From researching experts in strength and conditioning, it is interesting that they seem to have very similar go-to cues for the main lifts (the barbell bench press, squat, and deadlift), even though they have very different coaching styles. Some experts put a lot of care into perfecting form and others put more consideration into getting as high of numbers as possible. This is extremely controversial in the health and fitness community because there’s no direct evidence spelling out the “safest” forms and some argue that you can be more apt to get injured if you’re constantly worried about getting hurt and always concerned about perfect form.
Featured in this post are Kelly Starrett (physical therapist, coach at his gym (San Francisco Crossfit), and virtual coach through TheReadyState.com), Mike Matthews (author and virtual coach through LegionAthletics.com), and Greg Nuckols (researcher and coach through StrongerByScience.com). All of these individuals have coached thousands of individuals so I trust that these cues will be helpful for you to know.
Barbell Bench Press
“Once you’ve got your grip set, squeeze the ever loving shit out of the bar.” This is a quote from Greg Nuckols’, “How to Bench Press: The Definitive Guide” and he also mentioned it in his interview on the E3 Rehab Podcast. Mike Matthews suggests doing this in his books, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger as well. It is not clear on why this works, whether it is activating certain muscles more or whatnot, but - they aren't just confident - they know that it does in fact work.
Barbell Back Squat
“Screw your feet into the floor.” Here is another quote from Greg Nuckols, from his article called, “How to Squat: The Definitive Guide”, which he advises using as you are dropping down in the squat. Make sure to screw your feet away from your body, not towards. This is also taught by Kelly Starrett in his wildly popular book, Becoming a Supple Leopard (p. 64-65). This cue works to help stabilize and create tension in your hips. It also prevents your knees from falling inward (or ‘valgus knees’) as you squat.
Greg Nuckols states to focus on “ripping the floor in half,” at least until the bar is above your knees in his article "How to Deadlift: the Definitive Guide." This is a similar cue to the squat but an important one. Kelly Starrett also emphasizes this in Becoming a Supple Leopard, stating, “screw your feet into the ground and hands into the bar [away from your body] (p. 198-199).”
Another common cue worth mentioning that could be applied to all of these lifts is to tense up your core during your set up. These are emphasized by all three experts mentioned in this post.
I decided to post on this topic because it seems to be a popular question among the fitness community. I've seen it asked multiple times in Facebook Groups I am in and it is a common topic in books and podcasts as well. If you have worked with a personal trainer before, you likely know all of these cues already but if you are a beginner, these cues should help you as they did me. If you plan on starting to train with a barbell on your own, I highly advise educating yourself beforehand or getting yourself a personal trainer until you are comfortable with each lift. All of the articles and books referenced in this post are great resources for this purpose. If you would like a suggestion on which resource is best for you, you can either comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to make a suggestion based on your experience and your goals.
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