Most lifters have asked the question, “what supplements should I take?” at some point. I mean, if you train, it’s hard to get away from talk about pills, powders and bars; the supplement industry is booming!
Booming with bullshit and products that do nothing but burn a hole in your pocket. With that said, there are a select few supplements that may be worth your while and can enhance your training.
The trouble is you must dig through mountains of absurd claims, marketing hype and poorly controlled, often biased studies if you want to find the supplements that work.
To help you find the best supplements from the get-go, I have done a bit of research and used my experience of taking various supplements (many an absolute waste of time) to come up with a list of my top 5 supplements that actually work.
This is quite possibly the easiest to add to the list due to its’ popularity and the importance of protein for building muscle. However, you need to be aware that there is no special muscle-building secret in the whey protein; it is just a very good way of increasing your total protein intake.
If you are already getting enough high-quality protein from sources with a complete amino acid profile, you may not need to take a whey protein supplement.
On the other hand, whey is a quickly absorbed and highly bioavailable source of protein. A good whey supplement will also contain few calories from carbs or fat, so it can help to keep protein high without bumping total calorie intake up too much.
Whey is an animal source of protein and a by-product of the curd and cheese manufacturing process and was originally thought of as a simple waste product. Whey has a very high protein content and makes up around 20% of the protein found in milk, the other type of milk protein is casein, which I will touch upon later.
There are two common types of whey protein that are found in supplement form: whey concentrate and whey isolate.
Whey concentrate – this is the most widely available and economical way to consume whey protein. The protein is very pure but still contains a certain amount of carbohydrates and fat, which means the total protein content of whey concentrate is usually around 80%.
Whey isolate – isolate whey protein goes through further filtration processes, which means it is usually more expensive to produce and purchase. The benefits of isolate protein are that many of the carbohydrates, in the form of lactose, and fats have been removed.
This leaves a powder with around a 90% protein content.
In all honesty, most people will do just fine with the cheaper concentrate version.
Whey isolate may be a better option for individuals with an intolerance to lactose.
It may also suit those who need to be very careful with total calorie or carbohydrate intake. For example, later stage contest-prep bodybuilders.
Whey protein can be taken at any time to increase total daily protein intake. I look at it mainly as a quick and convenient way to ingest more protein.
It may be beneficial to take whey post-workout as opposed to slower digesting sources. Taking whey after a workout has been observed to have a positive effect on muscle protein synthesis.
However, you don’t need to rush to consume your protein as soon as you re-rack the bar for your last set. The old myth of an “anabolic window” of 60 minutes may not be as important as people once believed. This post from TheBalancedBodyNutrition.com does a good job of summarising some of the science.
Whey and casein are different types of high-quality protein and the debate on which is better is ongoing. The difference between the two probably isn’t worth worrying about for most people.
There has been a couple of studies (effects of whey and casein after exercise and ingestion of whey and casein protein in a meal) that suggest combining whey protein and casein protein after a workout may be beneficial. The idea is that the faster-digesting whey helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, while the casein is digested more slowly and prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Instead of buying both types, mixing whey protein with milk should be sufficient due to milk’s high casein protein content.
I could have selected a whole bunch of different vitamin and mineral supplements to be included here. Generally, vitamin and mineral supplements do work as intended but are only usually necessary where there is a deficiency.
This is the very reason that I chose to focus on vitamin D3; it has been observed that vitamin D deficiency is common, particularly in cooler, darker climates.
On top of that, increasing vitamin D3 intake has been linked to a whole range of benefits that could have some very positive effects on your health and performance.
Stronger bones and teeth. Along with calcium, it is widely known that vitamin D is responsible for improving bone density and reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Improved immune function and lower risk of developing a range of conditions from heart disease to multiple sclerosis. A study from 2010 even highlights how vitamin D can prevent you from getting the flu.
Weight loss. It is thought vitamin D can help with weight management; it may have some appetite suppressant and metabolic effects that could boost weight loss.
The are several types of vitamin D. The most important for your health and the types you will most likely come across are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
Vitamin D2 can be ingested via your diet by eating various plant and animal sources since the vitamin occurs naturally in plants.
Vitamin D3, on the other hand, is synthesised by your body after you have exposed yourself to ultraviolet rays, usually from the sun. Therefore, deficiency is prevalent in colder countries and civilisations where people spend large chunks of the day working inside.
It is generally accepted that vitamin D3 is likely the most important to supplement for the health benefits.
There is a wealth of studies and information proving the benefits of increasing your omega-3 fatty acid intake. The types of omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA are known to be especially beneficial to health.
Another type of omega-3 oil found in some supplements is ALA. However, this is usually less crucial since it is found in many plant sources. On the other hand, EPA and DHA are found primarily in marine animal, which we tend to eat less of.
Lower risk factors associated with strokes and heart disease. Omega-3 fats have been observed to have numerous benefits for heart health, as shown by this study.
Decrease inflammation in the body. Studies like this have continuously linked omega-3 supplementation with lower levels of inflammation.
Stronger, healthier joints and bones. By increasing the amount of calcium available in the bones, omega-3s can lead to stronger bones and less risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis.
As two of the most common sources of omega-3 fatty acids, there is often much debate about which source is superior.
Of course, if you are vegan or have a seafood allergy, flaxseed oil wins right away. For everybody else, you may be wondering which is the best omega-3 source.
Both sources can increase your intake of the important EPA and DHA fats, but they do so in diverse ways.
Fish and krill oils contain EPA and DHA in relatively large quantities, so you get an instant boost from supplementing with them.
On the other hand, flaxseed oil contains the other type of omega-3 fat: ALA. By using ALA, your body is able to synthesise EPA and DHA but it only happens when your body already has enough ALA to fulfil its primary functions.
The bottom line is that you are going to need to consume more flaxseed oil than fish or krill oil if you want to boost your EPA and DHA intake. Therefore, I prefer to go with a marine source like fish oil or krill oil.
A bodybuilding favourite and one of the most studied supplements around. Unlike most supplements that claim to boost muscle growth and performance, creatine does actually have the research to back it up.
By aiding in the regeneration of your muscles primary fuel source: adenosine triphosphate or “ATP”, creatine can help to boost power output as well as endurance in the muscles.
More energy during workouts. As well as helping with the chemical reactions involved in the synthesis of ATP, creatine itself can be used as an energy source. During fast, explosive movements like weightlifting, your body turns to its creatine phosphate stores for energy.
Hydrates the muscles and could lead to an increase in protein synthesis as a result.
Bigger, fuller looking muscles. Another benefit of creatine effectively “pulling” water into the muscle cells is that they can appear fuller and look bigger.
Creatine cycling is not necessary since your body will not build up a tolerance to it like it does with other substances like caffeine. There was also a study on the long-term creatine supplementation in 2003 that showed no adverse effects from 21 consecutive months of taking creatine.
A loading phase of around one week where you take a higher daily dose of around 20g per day of creatine to saturate the muscles cells more quickly is often suggested.
However, this protocol is not needed. While there may be a quicker response from the creatine thanks to the loading phase, the long-term results will be the same as taking 5g each day on a consistent basis.
The possibility of stomach cramping, which some people complain of, is likely going to be higher if you go with the loading method.
There are a ridiculous number of “specialised” pre-workout supplements available that contain all manner of different ingredients. The trouble with these type of supplements is they can include ingredients that are unnecessary hence, making them quite costly but ineffective.
I have taken pre-workout supplements before and I do like them since I certainly enjoy the extra energy. The likelihood is only a very small number of the ingredients in a pre-workout help you in the gym.
For this reason, I have picked the two ingredients that I feel really can benefit you when taken pre-workout: caffeine and citrulline malate. I guess this really makes it my top 6 supplements that actually work.
I feel like this question is self-explanatory; caffeine is one of the most commonly used drugs on earth and is well known for increasing energy levels.
