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SQUATS & DEADLIFTS: THE EXERCISES YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Head round to your local gym and you’ll no doubt see loads of people lifting dumbbells and curling their biceps, thinking they’re working hard. And they will be—but they could be doing so much more with squats and deadlifts!

While they’re working on flexing their guns in the mirror, they probably won’t even notice the weightlifting bar in the corner of the room. But did you know that by ditching the dumbbells for the olympic bar you could be working harder, and more economically, on more of your body at once? If you’re looking to work at little bit of everything—on your strength, your stamina, your cardio, your weight and your physique—in the shortest amount of time as possible, then squats and deadlifts are two of the best things you can do at the gym.

You won’t be alone if you’ve never even given these a second thought. Lots of people leave these kinds of moves out of their gym routine—not helped by the fact that the equipment involved can be a bit intimidating (you don’t have to put the dumbbells together yourself  before you pick them up after all…), and they require a different technique that has to be mastered to make sure you don’t injure yourself.

But now there’s no excuse: here’s the CK Elite guide to why and how you should be adding these two really useful exercises to your gym routine!

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Squats and deadlifts are compound exercises. Unlike bicep curls and the like, this means that they work a number of muscle groups all in one go.

So think about a deadlift, in which you start with the bar at your feet and bend down to lift it up to about hip height. Here you’re working a combination of the muscles in your hands, arms, hips, glutes, and upper legs just to lift the bar to the required height, with your core muscles needed to keep you stable while you hold the position and then lower the bar to the ground. In a squat—in which you start by lifting a weighted bar from a height, brace it on the back of the neck, and then lower and raise it back into position—you’re working your back, hips, glutes, abs, quads, calves, and other leg muscles, as well as strengthening your joints and core.

So by completing just a few rounds of squats and a few rounds of deadlifts, you’re giving almost your entire musculature a work out—imagine how long it would take to work on all those muscles individually!

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE

Of course one of the reasons people aren’t so sure about movements like squats and deadlifts is their unfamiliarity with the technique involved. You can lift a dumbbell or bench press a bar without too much trouble, but finding a safe way of lifting heavy weights from the ground—or lowering them while supporting them with your back—isn’t quite the same. And even if your technique is just a little bit awry, you could end up doing more harm than good.

If you’re unsure about what you’re doing, of course you should always have a word with the staff at your gym, but if you follow these top tips you can’t go far wrong.

 

DEADLIFTING: TOP 5 TIPS

  1. STANCE Before you even being to lift the bar, you’ll need to get yourself into the right position—we call this “addressing” the bar. Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart, with your toes just under the bar.

 

  1. BACK From there, you’ll want to bend your legs and crouch down—but not stoop over!—to lift the bar, keeping your back as straight as you can, your head up, and pushing your backside out as you do so. Imagine someone holding the handle of a broom against your spine as you crouch—that’s how straight you’re looking to keep your back! 3 points of contact need to be; bum, shoulder blades and back of the head. Remember, as soon as you feel yourself stooping over or arching your back, stop and readdress the bar. A bad technique at this stage could result in you seriously straining your back muscles, so be careful!

 

  1. GRIP There’ll be a few rough, crosshatched areas on the bar—one in the centre, and one either side of that. You’ll want to place your hands on the outer two, about one thumbs-breadth from the edge of the crosshatching. Keep your grip comfortable, so as not to catch the skin of your hand or twist your wrist as you lift. We’re looking at just over shoulder width grip. At this point a normal neutral hand grip is fine, but there are a few various grips we will get into further down the line. With your hands and your stance sorted, it’s time to lift!

 

  1. LIFT Keeping your back as straight as you possible and pushing down onto your heels to ground your position, lift the bar in one smooth movement. A deep break in allows you to keep tension in the trunk of the body, i.e. the core. This is your lifting belt and will help keep a stable position.  Avoid jerking it upwards too quickly (you might want to start with a fairly light weight just until you get used to lifting it smoothly), and avoid letting your back arch, or the bar sway from side to side as your dominant hand takes more weight than the other. You should end the lift with your back straight and your body taut, and the weigh hanging from your arms at just below hip height.

 

  1. LOWER From here, you can of course just drop the bar back to the ground. But if you want to rep out a few deadlifts in a row, slowly begin to lower the bar back to the floor keeping your back straight and head up as you go. Keep the middle part of the bar as close to your legs and shins as you can so as not to lean forward and put strain on your lower back. Keeping the tension in the back of the legs (hamstrings) is key to know you’re in the correct position. Keep the hips below the shoulders as you descend down.  Keep lowering the bar until the bottom edge of the weights touch the floor, then begin to lift again.

 

With a few reps done and your set complete, lower the bar to the ground—but don’t be tempted to let your technique slip in these final few moments! Keep that back straight and your grip solid right up until you let go of the bar.

 

SQUATS: TOP 5 TIPS

 

  1. STANCE In a squat, the weight starts at a height, which means getting into position safely is even more important than with a deadlift. With the bar in the squat rack, stand facing it and place your hands on the outer two crosshatched areas of the bar, again with a comfortable grip around one thumbs-breadth from the edge of the crosshatching. Take a step forward, stooping your head under the bar, and rest the centre crosshatching just beneath the back of your neck, so that the bar runs parallel to your shoulders—imagine you’re making a big T shape with your upper body and the bar, and you can’t go far wrong!

 

  1. LIFT Take the lifting part of the squat slowly, and start with a light weight (or no weight at all) until you’ve got the feel of the movement sorted. From addressing the bar, you’ll want to lift the bar up and out of the rack: stand up straight to lift it up, and take a step back so that your feet are side by side a little over shoulder-width apart. Stand as solidly as possible, supporting the weight was you entire frame: avoid letting your arms or back take the strain, you should feel almost your entire body working to keep the weight in place. Now you’re ready to begin the squat.

 

  1. DOWN… Keeping your feet, back and upper body as stable as possible, bend your legs and push your backside backwards so that you slowly lower the bar. To keep your back steady and your head up—and to avoid bending or stooping over as you go—it might help to focus on a spot slightly above your eyeline. Same as the dead lift, you want to take that big breath in before squatting.  This again braces the core and keeps you a good strong structure.  Take it slowly as you lower the bar; don’t stop too soon or you might end up putting strain on your lower back, but don’t go too deep as you might end up wrenching your back as you stand back up. A slow, solid squat downwards is all it takes.

 

  1. …AND UP! At the bottom of the squat, your legs should be bent with your knees slightly outwards—and from here, you need to stand back up. Slowly straighten your legs, pushing down into your heels to give yourself a solid stance, and push upwards keeping your back straight. Take things slowly and smoothly: avoid allowing your body to sway or stoop forward as you go. All you’re looking to do is to return to your starting position, with your whole body braced to support the weight. From here, you can either repeat the squat until your set is complete, or…

 

  1. REPLACE THE BAR Once you’re done, step forward until the bar taps the frame of the squat rack, and from there lower it back into the supports. Step out from underneath it, taking care not to bump your head, and you’re done!

 

So why not give it a go? Next time you’re at the gym, save time and work harder just by adding a few squats and deadlifts to your routine and see how quickly you progress!

 

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