POWER LIFTING TIPS FOR THE BIG 3 LIFTS

The squat, bench press, and deadlift are often called the “big three” lifts. Collectively, they make up the sport of powerlifting, and are also used by a great many exercisers to build muscle size and strength. It really doesn’t matter what your goals are – focusing on these lifts really pays off.

Here are some tips that will improve your squat, bench press, and deadlift.


GENERAL TIPS

Apply these tips to all of the big lifts.

1. Technique before weight – your progress is more likely to grind to a halt if your lifting technique is flawed. Technique flaws lead to energy leaks that will reduce the amount of weight you can lift and could even lead to injury. Master each lift before you focus on lifting more weight.

2. Lift explosively – it doesn’t matter how fast the bar actually moves, you should always try and lift it as explosively as you can. This increases muscle activation and can help you blast through sticking points. 

3. Train each lift at least twice a week – getting good at the powerlifts requires practice so you need to do them often. This doesn’t mean you have to train each lift hard and heavy several times a week, but you should have at least one hard and one easy session for each lift per week. For example, heavy squats on Monday, light “speed” squats on Thursday. 


 

SQUATS

The king of exercises, squats can be a tricky lift to master, but with practice and perseverance you should be able to lift serious weight and boost the size and tone of your legs in the process.


1. Choose shoes according to your stance – good squats start with your feet. Soft running shoes collapse under heavy loads, so you’ll need better shoes for serious squatting. If you squat with a narrow stance, choose shoes with an elevated but hard heel – such as Olympic lifting shoes. If you use a wide stance, flat minimalist shoes are best.


2. Spread the floor – squats should use all your leg muscles, and not just your quadriceps. Activate more muscles to lift more weight by pushing your feet apart when you squat. Your feet won’t move but trying to “spread the floor” will strongly activate your glutes and hip abductors, boosting knee and hip stability in the process, increasing the weight you can lift.


3. Create tension in your upper body – squats are undeniably a leg exercise, but you’ll lift more weight and do more reps if you actively use your upper body too. Grip the bar tightly, pull your shoulders down and back, squeeze your lats, and lift your chest to create a solid platform on which to rest the weight.

 

BENCH PRESS

Monday might be National Bench Press Day, but a lot of benchers have no idea what they are doing! Don’t be one of them – do your bench presses right to lift more weight and get stronger, faster.


1. Check your grip width – if your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are not properly aligned, you will not be as strong as you could be. Adjust your hand position so that, at the bottom of your rep, your forearms are vertical. Your wrists should be straight, and the bar should touch your sternum, not your upper chest.


2. Stay tight – a lot of lifters forget all about their legs when they bench press, and that’s a mistake. Instead, drive your feet into the floor, tense your legs and butt, and slightly arch your lower back.


This will prevent unwanted movement that could otherwise undermine your performance. And don’t do the “bench press two-step” by moving your feet between reps. That’s a missed rep waiting to happen.


3. Spread the bar – the tighter and more stable your back and shoulders are, the better your bench press will be. Maximize shoulder and upper back activation by trying to pull the bar apart when you bench press.


Also imagine bending the bar into a downward U shape to maximize this effect. Finally, make sure you consciously push your shoulders and upper back into the bench.

DEADLIFTS

A good deadlift is a thing of beauty, but a bad deadlift could mean serious injury. Make sure your deadlift is not just big but also safe by using these tips.


1. Remember, it’s not a squat – deadlifting and squatting are not the same. Your hips should be low for squatting but higher for deadlifts. Deadlifts are hip dominant, while squats are more knee dominant.


Trying to squat a deadlift will limit your performance and could lead to injury. Make sure too that your hips never rise faster than your shoulders during your deadlifts.


2. Keep the bar close – the moment the bar moves forward of your feet, deadlifting becomes more difficult and more dangerous. The bar should stay very close to your shins and your thighs throughout so it’s as close to your base of support as possible, i.e. your feet.


There is no need to drag the bar up your shins; that’s just more resistance you’ll need to overcome. However, if it’s more than half an inch from your legs you are making things harder than they need to be.


3. Heels down – your heels should be firmly grounded on the floor when you deadlift. If possible, deadlift in just socks or wearing minimalist zero heel drop shoes. Running shoes are not suitable deadlifting footwear. This will help you keep your weight on the rear of your feet, maximizing hamstring and glute activation for bigger lifts.


Any improvements in the big three will have a big impact on how you look and how you perform. But, as productive as these exercises can be, doing them badly could soon lead to injury. If you are going to do the big three, make sure you are doing them right!

 

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