It’s true. Novice lifters tend to make mistakes. But the same can true for advanced lifters. Regardless of your level in the game of lifting everyone can learn and everyone can get better.
Humble pie is around the corner if you don’t stay sharp. The bar will beat you down and it won’t forgive you.
Here are 10 things that we see happen often enough that we’ve included them on our “You better check yo’self” list:
Pay Attention to Wrist Position
This is an easy tip to fix and usually just ends up being a matter of a lifter didn’t even know they were supposed to be paying attention to their wrists with their lifts. The next time you go to hit up some sets of bench, or squats, see where your wrists end up. Are they being pulled all the way back by the bar almost to a 90-degree angle for a lot of new lifters they will be?
Instead, aim to bring your wrist into a more “neutral” position (Position your hand and forearm so they are almost in line with each other). Slight wrist extension is normal, perfectly acceptable, and quite honestly expected, you just don’t want to have your hand being cranked all the way back by the barbell.
You’ll notice a drastic change in how comfortable pressing can feel with a more “neutral” position and for those of you that experience wrist pain this can help alleviate at least some pressure that comes with lifting.
Learn Proper Walk-Out Mechanics for The Squat
This next one is super simple to fix. Stop walking out for miles on end each time you un-rack the barbell to squat. All this ends up being is wasted energy that could have gone into you…you know…squatting.
Here’s a link to our Serious Squat Program
Instead, aim to have a walk-out that is no more than 2 to 3 steps. Start even footed under the barbell and get yourself set. Un-rack the barbell and take your first step back, your second step brings your other foot to meet your first foot, and then use the third step to make a final adjustment.
Once you are set to avoid the urge to shift your weight back and forth on your feet or take additional adjustment steps just SQUAT. The more you get used to taking only three steps the less you will have to think about it and the more efficient you are becoming with the lift overall. If you get really good at this you can get the walk-out down to as little as two steps.
Stop Dancing With Your Feet on Bench
This is on a similar vein as fixing your squat walk-out. When new lifters start to fail they often have a habit of immediately lifting their feet off the ground out of panic. Problem is, this GUARANTEES that you are going to catch a barbell to the chest because as soon as your feet leave the ground you are failing that rep.
While the bench is often thought of as all chest our legs play an important role in grounding us in the movement and if you drive hard into the ground with them, you can actually generate a lot of force to help you with your bench press.
So the next time you think you are going to fail a rep instead of letting your feet leave the ground, think about driving them into the ground hard! The same goes for not letting your feet dance around while you bench. Once you set your feet they stay they for the entirety of the set. If they are dancing around mid-set you know you aren’t actually driving into the ground with your legs.
Learn How to Breathe and Brace
This tip can be a bit counterintuitive the first time you learn it. What many people are taught in terms of breathing and lifting is that as you go “down” with a rep you breathe in and as you drive “up” with a rep you breathe out. This is great if you are trying to get meditative while you lift, but if you actually want to be strong we use a completely different style of breathing.
Strength training uses what’s called the “Valsalva Maneuver” where before you start a rep you will take a big breathe in (imagine breathing into your stomach) and then brace your abs hard like someone is going to punch you in the gut, holding the breath in. You hold this breath for the entirety of your rep and then at the top you breathe out and take another breathe repeating the process.
People fear this style of breathing because visually it looks scary. Your face can turn red, the feeling of not breathing isn’t so fun (who would have guessed), and on rare occasion, you can experience a brief light-headed feeling if it was a particularly hard lift.
But, I can assure you they have done plenty of research into this area and concluded resoundingly that the Valsalva Maneuver is safe. The only side effect being a brief rise in blood pressure and a subsequent possible drop in blood pressure, but there are no chronic long-term effects on blood pressure. The only individuals do not recommend this style of breathing are those with pre-existing conditions such as heart problems.
Where to Put the Bar in your Hand
Many individuals go with the tried and true just haphazardly grabbing the barbell when we go to lift, but we very rarely use just the dead center of our hand when lifting.