It has also been shown to increase power output while suppressing pain and fatigue. A study of the effects of caffeine on rugby players so how it can improve performance, even in a sleep-deprived state.
Increased power and total training volume output
Suppression of fatigue and pain, which allows longer and harder training sessions.
Burn more calories. It has been observed that caffeine can increase energy expenditure by around 100 calories when ingesting 600mg of caffeine. To note, 600mg is probably too much for most people so I would not suggest taking this much. However, you are still going to burn more calories than normal when taking less than 600mg.
Unlike creatine, your body will build up a tolerance to caffeine after a while. As a result, the effects will diminish and taking a larger dose is not recommended and it may not even work.
Therefore, going through periods without caffeine is a good idea to allow your body to become sensitive to it again. Taking a few days or even a week off after every couple of months of supplementing it should help.
Most pre-made pre-workout supplements contain around 200mg of caffeine per serving. The amount you should take will depend on individual factors like body weight and your personal tolerance.
Between 200mg and 400mg is the general recommendation before a workout. I would certainly try to keep total intake below 500mg in a single day.
Citrulline malate may be known as a “pump product” since it influences the blood vessels in a way that increases the tight, pumped feeling of your muscles when you train them.
When ingested, citrulline is converted into arginine and stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which acts as a vasodilator and relaxes the muscles of the blood vessels. This increases blood flow and gives that pumped feeling.
Although the pump feels nice and could be a psychological factor in a training session, that by itself probably isn’t enough to make citrulline worthwhile.
Fortunately, citrulline malate has been shown to have some positive effects on athletic performance. Taking around 5-10 grams of citrulline malate 30-60 minutes before a workout should be sufficient.
Improved blood flow and greater muscle pump.
Enhanced performance and increased training volume.
Better recovery and less muscle soreness post-workout.
If you do like to take an all-in-one pre-workout supplement or you don’t want to worry about dosing caffeine and citrulline separately, I have found a very good pre-workout that contains both.
Altius from JackedFactory is a solid pre-workout supplement that contains both caffeine and citrulline in good dosages. If you are set on taking an actual pre-workout supplement and have the budget, this would be my recommendation.
Adding supplements to an already healthy diet can be an effective way to improve health and performance. However, they should not be seen as a miracle cure or something to be relied upon.
For the most part, if you are able to reach your nutritional requirements from proper food, you should go down that route first.
As with any dietary changes, you should always consult with your GP or a registered medical professional. This info is just my opinion and isn't meant to be medical advice, be sure to do as much research as possible before adding new supplements to your routine.
Powerlifting vs bodybuilding, what are the main differences between the two? Honestly, they are completely different sports but they do both require you to get in the gym and lift some iron.
However, the way you approach your lifting and nutrition will have a few key differences depending on whether you are a powerlifter or a bodybuilder.
This article will outline the main variances between each sport so you can tailor your own training approach depending on where your goals lie.
Even if you aren’t seeking to compete in either sport, this article can still help you out. After all, you are likely to be drawn more towards either a strength goal or an aesthetics one so your training needs to match.
Powerlifting is a strength sport that focuses around three barbell movements: The squat, bench press and deadlift. The idea is to master each of those three lifts to lift the most weight possible across all of them.
To even up the playing field, competitions are divided into different weight classes and even age classes as well. The weight classes vary among the different federations within powerlifting.
The rules for a successful rep on each lift may also vary slightly between different federations, as do the rules on equipment and drug testing.
One of the most well-known federations is the international powerlifting federation (IPF), which does drug test its’ competitors and holds itself to some fairly high standards for the what constitutes a passing attempt on each lift.
In powerlifting, every single lift is judged by three judges who award either a red (fail) or a white (pass) light. A lifter needs 2 out of 3 white lights for a lift to count.
A lifter gets three attempts at each lift with their highest weight recorded on each to give them what is known as their “total”, the sum of their highest weight in the squat, bench press and deadlift.
For a more detailed look at all the rules of powerlifting, you can check out the IPF’s rule book. Please note, as I mentioned earlier, these are the rules for that federation and some things may vary in the other organisations.
Bodybuilding is all about sculpting the most appealing looking physique as it is judged purely on aesthetic appearance. The winner should be the competitor who has ticked the most boxes when it comes to building and then showing off their physique.
Like powerlifting, bodybuilding incorporates the use of judges who mark each competitor on a list of criteria that includes muscle mass, body proportions, body fat levels, skin tone and their posing. As you can see, bodybuilding isn’t just about getting as big as possible; there are several different factors that must be acknowledged.
As is the case with powerlifting, there are several different bodybuilding federations so some rules will vary within each. Typically, a bodybuilding show will be split into two parts: pre-judging and the finals show. These may be held in the morning and then the evening or all in one go.
During pre-judging, all competitors in a weight class or category will be judged alongside each other through a series of standard poses.
During the finals show or “evening show”, competitors have the chance to show off their physique and impress the judges further by going through their own choreographed posing routine.
After the judge’s scores have been totalled from both portions of the competition, the winners are announced on stage.
If you are a powerlifter, the end goal of your training is to increase your squat, bench press and deadlift numbers. There may be times where you focus on a sub-goal like building leg size but your reason for doing so should always relate back to the three competition lifts.
The actual training for powerlifters is going to vary a lot based on your current level and the amount of time you have been training for.
As an example, somebody completely new to the powerlifting movements will be able to make vast improvements relatively quickly with a very basic program. On the other hand, a more advanced lifter may need to break his/her training down into multiple phases in order to make small gains over the course of an entire year.
As you have probably guessed, there are almost endless methods and programs out there to help you become a stronger powerlifter. Instead of going through all the individual programs and the nuances of each, I have listed a set of guidelines that you can put into consideration when selecting a powerlifting training program.
I have already covered this briefly but if you have been training for powerlifting for a long time, you are going to do more work if you want your body to adapt further.
Beginners are in the enviable position of being able to make strength gains on almost weekly basis without the need for complicated programs. Simply performing the main lifts a few sets and looking to progress from workout to workout is likely to be enough for a novice.
As you advance through your training life, gains will become harder to come by since you need to find ways to push your body further and force it to adapt. This is where you may have to get more creative with your programming and possibly even have phases of training with more specific goals.
Check out this guide on how to pick a program If you want a bit more detail and some recommendations on selecting a program by training level.
The goal of powerlifting is to perform heavy squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Therefore, your program should include heavy squats, bench presses and deadlifts if you want to get better at them.
On top of that, the rest of your training needs to be focused on improving those three lifts. If anything is in your program for any reason other than making you better at the competition lifts, take it out.
Your body gets stronger because it adapts to the demands you put it under so it can cope better with them in the future. The absolute key to any powerlifting program is progression over time; you need to be training and forcing your body to make adaptations.
This overload can come be the result of several factors: lifting more weight, performing more reps or sets and reducing rest times are just a few ways in which you can force progression over time.
Any good program will have some form of progression already built into it, you just need to decide if a given progression scheme matches your current goals and training level.
Although general guidelines can be used to get a rough idea of the best program for you, there are always going to be some individual factors to consider. If a program doesn’t cater to your own personal set of circumstances, you will not follow through with it.
This is a big reason that online coaching has become so popular; people have realised that customised programming is likely to yield better results. In my opinion, most beginner level trainees can get away with a generalised program but may want to seek additional help and personalisation once a more advanced stage is reached.
Most people should not be designing their own program until they have gained enough knowledge to do so. If you have no desire to learn about proper programming for lifting, you will fare better by sticking to pre-made, expertly designed programs or hiring a coach.
On the other hand, if you want to start gaining the know-how behind the principles of program design, a good place to start is the book “practical programming” by Mark Rippetoe.
You know that the goals of powerlifting and bodybuilding building are very different, so surely the training must be wildly different as well, right?
