A Comprehensive Series on the Importance of Proper Weightlifting Technique
Take a good, hard look at the piece of technology you are reading on, probably a computer, tablet, or a smartphone. If a single piece of hardware is out of place, the system will cease to function properly, and you will have to send it for repairs. Similarly, your body also works as a system of interconnected pieces that rely on one another to function. When it comes to weightlifting, your body needs to be properly aligned in order to lift safely and efficiently.
As an avid CrossFitter and weightlifting enthusiast, I am often questioned about the dangers of Olympic lifting, and the high risk of injury involved in the CrossFit community. To this, I would have to reply with an infinite list of sports, exercises, and physical competitions that push ones body to the limit, and inherently, involve some risk. You would not run a marathon without adequate training and preparation (I hope); slowly building up miles until you can safely carry yourself for 26.2 miles. Even if you spend years in training for a race, there is still risk of injury that is impossible to predict. Yet thousands of people continue to compete in marathons every year. As long as the reward of completing the activity outweighs the inevitable risk factor and you train safely with good form, there is no reason not to participate in intense physical activities. Weightlifting should not be any different.
The movements I will be reviewing over the course of this series are considered “functional movements” that are vital to our everyday life. Everyone from child to grandmother practices these movements on a daily basis, whether it is sitting or standing without assistance, lifting your child, or placing a heavy item on a shelf. Even if you have no interest in weightlifting for sport, practicing these movements in a controlled environment such as a gym, with proper technique and supervision, will make the actions easier and more efficient in everyday life.
Part One: Drop it like a Squat
Squats are possibly the most essential weightlifting movement, and one most frequently used in everyday life. Don’t think so? Did you sit in a chair today? Or use the bathroom? When was the last time you got into a car? All of these movements require the squatting motion to be done effectively. Squats rule in the fitness community, as they engage the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core for stabilization. In order to perform the squatting motion safely and with good form, practice the following:
1. Begin with a comfortable stance. Feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider if comfortable. Toes may point forward or slightly out at a 45 degree angle.
2. When performing an unweighted squat, keep arms out in front for balance, on hips, or at your sides.
3. Keep core tight and torso upright throughout the movement.
4. Weight should be balanced in your heels, (weight on your toes will knock you off balance).
5. Knees should stay straight or push slightly out, be mindful if they start to turn in!
6. Head and neck remain neutral (looking up will cause neck pain, while looking down will cause stress on the lower back)
7. Inhale and lower to a comfortable position (thighs parallel to the ground for optimal performance).
8. Exhale as you return to standing.
Easy enough? If you’d like to add weight, try these additional variations.
The front squat is a fantastic place to start for beginners who are new to weightlifting, as well as veterans looking to improve strength, speed, and explosive power in their lifts. It is a safer lift than the back squat, as you simply drop the barbell in front of you if the weight is too heavy or your form is compromised, and they put less compressive force on the spine and knees.
In addition to performing a basic squat with good form, practice the following:
– Keep elbows up high. If this is difficult there are countless front rack mobility drills that you can practice.
– Holding the barbell will make your chest want to collapse forward. Keep your core tight and the chest up!
– Support the bar with your chest and shoulders, NOT hands. This will take undue stress of off your wrists.
– Activate your glutes. Drive up with your legs and squeeze glutes to explode upwards.
– Remember to breath!
Back Squat: (High bar) **This is an advanced movement, begin with a squat rack or a spotter.**
The back squat has often been dubbed the “king of exercises” as it engages all of the major muscle groups in the body as both prime movers or stabilizers. It is the ultimate exercise for lower body strength. They are more advanced than the front squat and put a lot of pressure on the spine, so practice in a safe environment with good form. In addition to performing a basic squat with good form, practice the following:
– Hands slightly wider than shoulder width, keep elbows pointed down below the bar to maintain good barbell position.
– Be mindful of posture. Keep chest up, head and neck neutral to avoid undue stress on spinal erectors. Allowing the chest to collapse forward produces the risk of the barbell rolling forward over the head and neck.
– Explode up, keeping weight in your heels. Be mindful of knees collapsing inward.