Updated: Jan 28
When it comes to strength training, not all exercises are created equal. Sure, they all have their place in a well balanced and thought out training programme, but there are some exercises which you should aim to master before moving on to others. These are the most commonly underperformed, or incorrectly performed exercises out there today. Master them to reduce your risk of injury and to build a solid base to improve upon.
The goblet squat is the first step in learning correct squat mechanics. By holding the weight in front of you, your centre of gravity is further forward which is important at the bottom of the squat as this allows you to maintain a more vertical posture. Remember, the squat involves lowering your hips towards the floor not shooting backwards like a deadlift (more on that later). When squatting it is important to lower your buttocks towards your heels and not push them backwards. It is a squat, not a good morning/squat hybrid. Performing a few sets of goblet squats in preparation for a full back squat is a great way to ingrain correct movement patterns and habituate the body to squatting correctly in preparation to a full back squat. In fact, it is recommended that beginners only perform goblet squats, perfecting the technique before moving on to back squats.
Most of the restrictions which prevent correct posture and movement in a back squats originate from the ankle joint. In order to achieve a full range of motion in the back squat, a high degree of dorsiflexion is required which allows the knees to travel forward thus bringing the hips close to the heels. Keeping your shins vertical in the squat is not a good idea - unless you enjoy lumbar injuries (1). For some, it may help to elevate the heels on a small weight plate or by using weightlifting shoes when performing the goblet squat and back squat, which lowers the amount of dorsiflexion needed.
How To Correctly Perform A Goblet Squat
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width.
Hold a kettlebell by the “horns” and keep your elbows close to your body, pointing downwards.
Maintain a raised chest position and do not let the kettlebell move away from your chest.
Lower yourself into a squat by bending at the knees and hips, moving your knees forwards and outwards, ensuring they stay in line with your second toe, and trying to move your buttocks towards your heels.
Your elbows should pass between your knees.
Aim to get as low as you can with your hamstrings touching your calves.
Have a brief pause at the bottom and return to the starting position.
One of the most fundamental exercises and movement patterns. Essentially, you are picking something up from the floor, an action you perform many times in your life outside of the gym. The deadlift is a great way to practice this movement and one of the best exercises for overall strength, however it is also one of the exercises most commonly performed incorrectly. This is due to a number of factors:
Sitting syndrome. We are not designed to sit for long periods of time. The glutes, hamstrings, lower and upper back are all negatively affected by prolonged sitting which translates into poor deadlift technique. Weakened back mucsles, inactive glutes and tight hamstrings are all symptoms of “sitting syndrome” and create problems when trying to perform a safe and effective deadlift.
Ego-lifting. A common problem amongst younger men, competitiveness among lifters leads people to try and push the limit of their strength way beyond the point where their form has broken down. Many strength coaches even recommend not attempting any 1 rep max effort lifts until lifters have years of experience under their belts. You might not be able to lift as much as your friends, but you will have a healthier spine.
Not having learned the correct form. This is a no-brainer. The best thing you can ever do when you begin strength training is invest in a good coach, even if it is just to learn the basics. Unfortunately, most people jump straight into the exercise and learn it by means of trial and error. In an exercise such as the deadlift which, if done incorrectly, can lead to serious injury, the “error” element in trial and error is something which should be avoided at all costs.
How To Correctly Perform A Deadlift
In the deadlift you should aim to push your hips far back whilst maintaining a neutral spine, whereas the squat involves lowering the hips towards the feet. Sumo (a wide stance) or conventional (hip width) are both legitimate techniques and should be performed based on personal preference. Important things to remember are to:
Maintain a strong, unfaltering abdominal brace throughout
Hinge at the hips and NOT THE LOWER BACK
Employ total body tension
Be intelligent with the weight used
Focus on contracting the glutes and hamstrings
Maintain vertical shin and vertical bar path
Keep the bar close to you.
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Notice I didn’t say “shoulder press”. In an overhead press the weight/bar should finish directly overhead; not in front of your face, not over your chest and not in line with your forehead. Press your arms straight overhead and finish with straight arms. You may have heard trainers warning their clients to not lock the elbows as this can injure your elbows. Just ask any professional Olympic weightlifter what they think about that when they are holding 200kg+ directly overhead on a regular basis. Anyway, problems when performing the overhead press stem from the already mentioned “sitting syndrome” where a poor, slouched position leads to a decrease in upper and mid back strength which, in turn, leads to a rounded shoulder position. When the scapula (shoulder blades) are angled forwards, overhead reach is restricted. This is why it is important to address upper back strength and posture if correct overhead form cannot be achieved.
The hollow body is a gymnastics exercise used to practice core control for exercises such as the handstand where a straight lower back is needed. The spine isn’t naturally straight, a natural curvature of the spine is normal, but when performing a handstand a flat spine is beneficial as the vertebrae “stack” on top of each other meaning the hips, feet, shoulders and hands all stack vertically. Outside of gymnastics, practicing a hollow body position is important for lumbar health as it counters the effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time. Anterior pelvic tilt is a postural condition caused by muscular imbalance which can lead to injuries and pain in some. The culprit of anterior pelvic tilt is most commonly tight hip flexors and weak, inactive glutes which happens when, you guessed it, you sit for prolonged periods of time. Performing a hollow body addresses these issues by strengthening the glutes, deep abdominals and superficial abdominals.
How To Correctly Perform A Hollow Body
Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms by your side
Push your lower back into the floor and draw your belly button into your spine
Squeeze your shoulders and straight arms towards your outer hip bones
Lift your legs and shoulders off the floor whilst simultaneously contracting the glutes and squeezing your thighs together
Keep your heels and toes together and point your toes away from you
Keep your lower back pushed in to the floor at all times
Find the most comfortable position for your neck (increasing the tension in every muscle except the ones in your face will help with this)
Hold for as long as you can, until your lower back starts lifting off the floor
As muscular fatigue sets in, the tendency is for the lower back to arch. When you feel this happen, stop the exercise. If it is to hard to perform with straight legs, you can begin by bending your knees and holding your feet closer to you.
No physical activity is more natural than holding onto something heavy and walking for a distance. From our caveman days where our ancestors would carry whatever they could find or kill back to their community or home, to the 21st century where shopping bags routinely have to be unloaded from the car, for the time being, there is still a demand for us to hold and carry something heavy. Even if life becomes less physically challenging where nobody has to carry a load which is heavy for them, it is crucial that we are capable of doing so, and motivated to continue doing so for our own good health. The farmers carry is precisely that. Hold two heavy dumbbells and walk as far as you can. Simple. Well, not that simple. When performing a farmers' carry correct posture and core control is vital to avoid injury. Of course, vice-like grip strength helps, but let’s face it, we weren’t all born with a handshake that can crush metacarpals. Keep the core muscles engaged, the shoulders back and down and use the cue “pencil neck” to avoid upper back and neck strains.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way.’ A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.
Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.