In fact, the principles spoke about in the powerlifting training section above still hold true for bodybuilding. The only difference would be that less focus should be placed on maximal strength in the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Performing those three lifts with as much weight for a single rep is not going to be of great use to a bodybuilder. However, progression in those exercises, as well as other movements should still be a focus.
There are many bodybuilders that put their efforts into just destroying a muscle group by splitting their training into weekly session for each body part. The reality is, training a muscle just once per week is sub-optimal.
The recovery cycle after a training session will last a maximum of 2-3 days, which means the muscle is ready to be trained again after that period of time. If your training volume is properly managed, you shouldn’t feel too sore and should be able to train a muscle group every 2-3 days.
For more info on this, go to this post: How often should you train a muscle group?
The body-part split method, where you have a separate day for each muscle, was popularised by professional bodybuilders. This isn’t a problem but you must realise that these guys are seriously advanced and likely to be using performance-enhancing drugs, which do change the rules of training recovery.
I must apologise in advance for the somewhat misleading title; there really isn’t one “best” program. There are way too many individual differences for there to be one program that will be optimal for everybody.
What I can offer you are some general rules and an example of what should be a very solid bodybuilding routine.
The following program is a very simple, yet effective program that trains the entire body. I would consider these to be a very general routine that will build a good base of muscle for most people.
The workout is broken down into two upper body workouts and two lower body workouts each week. To take advantage of the benefits of heavier training as well as higher rep training, there is a heavier and lighter day for each workout.
Sets X Reps
4 x 6
2 x 6
3 x 8-12
3 x 8-12
Kneeling cable crunch
3 x 8-12
Sets X Reps
Bench press (M)
4 x 6
Bent over row (M)
4 x 6
Overhead press (M)
2 x 6
Weighted chin-ups (M)
2 x 6
Incline dumbbell curls
3 x 8-12
3 x 8-12
Sets X Reps
Front squat (M)
3 x 10
Romanian deadlift (M)
3 x 10
3 x 8-12
3 x 8-12
Kneeling cable crunch
3 x 8-12
Sets X Reps
Incline Bench Press (M)
3 x 10
Bent over row (M)
3 x 10
Seated dumbbell press
3 x 10
3 x 10
3 x 8-12
Close grip bench press
3 x 8-12
* Sets and reps listed are main working sets. They do not include warm-up sets.
How to progress
The exercises labelled "(M)" are your "main" movements and should be your primary focus of progression.
For the first week, start with a weight that you are confident you can do the required amount of sets and reps with.
Start relatively light and then progress from there. If you can complete the required seats and reps, add weight to that exercise next time.
Only add weight once you can perform the target sets and reps with good technique. You may not be able to increase every single week.
You should still aim to increase the weight on the other exercises over time but progression will likely be a bit slower on these.
For example, leg press is 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Start with a weight that you can get 3 sets of 8 with and build up from there.
Once you have reached 3 sets of 12 with a weight, add weight next time and build back up to 3 sets of 12 again.
The nutrition side is probably where the most extreme differences are going to be seen between powerlifters and bodybuilders.
During the off-season, which is when competitors are not getting prepared for a competition, both groups may follow a relatively similar diet.
In general, the off-season diets will consist of quite a large amount of protein, higher carbs and a moderate amount of fat. This is to ensure that powerlifters are getting enough fuel to build strength and bodybuilders are getting enough to gain muscle mass.
The run-up to a competition is where things are really going to be different between competitors of the two sports.
A bodybuilder needs to be extremely lean to make all his/her muscles as visible as possible. To get to such low levels of body fat, an incredibly strict diet needs to be followed leading up to competition day.
The number of calories being consumed by a bodybuilder during the latter stages of a contest preparation phase is much lower than their body needs. Usually, this has a negative effect on strength and energy levels.
Of course, a powerlifter cannot afford to follow any type of diet that hampers their strength or energy for competition day. So, most competitive powerlifters won’t change too much in the run-up to a competition.
The only time nutrition may be altered is if a powerlifter needs to drop a small amount of weight to stay in their desired weight class. Often, a water cut will be done to achieve this weight loss instead of a calorie-restrictive diet.
I hope this has given you a much clearer understanding of the differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding. As you can see, the requirements, particularly on the nutrition side, for each sport are quite different.Because of the differences, successfully competing in both sports at the same time is tremendously difficult. If you do want to take part in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, you really need to focus on one at a time as your primary goal.
Anytime I sit down to write an article, I try to think of things that I have searched for in the past in an effort to produce content that is actually useful to lifters. I thought a massive list of high protein foods covering a number of different categories would be useful to almost anybody that lifts weights. So, here it is! A giant list of 100 protein sources (along with a few other helpful nuggets about protein).
A protein source that contains all 9 of the essential amino acids is known as a complete protein. Animal sources and dairy are usually complete protein sources.
All proteins are made of varying amounts of amino acids, which are used for a number of functions within your body. 9 of these amino acids are known as "essential amino acids", which means your body cannot synthesize them by itself so you must acquire them from your diet.
Many plant sources are incomplete since they may only contain a few of the essential amino acids. Therefore, plant sources must be combined to ensure you are eating all of the amino acids your body needs.
Protein is known as a type of macronutrient and is one of the four sources of energy (calories) for your body. Protein contains 4 calories per gram.
The other sources of energy or "macronutrients" are carbohydrates and fat. Carbs contain 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram.
Alcohol is also technically a macronutrient and contains 7 calories per gram.
This amount is going to vary slightly depending on some individual factors including body weight and activity level. However, most experts agree that your protein intake should be in the range of 1.2 - 1.8 grams per KG of body weight if you are lifting weights regularly.
For most people, somewhere around the middle of that range will be sufficient.
Too much of anything is usually going to have adverse effects at some point. Unless you have a pre-existing condition, even the upper end of the above guidelines should not cause you any trouble.
This is a very difficult question to answer since there are many factors at play and "best" can be very subjective. One way in which protein quality can be judged is by ranking different sources based on their "biological value" (BV).
This rating method has its' limitations but, essentially, compares proteins against each other depending how much of each source is absorbed and used inside the body.
In all honesty, if you are eating a variety of protein sources, you don't need to worry much about the biological value but it is interesting information.
High protein foods like whey protein, eggs and soy beans all have very high BVs. If you want info and to find out the values for more foods, check out this biological value article.
1. Steak (top/bottom round)
2. Ground/mince beef
3. Pork chop
4. Chicken breast
5. Turkey breast
6. Corned beef
7. Sliced deli beef
8. Canadian style bacon
9. Bison steak
10. Kangaroo steak
11. Horse steak
12. Ostrich steak
13. Crocodile meat
16. Turkey breast deli slices
If selecting protein for weight loss goals, select sources with lower fat content. These leaner sources can help cut down your total calorie intake.
24. Mackerel fillet
1 cooked fillet
Protein requires other vitamins and minerals such as calcium so that it can be absorbed and utilized properly. Do not neglect these nutrients in your diet if you are consuming high protein foods.
28. Beef jerky
29. Peanut butter
30. Ready-made smoothies
31. Quest bars
32. Lenny and Larry’s cookies
33. Bacon jerky
34. Clif builder’s bars
35. Nature valley protein granola bar
36. Ezekiel bread
37. Sprouted wholegrain bread
38. Greek yoghurt
39. Cottage cheese
40. Swiss cheese
42. Milk (2% fat)
43. Whey protein powder
Per average scoop
45. Gruyere cheese
47. Edam cheese
48. Feta cheese
Many plant-based protein sources are incomplete. Eating a variety of these sources and pairing complimenting sources together can help achieve a more complete amino acid profile.