For the bench, overhead press, and squat, the barbell actually rests right in that ridge of that big meaty part of the base of your palm (go ahead find it now, very bottom of your hand, on the side with your thumb, distinctly more fun to poke than the rest of your hand got it?) This ends up being a really good place to nest the barbell and lets us keep that more “neutral” position we were talking about earlier.
How to Never Hit the Rack While Benching
Are you continuously slamming the barbell into the rack while you are trying to rep out your bench press?
There’s a really easy fix to never hit the bench again. When you set-up, look up towards the ceiling and as you are lining yourself up you want to make sure your eyes are just in front of the barbell in relation to the ceiling.
So if you look straight up and you are “behind” the barbell you know you are running a risk of hitting the rack slide yourself forward. This may take a little adjusting but for most people, once they are slightly in front of the barbell they simultaneously won’t hit the rack, but can still safely un-rack the barbell without need for any help.
Stop “Bouncing” Reps
You’ve seen the guy benching that uses his chest more like a trampoline as opposed to a working set of muscle. You don’t want to be this guy.
“Bouncing” reps can be a tempting habit to fall into because it initially feels really strong. The problem is it has a shelf life to it and as you progress yourself further and further it’s not going to consistently work for you and on top of that, you’re not really lifting the weight so much as you are using momentum to lift the weight for you.
What I’d suggest is breaking this habit early, get used to using proper mechanics and overall body tightness to move the weight as opposed to momentum. Your muscles will actually be getting a proper training stimulus, you’ll be learning the true movement pattern, and as you get more and more advanced you will only become more consistent with your lifts.
If bouncing is a particular problem for you in things like the bench or squat I suggest forcing yourself to do pause reps for a while. Get to the bottom of the rep and hold it for 1 to 2 counts THEN move the weight. Once you get used to this feeling of actually controlling the weight you can head back to using normal reps.
Pulling “Slack” Out on a Deadlift
Along the same lines as bouncing reps, this is just the deadlift equivalent. A lot of newer lifters will really try to rip the bar off the ground without ever pulling the “slack” out of the barbell first.
The “slack” just refers to the initial bend on a barbell before it ever leaves the ground. The more weight on the barbell the more noticeable this bend becomes, especially on bars designed to bend such as deadlift bars.
To properly pull the slack out of the bar focusing on getting as tight as possible with your set-up and actually begin to pull on the barbell but not enough to leave the floor. You’ll hear a click of metal from the collar of the barbell meeting the bar itself and you’ll know you’ve pulled slack out.
For something like a deadlift bar pulling to just that click won’t be enough and you’ll really want to pull as much “bend” out of the bar as possible before it leaves the ground.
Use a Wide Stance for OHP
There are not too many tricks you can use to get a stronger overhead press aside from training hard, but one good one alike is to set-up with a wide base.
Your legs in the overhead press are stabilizing basically everything for the lift and if you are standing straight up and down you aren’t going to have as much stability as you possibly could.
Standing with a nice wide base just outside of shoulder-width will slightly lower your center of gravity giving you are more stable overall position. From here make sure your quads, glutes, and hamstrings are nice and tight and you’ll have as stable as base as possible.
Learn the Bar Paths of the Big 4 Lifts
Finally, just having some basic lifting knowledge under your belt can be a huge help in the gym. Each of the 4 main barbell movements the squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press have what’s called a bar path to them.
The bar path for each lift is basically the best path you want the bar to go through to ensure the lift is as easy as it can possibly be, and when you start to deviate from these bar paths, things can start to feel significantly more difficult.
On a basic level both the squat and deadlift follow straight lines over the middle of your foot. The overhead press is similar but has a bit more of a backward trajectory to it. And the bench is probably the weirdest in that it has a bit of a curved shape coming down then a straight diagonal backward.
I highly recommend looking into each of these and figuring out what you need to be doing to make each happen as learning these also helps a lot of the other technique cues that go along with them make more sense, and of course who doesn’t like easier lifts?