Back to basics

Back to basics

• Do you want to start training but are not sure what exercise to do or how to perform them?

• Have you been training for a while and want to improve your lifts?

As important as a well-designed training programme is, you must also make sure you are performing the exercises in an effective and safe manner to get the most out of your time.

This month’s article from Lift Smart Train Hard is dedicated to reviewing the technique of four popular lifts that you will see people doing in gyms worldwide.

1. The Barbell Back Squat

The squat is a firm gym favourite and arguably one of the most effective lower body exercises for building up strength, power, and size.

The squat produces active recruitment of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors and calves. It also importantly works the posterior chain and drives hip extension. The squat, when done correctly (below parallel), produces more stable knees than any other exercise does. A partial squat (above parallel) stresses the knees and the quadriceps without working the glutes, the adductors, or the hamstrings. So how do we squat properly?

  • Using the squat rack for safety purposes, set up the bar at the level of your sternum (mid-chest).
  • To un-rack the bar adopt a squat stance beneath the bar, grab the bar with a comfortable grip (width can vary depending on shoulder mobility and comfort).
  • Push your chest up and pull your elbows back and down squeezing your shoulder blades together, from here lift the bar out of the rack driving up with your legs.
  • Take 2-3 steps back and set your feet with your heels about shoulder width with toes pointed out about 30 degrees (like 11 and 1 on the clock)
  • Take a deep breath and hold it for stability, fix your vision on a spot on the floor about 4–5 feet in front of you.
  • Begin to lower the bar by bending your knees and hips and pushing your knees out in line with your toes (think sitting back into a chair). Keep lowering until your hips are beneath your knees (breaking parallel) or you reach your maximum depth.
  • To come back to standing drive out of the bottom of the squat with hips and knees rising at the same pace. Squeeze your glutes at the top.

2. The Overhead press

The overhead press is a powerful upper-body exercise and in my opinion the best exercise for building strong, healthy and well-developed shoulders. The press is a closed chain exercise meaning the rigidity and tension in your body from the feet up assist in providing stability and force generation when performing the exercise. So how do we overhead press properly?

  • Use the squat rack for safety purposes. Set up the bar at about the middle of the sternum. Grip the bar with hands in a pronated position slightly wider than your shoulders with your elbows pointing down.
  • Lift the bar out of the rack and adopt the starting position of the bar on your collarbones. Set up your stance with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Look straight ahead to a point on the wall in front of you. Contract your quadriceps, glutes and abdominals to provide stability.
  • Drive the bar up shifting your head back and out of the bar path, until your arms are locked, as soon as the bar passes the top of your forehead shift your head forward into its natural position, under the bar.
  • Lower the bar down keeping the same path and mimicking the head movement in reverse.
  • To reinforce the bar path, think about keeping the bar close to your face. As the bar leaves your shoulders aim for the nose and when the bar passes the nose on the way down aim for your shoulders.

3. The Bench Press

The bench press is often referred to as one of the “king” exercises and is probably responsible for the majority of chest development for gym goers the whole world over. It can be performed in a flat, incline and decline position with either a barbell or dumbells. Today we are looking at the flat barbell bench press. So how do we bench press properly?

  • Lie back on a flat bench so your eyes are directly beneath the bar. You’re your feet flat on the floor, upper back flat against the bench with your lower back in natural arched position.
  • Grab the bar with a grip approximately shoulder width apart. Take the bar out of the rack, fix your eyes on a spot on the ceiling push the bar up locking out your elbows.
  • Ensure you are maintaining good posture with your head against the bench, feet driving into the floor and upper back pushed into the bench for stability.
  • Take a big breath in and lower the bar in a control manner until the bar touches your chest (lower to middle), then drive the bar back up in the same manner.
  • It is advisable if you are a beginner to use a spotter, if no spotter is available be conservative with the amount of weight on the bar.

4. The Deadlift

Lower-back strength is an important component of sports conditioning and every day activities. Deadlifts are one of the best exercises to build up total back strength. The role of the lower back is hold the trunk position so power can be transferred from the trunk, hips and legs to the loaded bar. So how do we deadlift properly?

  • Adopt a stance with your feet hip width apart and ensure the bar is over the middle of your foot.
  • Take the bar with an overhand grip with the arms just outside your legs but not touching by bending at the waist (and knees if flexibility requires you to).
  • When your grip is secure bend your legs until your shins touch the bar (if your legs are already bent make sure the bar is against the shins) and hold this position pushing the knees slightly out.
  • Push your chest up and hold this position, fix your eyes on a spot on the floor a couple of feet in front of you (not down or straight, think diagonal).
  • Take a big breath in and pull the bar up by raising your hips and knees at the same pace until standing. The bar should stay close to your body throughout.
  • At the top of the pull you shoulder be standing straight without leaning back.
  • Lower the bar by reversing the motion and keeping the bar close to the body.

About the Author

Angela Rey is our Studio Coordinator and a Personal Trainer here in the Club. She started her fitness journey as a Club volunteer, before becoming a member of the Gym team and then progressing to fulfil her current role as Studio Coordinator and Personal Trainer. She is firm believer in hard work and consistency to reach your fitness and has an insatiable thirst for learning. She has a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as plethora of fitness qualifications. On a normal week you will find her teaching everything from HIIT to kettlebells and cycling classes amongst other things and when it comes to training herself you’ll often find her in the weights room, performing circuits or working on her mobility and flexibility. She is available for one-to-one PT sessions at YMCA Club. To learn more email her.

Do you want to receive more articles like this directly in your inbox? Sign up to our Newsletter.

ymca | 11 April 2016