49. Navy beans
50. Dried lentils
51. Edamame beans
54. Split peas
55. Black beans
56. Kidney beans
57. Pinto beans
58. Miso (paste)
60. Pumpkin seeds
62. Chia seeds
63. Cashew nuts
65. Sunflower seeds
66. Flax seeds
68. Pine nuts
There is research to suggest that distributing protein throughout the day is beneficial for muscle gain (study). Around 40g per meal seems to be most effective.
70. Green peas
72. Brussels Sprouts
74. Sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup sliced
79. Mange tout
80. Sweet corn
½ cup chopped
86. Passion fruit
If selecting high protein foods for weight loss goals, select sources with lower fat content. These leaner sources can help cut down your total calorie intake.
89. Oat bran
90. Wheat germ
96. Soba noodles
97. Wild rice
I hope this post has helped give you some extra ideas and information on protein intake. If you found it useful, please do hit one of the share buttons!
For anybody that wants to get all sciencey about protein for lifters and athletes, take a look at this crazy-detailed protein article by Jorn Trommelen.
Core strength is a much talked about topic, both in fitness circles, athletic arenas and for the general population. In other words, it’s important for everyone! Whether your goal is aesthetics, strength or simply health, learning how to strengthen your core with effective core strengthening exercises will help you.
A simple search over the internet can provide you with thousands of exercise plans and routines, which means it can be hard to find the most effective exercises. My hope with this post is to present you with what I have found to be the most effective core exercises and the reasons behind using them. You can then decide which ones may align with your goals.
Before I get into it, I want to let you know that I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. You won’t find any crazy, faddy exercises or shortcuts to a 6-pack here. After all, the goal of this article is not a 6-pack, it is a strong core – there’s a difference.
And that is the first little lesson: you are better off focusing your core training on strength and letting your diet do the work if you want a visible 6-pack.
Leading on from the previous point I made, I wanted to clarify that there is a big difference between training your core and abs despite the terms being used interchangeably quite often. I used to run a “core class” at a gym I worked in and some people were disappointed that it wasn’t focused around blasting their stomach muscles for half an hour.
Training your abs will definitely perform part of a core training program but the abs are just one set of muscles that make up your entire core. Focusing heavily on just your abdominals leads to imbalances and to be honest, there are other core muscles that have a better carry over to athletic performance.
Endless crunches may work your abdominals but they do very little for strengthening your core as an entire unit.
Core training means that you focus on the entire set of muscles that make up your core and you train them to be strong together. Real strength and power comes when a large group of muscles work in unison with each other.
Core strength has become a term that’s thrown around a lot nowadays. The reason is that people recognize just how important it is for daily life as well as performance.
As the name suggests, your core is the center of all your movements and it supports you anytime you do anything other than lay down. These may be obvious to some of you but it is worth listing the benefits you can see from a good core strengthening routine. So, here they are:
Primarily, the muscles we talk about when mention the core are focused all the way around your trunk. However, as you will see, it actually extends slightly beyond that and I bet there are more “core muscles” than you realized.
Here is a list of the primary core muscle:
On top of that, Your latissimus dorsi and trapezius could also be consider as part of the core since they play a part in stabilizing your back.
On top of that, Your latissimus dorsi and trapezius could also be consider as part of the core since they play a part in stabilizing your back.
As you can see from the diagram, your core muscles are pretty much everything apart from your arms and legs.
Some of your core muscles also wrap around your body in different layers, which is why it’s important to train them differently. For example, your rectus abdominis (6-pack muscles) are on the outer layer and can be worked with crunching movements, whereas your transverse abdominis sits beneath them in a deeper layer and functions as more of a stabiliser so is better trained with isometric holds.
Measuring core is a concern for some people but it can be fairly had to measure effectively since a lot of the common tests only really measure your ability to perform that specific exercise.
In my opinion, a better way to judge your core strength is to analyse whether or not the training you are doing is having the expected carry over to your main goal. For example, has your vertical jump increased since starting a core program? Is your squat form better? Has your posture improved?
Of course, I understand that some people like to have numbers and a set of objective results to look at for motivation. So, I have included some core strength tests below that you can do yourself.
The tests could also be used to judge whether or not your core needs some extra attention. If you struggle with certain ones, it could be a sign of weakness in a specific area.
Get onto the prone position with elbows flexed up to 90 degrees and hold a standard plank for as long as you can with good posture. Record your time.
A time of below 60 seconds is a sign you need some work on your core. In particular your transverse abdominis and lower back muscles.
Side planks is another variation on the plank test above. Assume and hold the side plank position and record your time for each side.
Below 60 seconds points to a possible transverse abdominis or oblique weakness.
These are two tests that are great for testing abdominal strength and control. There is already an excellent article with some great pictures so if you want to check out these test, click here to head over to this abs test article on T-nation.
Below, I have included an all-round core strengthening plan that features my favourite exercises for training your entire core. Feel free to pick the exercises that apply most to your particular sport or weaknesses.
It is important to note that this is not a core strengthening routine that is supposed to be done by itself, although you could if your only focus for training was core strength. In reality, it is a list of exercises that are excellent for core strength and should be plugged into your current training program.
You will find exercises that train each of the main functions for your core.
A good core program will incorporate exercises that cover each of those functions. My preference is to use exercises that target more than one function at a time for example, the deadlift focuses on extension, anti-flexion and stabilization all at once.
Below is the list of my all-time favourite core strength exercises. There is no scheme for sets and reps since that will be largely determined by your individual training goals, recovery abilities and training phase, which could have separate articles all for themselves. Training frequency will also be dependent on a few different factors but I do have a post that covers that topic in more detail: How often should you train a muscle group?
Anyway, on to the exercises. In no particular order, here they are:
(click the exercise name to open a YouTube demo)
Finding the best deadlift shoes is probably something you haven’t really put too much thought into. I mean, why would you need anything special to pick a barbell off of the ground? Is there even such thing as a pair shoes for deadlifting?
Yep! There are specific shoes made for deadlifting in and you should consider getting some just like you would for any other sport, hobby or passion.
Just like running, football, basketball and squatting, there is a whole range of footwear options. There are some great and not so great ones.
In this article, I will cover the very best deadlift shoes and the best options outside of the purpose-built footwear.
Here is a quick list of my top picks for deadlift shoes, click on the links to be taken to their purchase pages. You can read an in-depth review on each further down the page.
Here are, in my opinion, the key elements your deadlifting shoes should include:
A completely flat sole means that you will have more surface area in contact with the ground, which allows you to feel more stable and in control during the lift. It should lead to greater force output against the resistance.
Ideally, you want to be as close to the ground as possible for a deadlift. The closer you are to the ground, the higher the bar will start on your shins.
You won’t have to lift the bar as far, which should make things a lot easier. It's the reason many people like to lift barefoot or in just socks.
However, some gyms might not like this and if you ever plan to compete in powerlifting, you will be forced to wear something on your feet.
Your soles must offer you enough traction on the platform. Having your feet slip when you are half-way through a heavy lift is something that you certainly don’t want to experience.
This one is especially true for cheaters. I mean sumo deadlifters (Only kidding! Can you tell I pull conventional?)
Seriously though, sumo pullers will be pushing out with their feet so need to make sure there is sufficient grip to prevent a very painful attempt at doing the splits.
Finally, your shoes should feel nice and compact around your foot with very little movement inside them.
Ankle support is also quite important, you don’t want your foot to be shifting from side to side inside of the shoe as you lift. High top shoes are quite a popular option for that very reason.
A word of advice for wearing high tops. You need to make sure you still have enough mobility and range of motion at your ankles. If your shoe starts to limit ankle dorsiflexion (the ability to point your toes towards the ceiling), it could alter your leverages and technique.
This pretty much disqualifies all running shoes. These types of soles are great for absorbing the impact from pounding the pavements on a run but they will not make for a good deadlifting trainer.
As I stated earlier, you need maximum stability throughout your foot. The spongey soles of running shoes compress very easily, they are supposed to. Under a heavy load, more compression can cause uneven foot to ground contact and possibly lead to injury.
