switch it up. Try using bands, dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells, and pair that with switching the movement pattern from starting at the top vs starting at the bottom to find the best combination for you.
The idea of pressing weights over your head may seem like a daunting exercise, however an overhead press is one of the best upper body strengthening exercises to include in your routine. Shoulder mobility is essential to execute this movement pattern safely. Learn this pattern by using a wooden dowel and ensure your arms can reach straight up directly above your head. Dumbbells can be used in place of a barbell if that mobility has not yet been reached. The weight of the equipment should be reduced if there is a compensation in form such as an arching back, shoulders rolling forward or even arms moving on a diagonal instead of a straight upwards trajectory. If lifting weights over your head still seems intimidating, there are pin, and plate loaded overhead press machines to use, that might help train the movement pattern and strengthen the necessary muscles.
The most important part to consider is how the technique of the exercises looks and feels on YOU! Whilst you might be told to or see people squatting with a bar on their back, this might simply not be the best option for your body type. So, give yourself some time to play around with different equipment, postures and tempos to find one that safely helps you perform the exercise. If you would like some more advice on this topic, feel free to get in touch with one of our personal trainers, exercise scientist/physiologists or physiotherapists to help you out.