Your shoes could tick the box of a flat, sturdy sole but if they too thick then you probably want to look elsewhere.
Again, a thicker sole will mean you need to pull the bar further. You will essentially be doing a deficit deadlift all the time.
Converse chuck Taylors are a popular deadlifting shoe and they have a 4mm thick sole. This is about the maximum thickness I would go for.
When you are performing the lift, especially in sumo again, there will be a lot of pressure on the outside of your shoes. The pressure should be there if you're using your glutes properly to prevent your knees from caving in.
If your shoes aren’t strong enough or supportive enough to hold up to the constant pressure on their sidewall, they won’t be lasting long at all.
In case you aren’t sure what Olympic lifting shoes are, they look like this:
They are a heeled shoe that artificially increase your range of motion at the ankles to help users stay upright at the bottom of a deep squat. Keeping very upright is important for Olympic weightlifters since they usually catch the bar in an extremely deep squat position.
As far as using Olympic lifting shoes for deadlifts goes, I don’t like them and most people probably would do better with a completely flat shoe.
However, there are a select few that may find they benefit from a bit of extra quad activation at the start of the lift due to slightly greater knee bend forced upon you by wearing the raised heel.
All you can do to be certain, is to try deadlifting in Olympic shoes for yourself and see how you feel.
You should be squatting regularly anyway. Since I recommend that most people use an Olympic weightlifting shoe for squats, you should already own a pair that you can try.
In fact, I suggest sorting out your squat shoes before you think about deadlift shoes. I have a guide on the best lifting shoes that you can use to choose a pair.
I feel footwear is likely to play a much bigger part in your squat than deadlift. Check out my squat shoes guide here.
Ok, if you didn't skip straight here and read the guide above, you should now be fairly certain on what to look for in a good pair of deadlift shoes.
In this section, I wanted to go through my picks for the best deadlift shoes in a bit more detail. To help you make a better informed decision, I have given a description and some reasons for and, in some cases, against each shoe.
Overall, these are kind of a “they will do” type of shoe. Meaning, if you are on a budget, “they will do”. If you already have a pair laying around, “they will do”. If you only other option is a running shoe, “they will do”.
These are very cheap and not a bad all round weight training shoe. Probably not the best if you plan on doing any type of running or plyometric work, but this is about deadlifting so I will judge them on that.
The sole is fairly solid and flat, although they can curl up a little at the toes over time. The canvas uppers on the shoe are flexible to allow good ankle mobility in the high-top versions.
However, they can come away from the soles on the side of the shoe over time.
These shoes really aren’t built to take the kind of wear and tear that weightlifting can cause to them.
Generally, they are pretty comfortable. The flexible canvas versions can be pulled very tight with the laces so your foot will be snug in the shoe.
As I already touched upon, the support of the canvas isn’t great though so your foot will still move from side to side, despite being tight inside the shoe itself.
These are very good deadlift shoes. You would expect them to be, it’s what they were made for. Many people use wrestling shoes for deadlifts and you can see some similarities here.
The soles are super thin at around 2.5mm, which is very close to deadlift slippers. These shoes are certainly going to be a better option than slippers for sumo pullers, due to the increased traction of the soles.
The SABO shoe is pretty supportive on foot, more so than a wrestling shoe, as they do offer some extra support to the arch.
The metatarsal strap across the forefoot of the shoe is an excellent addition. It means you can adjust the fit of the shoe to be as tight and snug as you like.
Obviously, these are a higher-top shoe so the ankle support on offer is also very good while still being comfortable.
For deadlifts, these are my winners. They beat the Metal deadlift shoes for me because they offer a bit more comfort and look better (I know that looks shouldn’t matter for deadlifting shoes, but it definitely does for many people).
You could use them for your other lifts but I like a heeled shoe for squats personally. If you squat better in flat shoes, then you could very well wear these for those too.
Pricing is actually really good on these. Much cheaper than you would normally expect to pay for a specialist kind of shoe.
Update: Sabo have recently released a new pair of all-round powerlifting shoes called the "Sabo Goodlift". In the Sabo goodlift vs deadlift argument, I would still choose the deadlifts since I don't feel the difference in price makes the goodlifts worth it.
These shoes are also purpose made for deadlifting in. The upper is strong leather so you don’t need to worry about driving your foot into the sides of them, they will certainly hold up to it.
These are pretty comparable to the SABO shoes to be honest. I think they may mould around the foot better due to the leather upper which is made from two separate pieces.
The Metal shoes also feature the strap across the forefoot for an extra tight fit and minimal foot movement during lifting.
Two drawbacks of these shoes are the price, about double the cost of SABOs and the appearance.
In my opinion, they look pretty ugly, too. Kind of like little elf boots.
Don’t be fooled by the “crossfit” branding on them, these shoes were designed by very high level powerlifters.
Where the converse shoes fall short, the Reebok Lite TRs shine. They basically take all of the bad points I made about the Chucks and improve on them one by one.
The uppers of the shoes are much more sturdy, especially in the leather versions. They have a reinforced side wall that they call the “stability zone”. You can drive your feet out against the shoe without worrying about it breaking.
The grip on the bottom of the shoes is very different to the Chuck Taylors. The Chucks aren’t too bad for grip, but again, the Reebok TRs take it to the next level. With a kind of mini suction cup design, these bad-boys stick to the floor like glue. They feel very solid indeed.
The toe box on these is another differentiating feature. It is much wider than on the chucks.
I have heard a few different reviews on the toe box, though. I really like the extra space and the extra ground contact you get as a result of it. But, I have heard people complain that there is too much movement within the shoe. I guess if you have narrow feet, this may be a drawback for you.
Price-wise, I think these are pretty well priced. Especially when you consider that these can be used for pretty much all of your lifts if you wanted to.
At a recent strongman event I attended, there were a whole bunch of competitors wearing the high-top version of the reebok Lite TRs.
That shows you how versatile and rugged they can be, Strongmen go through so many different events and their shoes take almost as much of a beating as their bodies do.
For an overall lifting shoe, these would be my winner. Of course, this is a deadlift shoe article so the purpose built SABOs have to win.
Get the Reebok Lite TRs if you want a more versatile shoe.
These are your cheap and cheerful option. You can pick these up for around $15, so they could be worth testing out either way.
I think the very biggest advantage of the slippers, is that they are extremely thin soled. Around 1.5mm, which feels like you are pretty much barefoot. You will be very close to the ground in these.
Obviously, they provide no ankle support and there isn’t anything to push your foot out against on the sides. For sumo deadlifters, I say to forget about these. It just feels to unstable and there isn’t enough grip.
If you are a conventional puller and want to be very close to the ground, these could be an option.
Keep in mind that you clearly have to change out of them once you are done deadlifting, they aren’t really useful for anything else.
They also look a little silly in my personal opinion, not very stylish at all. But again, you don’t get any style points in lifting heavy weights.
If you can’t justify spending much money on dedicated deadlift shoes, these could do the job for you.
Budget conscious lifter go for the chuck Taylors but be aware performance and longevity will probably not be of the highest standard.
Test out some Olympic shoes if you have them. If you haven’t got a pair for squats, then I highly advise getting some anyway.
If you have the budget and want to get the most out of your deadlift, then opt for the SABOS. They are purpose-built for deadlifts so it stands to reason they would be the best deadlift shoes.
The only drawback is that you can’t use them for too much else and the slight increase in performance may not be worth the higher price to you. That’s something you will have to decide for yourself.
If you did like this article, be sure to share it and let your friends know about it so you can help them with their own deadlifting as well.
I really wanted this to be the definitive guide, so if you feel there is anything that should be added, feel free to comment and let me know.
Until next time, happy bar-bending.
Tight hip flexors are a common problem for many adults and they can have a big impact on your lifting technique and chances of injury. Personally, I have struggled with hip flexor trouble in the past and found that my squat form was severely affected. This article will explain how to lengthen hip flexors and improve your hip mobility by outlining the methods I have found helpful and used for myself.
Often, problems with hip tightness are caused by the extended periods of sitting that many of us do during the day; driving, sitting in the office, watching T.V etc.
Over time, the muscles in the front of your body can become tight as a result of being in constant flexion. Eventually, you will probably start to notice some little niggles or feelings of discomfort as the day goes on.
These little episodes of discomfort can be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your muscles. Tightness and imbalances will make movements like squatting, and even climbing stairs more difficult.
If you feel like something is not quite right with your hip mobility, you should seek to address the problem right away before it becomes a real issue.
Tight and shortened hip muscles are a prime culprit of lower back pain, psoas syndrome, and other musculoskeletal disorders. It isn’t only office workers who sit down all day that get tight hips; anybody who puts their hip flexors under load regularly, such as athletes and lifters, can eventually suffer with tightness too.
When your hip flexors lack range of motion, they’ll start making the compensatory changes by altering the mechanics and involvement of other muscles. As a result, muscle imbalances will occur and your risk of injury is increased.
So, to prevent the chances of injuries and to make sure you can perform your gym lifts properly, a routine of both stretching and strengthening the muscles that surround your hips would be a great place to start.
As a side note, another cause of your hips feeling stiff and immobile can be that your core muscles aren’t functioning properly and, as a result, your hip flexor muscles are being put in a state of constant tension to “pick up the slack” from your core. If you have tried stretching your hips in the past and not seen results, check out this article on hip flexor stretching by Dean Somerset to see whether core dysfunction could be the issue.
Your hip joint is surrounded by the group of flexor muscles: pectineus, Sartorius, quads, and tensor fasciae latae.
The powerful contraction and relaxation of these muscles provide mobility at your hip joint and stabilise your spine. The hip flexors run across the front of your hips and attach to the pelvis, femur, and spine. As well as facilitating hip flexion, these muscles are also responsible for keeping your hips and spine stable. You can see why hip flexors play such a big role in how your body moves and holds itself.
Firstly, it is commonly accepted that extended periods of sitting act like a slow poison to your body’s mobility. Sitting for too long and with poor posture has a seriously detrimental effect on hip function and mobility.
Not only can it lead to shortened hip flexors, but a lot of sitting can cause your glutes to become less active and weak. A lack of glute activation then puts your hamstring under an added load and can lead to hamstring tightness; it’s all one big chain of dysfunction and compounding issues.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, overuse can be just as damning for your hip flexors. Dancers, runners, and most other athletes are at higher risk of iliopsoas injury. Just as with sitting for long periods, repeated hip flexion during activities like sprinting can make for tighter hip flexors. It would certainly be advisable for athletes to put some time into keeping their hips mobile in an effort to reduce injury risk and to enhance performance.
Watch the video above for a quick test you can do to see if your hip flexors are indeed tight.
As I stated above, when your hip flexors aren’t working as they should be, it has a direct impact on how your body moves. Excess tightness in your hip muscles will pull your spine, knee, and pelvis out of their natural alignment. As a result, the chances of experiencing back and knee problems are increased.
According to the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute of Rehabilitation, the effects of the shortened hip muscles can become long-lasting if action isn’t taken.
The hidden reason behind chronic low back pain, knee injuries, muscle strains, and ligament sprains could well be your shortened hip flexors. If this is the case, pain relief and rest will not be enough; you will need to address the problem by improving the mobility, strength and function of the muscles.
Before I get to the routine and exercise you can try, here is a quick snapshot of some of the benefits you could see as a result of bettering the way your hips move:
I struggled for a long time with a couple of very common issues that many gym-goers will be aware of: anterior pelvic tilt and “butt-wink” during squats. Both of these issues can be a result of poor hip function and the following routine, on top of my usual strength training, is what I followed and feel really helped with them.
This routine is made up of 3 separate components:
I recommend combining numbers 1 and 2 (stretching and myofascial release) into a routine that can be completed multiple times daily.
The strengthening exercises can then be plugged into your current training program.
Before stretching the muscles, I like to focus on massaging and releasing "knots" in the muscles. I don’t really know if there is scientific evidence for performing the myofascial release before stretching but it makes sense to me that you should release tension and trigger points in the muscle before stretching it.
In 2015, a study published in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy reported that the muscles lengthened dramatically in athletes when stretching is combined with myofascial release.
The simplest way for me to describe self-myofascial release is that it works very much like a sports massage but you can do it yourself with the aid of some simple pieces of equipment like a foam roller. It works as another form of stretch for the muscle but can target specific areas of tension and release them via a neuromuscular response.
When I was really focusing on my hip mobility, I combined this foam rolling routine with the stretching routine in the next section and performed it in the morning, post-workout and before bed. Nowadays, I still try to do it post-workout and before bed as much as I can.
Foam rollers and tennis or lacrosse balls are the most popular tools for self-myofascial release.
Ideally, you will be performing a foam rolling or ball massage routine on most of your body’s muscles. However, for your hips in particular, I suggest rolling a foam roller over your glutes, hamstrings, the front of your hip joint into your abs and the full length of your quads.
Use the following foam rolling technique on the front of your hips, quads, hamstrings and glutes:
Work one muscle or section of a muscle at a time.
Begin at the top of the muscle and roll slowly down to the bottom.
Find the most tender point within the muscle and hold the roller there.
Put as much weight through that point as you can stand and hold for 15-20 seconds or until you feel a reduction in the tenderness.
Slowly roll away from the point of tenderness and repeat the drill. You may find another tense spot or you may need to work the same spot again.
I work in this way on each muscle for 1-2 minutes before finish with a few slow rolls through the entire length of that particular muscle.
Switch sides or move on to the next muscle group and repeat the process.
Gentle, steady, and prolonged stretch is the way to go with this part; you will need to stretch each muscle a lot and for a long time if you want to see results.
Perform the stretches several times a day if you can. I used to like to do them in the morning, post-workout and before bed.
“Hang out” in each stretch for at least 2 minutes
Apply heat before starting the stretching exercises. I’m not too sure if there is any real evidence for this but I always seem to feel better when stretching after a hot bath or shower.
Breath deep and try to relax during each stretch.
Stretching may be uncomfortable but do not allow it to become painful.
Use the guidelines above and perform the following stretches after completing your myofascial release/foam rolling.
Get into the supine lying position. Flex your knees to 90 degrees and cross the right knee over left one. Pull the crossed right knee towards opposite shoulder.
2. Frog pose
Come into the prone position. Keep your arms flexed under your forehead and then, apart your legs as much as you can. Lastly, flex your knees to 90 degrees to get additional stretch.
Made popular by Dr. Kelly Starrett, this is one of my favourites for hip flexor stretching. Assume the position in the photo below, either against a wall or the back of your sofa (hence the name).
Comfortably sit on the floor. Bend one knee to 90 degrees and take it out in front of you so that your calf runs parallel to you body. Keep you torso straight and extend your back on the floor behind you.
Bring yourself into a very deep squat and hold the bottom position. You can use your elbows to push out against the inside of your knees to really open up your hips. Aim to keep your chest up and facing forwards.
As discussed earlier, poor hip function can be a combination of both tight and weak muscles, which is why you need to stretch and strengthen them.
It is likely to be your core and glutes that need the most work in order to enhance your hip mobility. The exercises below should most certainly be considered as part your training regime:
Get into the prone lying position. Keep your neck and back in a neutral position. Flex your elbows and rest your forearms on the floor. keep your knees extended with hips-width-apart. Brace your abs and tense your quads and glutes as hard as you can.
From a standing position, brace your abs and take a large step forward with one leg. Bend the stepping leg to around 90-degrees while your back leg should be hovering just above the ground. Push hard off your front leg and return to the start position. You can perform lunges with dumbbells or a barbell to increase the resistance.
There are a variety of different squat variations and all of them can be used to strengthen the muscles around your hips and lower body. The barbell back squat is one of the very best exercises you can do and I highly recommend it for almost everybody. If you need help with your squats, check out my back squat technique article.
4. Hip thrusts
Rest your upper back against a bench or box and sit with a barbell resting across your thighs. Using the bench for upper back support, thrust your hips by lifting them towards the ceiling. Pause and squeeze your glutes hard at the top of the movement before returning slowly to the start position.
5. Dead bugs
Grab a mat and follow the steps in the video below. The key to this movement is to keep your abs braced throughout. Straighten your left leg and lower it close to the ground while simultaneously extending your right arm out above your head. Hold this extended position for 5 seconds and switch sides.
It has probably taken a number of years and countless hours spent in poor positions to create the tightness and dysfunction that you are feeling in your hips. Therefore, you would be foolish to expect a quick, easy fix for them.
It will take patience and consistency if you are to improve the situation. It’s hard to say how long it will take for you to see results but I would suggest sticking to the recommendations made above religiously for a period of at least 6-8 weeks before judging their effectiveness.
Of course, these are just recommendations based on my own experiences and you should always consult with a registered medical professional before starting any type of new physical activity routine.
Let me know if you have found this useful in the comments below and post your favourite hip mobility exercise – I’m always up for trying new things to keep my hips mobile.
You need to learn the proper way to do deadlifts because they’re F***-ing awesome!
No need for a long intro here. No self-indulgent story about how the deadlift saved my life. Coz’ it didn’t and you came here to learn about deadlifts for yourself, not to learn about me.
As a quick note, so you don’t waste your time, this guide is based around the conventional deadlift only. I lift conventional and prefer if over sumo for the majority of people.
I may do one on the sumo deadlift at some point since it is a lift worth doing and it seems to be becoming ever more popular on the powerlifting platform too. Until then, you can check out this sumo deadlift tutorial by DeadliftPotential.com
Click here for a nice conventional vs sumo form comparison from KateLiftFitness.
If you have already read my how to squat properly article, many of the benefits of squatting can be said about deadlifting as well. So, in an effort to avoid repeating myself, I will list a few of the top benefits that are more specific to the deadlift alone.
Not only does the deadlift work a lot of muscles, the main muscles that it works are absolute powerhouses.
Deadlifting puts a huge emphasis on your core muscles, upper/lower back muscles and your legs. All of those muscles are used heavily every single day and even more heavily in most sports.
Every athlete would benefit from strengthening their core, back and legs. An exercise that can strengthen all three simultaneously cannot and should not be ignored.
It also happens that weaknesses in those muscles, particularly the core and back, are very often a contributing factor to back pain and injuries.
With back pain and back injuries being such common occurrences, it really makes sense for everybody to be performing some kind of deadlift in their training plans.
Holding an effective, solid position for a deadlift demands good flexibility and a strong upper back.
It kind of works in a two-fold manner. If you have developed a poor posture of your shoulders/upper back over time, the deadlift can be used to discover the areas where you are lacking in mobility and strength.
For example, you will have a tough time keeping your shoulder blades tight and packed down if you have a rounder and hunched-shoulder posture.
When you become aware of the issues you have, you can then use the deadlift, alongside some other mobility work, to help improve the problem areas.
If you are able to build up enough flexibility and back strength to hold a solid spine position throughout a heavy deadlift, I have no doubt that your posture will improve as a result.
To get yourself in better shape and to get strong takes hard work. At times, you are going to have to get uncomfortable and push past your current limits. Maybe even lift some weights that are a little scary.
Learning how to push hard and not give up at the first sign of difficulty can be a skill that you can improve upon over time. Deadlifting is probably the best exercise to learn how to do that.
Grinding through a hard set or rep and really pushing yourself from time to time is key to making progress. Sometimes, to conquer a barrier you are going to have to dig deep and grit your teeth.
Deadlifting can teach you how to do that in a much safer way than most other exercises.
With the deadlift, you aren’t going to get stuck with the bar on your back or with the bar crashing down on your chest. If you try to push and can’t quite make it, you simply lower the bar back to the ground.
I’m not talking about taking stupid risks here or lifting weights that are too heavy for you to handle safely. Your technique still needs to remain safe and pretty solid.
What I’m saying is that you can use the deadlift to learn how to dig a little deeper and maybe take a few more calculated risks than you can with a squat.
You also feel like an absolute king when you do finally stand tall, chest puffed out while holding the bending bar after grinding through a truly gut-busting personal best lift.
In my how to squat article, I said that a huge benefit of the squat was the sheer number of different muscles that are activated during the exercise.
The deadlift is very much the same, if not better. It pretty much engages the muscles of every main muscle group in your body. The only group that probably doesn’t get a huge deal of work is your chest. Everything else is hit in some way or another.
Of course, the more muscles that you work, the more muscle you have the potential of building.
Learning the proper way to do deadlifts allows you to work large numbers of different muscle groups with heavy weight in a single exercise.
Moving multiple muscles and joints in one exercise is an excellent way to get your body working as a single unit.
During daily life and in sports, your body functions as an entire unit. It makes more sense to spend the majority of your time training movements that require total body activation in the gym.
Honestly, there are so many muscles worked at some point in the deadlift that I probably couldn’t even list all of them properly if I tried.
I am just going to stick to the main muscles worked. Those will be the ones that you are likely to care more about anyway.
Of course, to target all the muscles effectively, it is important to learn and consistently practice the proper way to do deadlifts before piling the weight on the bar.
The main muscles targeted by the deadlift are going to be your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors.
Other muscles that support and work as synergists are the quads, calves, adductors, abductors, all of your upper back and shoulder girdle muscles and your core musculature.
Your forearms and hand muscles will also be getting an extreme workout. Making the deadlift a great grip builder as well.
Your pectorals (chest muscles) are one of the few muscles groups that don't get a whole lot of work in the deadlift. They may tense up and stabilize your shoulder slightly but there won’t be a whole lot of work being done by them.
You have probably heard the term “most bang for your buck” mentioned when people talk about the best exercises to do in the gym. I think the deadlift probably wins that argument and, in my opinion, beats the squat for the title of the king of lifts.
For a more in depth look at individual muscle involvement, check out this very helpful deadlift muscles article from allaboutpowerlifting.com.
Much like most of the exercise guides I post, this is a general guide on how to perform the deadlift properly and safely.
I understand, and you should too, that everybody is built different and has individual strengths and weaknesses that will change how the deadlift looks from person to person.
There is not one set-in-stone way to deadlift and this guide isn't trying to portray that. This is a guide for you to learn a solid, safe technique that you can tweak and optimize for yourself over time.
Having said that, there are a small set of universal guidelines that all deadlifts should follow. This guide will cover those.
Once your deadlift technique adheres to the main guidelines, you can then go on to more advanced methods and tweak your form to get more out of it.
I have embedded a video version of the guide below to accommodate the more visual learners. It was originally made for my online coaching website, Online Strength Academy.
Stance width is one of those things that can vary quite a bit from person to person. I suggest beginning with your feet around hip-width apart and then adjusting based on your own preferences from there.
One good little test to try and find a naturally powerful position for you is to perform a few standing vertical jumps and see how far apart you naturally position your feet before you jump. That width will likely be a nice starting point.
Once you have your stance width, you then need to approach the bar with it. Position your feet in your chosen stance width underneath the bar. As look down on your feet, the bar should be cutting straight across your mid-foot.
Take your grip right outside your legs. You should aim to grip as narrow as you can without your arms getting in the way of your legs.
You can then focus on getting your torso set by bending your knees until your shins come into contact with the bar.
The bar should be positioned directly below your shoulder blades.
Common mistakes people make here are getting their shoulder too far in front of the bar or sitting down too low and starting with their shoulder way behind the bar. Both of these will have negative effects on your lift.
2 things MUST happen in a truly heavy deadlift if the bar is to rise: The bar must be over mid-foot and the shoulder blades must be over the bar.
This one is commonly ignored or not thought about. Before you pull the weight from the floor, you need to get your upper back in a solid and tight position by engaging your lats properly.
A good cue to get your lats and to pack your shoulders pack and down is to imagine you are trying to bend the bar around your body during the lift.
Keeping this cue in mind throughout the whole lift will go a long way to preventing your upper back from rounding during the lift.
A rounded upper back is used on purpose by some lifters as it can help them produce a bit more power during the initial part of the lift.
However, this does tend to make the final stage of the lift (known as the lockout) harder. You also don’t want your back to round at all during the lift for safety reasons.
“Slack” in the bar, is that little bit of wiggle room and play that you have between the barbell and the plates. If you shake the bar when it’s loaded on the ground, you will feel and hear what I mean.
Before you lift, you should already be pulling against the bar and removing that little bit of play or “slack”. If you are yanking on the bar and hearing that little clanging noise as you lift, you haven’t pulled the slack out properly.
The very last step before pulling is to take a big breath into your belly and tense your abs hard. Just like in the squat guide.
You can then initiate the pull by driving your legs hard into the ground. Focus on keeping the bar extremely close to your body during the lift.
As the bar starts to pass your knees, you can then begin the lockout by engaging your glutes forcing your hips forward to finish the lift.
There’s no need to overextend your lower back or lean backwards at the top of the lift. Stand dead straight with your shoulders back and your glutes squeezed hard.
If you lack the mobility to lift with good technique from the floor, you can start with the weights elevated on some blocks.
Lifting the weight up means that there is less of a demand on your flexibility. You can work on your mobility limitations outside of the block pulls. Over time, the idea would be to gradually lower the blocks so that you get used to deadlifting from closer to the floor. Eventually, the block will be removed and you can deadlift with a full range of motion.
These are an excellent tool for helping you to maintain a flat back position when deadlifting.
It does require a bit of extra mobility but the idea is simple. Take a grip that resembles an Olympic lifter performing the snatch instead of your usual grip.
You will be taking a much wider grip than normal, which forces you to engage your upper back. In turn, you will find it more difficult to round your back as you lift.
Perhaps the most common deadlift variation outside of the conventional lift. Sumo deadlifts are sometimes used by competitors that benefit from the extra demand on the quads and the shorter range of motion for the lift.
Of course, if you are a competitor then you want to use the style of lift that allows you to lift the most. You can only really find that out through trialing them both.
I do think there is a place for training both types of deadlift since they do work different muscles in different ways. If you want to be a well-rounded lifter or athlete, then there is a case for training both styles.
I actually used sumo deadlifts recently in an effort to help increase the mobility and strength of my hips. They definitely did the trick, in turn helping my squat technique quite a bit.
Go and deadlift. A lot!
Oh, and have a look at these other articles to help your deadlift training:
For more information on how to choose the right bet for you, as well as reviews on other belts, read the full article. If you just came here for a strong recommendation on the best belt for powerlifting or weightlifting, here are my choices:
The main purpose of wearing a belt for weight lifting, powerlifting, strongman or any other type of strength training is two-fold.
The first element is of course safety. The belt is there to provide extra stability around your trunk and lower back.
However, the belt doesn’t just “prop” your lower back up and support it that way. It works alongside your breathing and bracing techniques, which I will cover later, to increase the amount of pressure around your mid-section.
That extra pressure is what actually stabilizes your spine, not just the belt itself.
The second purpose for wearing a belt is the boost in performance that you can gain out of it. Due to the increase in pressure around your trunk, also known as intra-abdominal pressure, your core is essentially stronger when wearing a belt. Since the belt is artificially making your core stronger, it should allow you to lift more weight than usual when you are wearing it.
A tough question to answer indefinitely. There are quite a few individual nuances that come into play, so all I can give are some factors to take into account and my own suggestions.
Firstly, I will tackle the easy part. The easy part is giving advice to individuals that compete in a strength sport that allows the use of a weight lifting or powerlifting belt.
To these guys, I say you should certainly be using a belt on competition day if it increases the amount of weight you can lift.
In training, it’s a slightly different matter. I don’t think it’s a good idea to become dependent on the belt all of the time.
You will need to wear it and practice using it but I feel that training belt-less for periods of time is a good idea. You can still be insanely strong without the belt, just ask Clarence Kennedy:
Ditching the belt for a while and training belt-less is hard work but if you can get stronger without it, when you put it back on you are likely to even stronger than before.
I don’t recommend too much belt-less training leading into a competition, though. You need to get used to wearing the belt and learning how to get the very most out of it.
For the non-competitive trainee, I think the belt is a very useful tool to push yourself past your limits in training at time. Obviously, it has its safety benefits too so you may want to throw a belt on for your very heaviest sets.
However, the guidelines are similar to the above. Be sure to train belt-less and get stronger without one for periods as well.
Becoming over-reliant on any training tool is not good. You never know when you might forget it or not have access to it for whatever reason.
You should also demonstrate solid technique before using training aids, like a belt, to increase your numbers. To make sure your squat is up to par, you can brush up on your technique by reading my squat guide.
For my own training, if anybody even cares, I tend to treat belted work almost like a variation of a movement. I feel that using the belt is a skill in itself.
Wearing a belt, for me, changes the lift and the amount of weight I can handle enough to warrant treating it separately from the belt-less variations of a lift.
So, I will have training phases of belted squats, for example, and then phases of non-belted squats.
It's the same kind of principle people use for working with variations for phases of training, such as box squats or pause squats. That's how I see it in my mind anyway, feel free to disagree.
I already alluded to this earlier, it isn’t enough to just chuck a belt on and expect it to magically support your back and increase your lifts. You need to know how to use one correctly.
Here are the quick steps to using a weight lifting belt correctly:
To illustrate these points further, here is a video that explains it by squat university.
I’m just going to cover what I feel are best variations of weight lifting belt for you to consider. Anything that I don’t cover here probably isn’t worth your while, unless there is an awesome type of belt that I haven’t even heard of yet.
Firstly, avoid Velcro belts. In my opinion, it’s just too easy for them to rip open and come undone or loosen under the pressure you should be exerting into the belt.
I used to use a Velcro belt and the little tearing noises I could here as I descended into a squat paranoid the heck out of me. I was too worried about the belt coming on to concentrate on a proper squat.
Some strongmen competitors may wear Velcro belts underneath their main belts just for some added support. But they still feel the need to wear a stronger belt on top.
Now that's out of the way, on to the types of belts that you can consider.
Proper powerlifting belts follow pretty much the same styling throughout. They should be the same width all the way around, that will normally be 4 inches as that is the thickest allowable by most powerlifting federations. Have a thickness of either 10mm or 13mm and made from very stiff/rugged materials. Usually leather or suede coated leather.
Powerlifting belts, in general are going to be the go-to belt style if you are looking the get the very most out of squats, deadlift, bench presses and overhead presses. If you want a belt for Olympic weightlifting, they are probably going to be too thick, uncomfortable and restrictive for you.
There are then three main sub-sets of powerlifting belts.
These are the standard kind of belt you are likely used to seeing. They feature a single prong, just like a regular dress belt, that you can use to tighten or loosen as you see fit.
The single prong makes the fairly quick to take on and off. The only downside for some lifter is the fear that the single prong may break. This shouldn’t happen if you buy a quality belt but the worry is enough to steer people towards the next type of powerlifting belt.
Exactly the same as the single prong in design. However, as you may have guessed, they have two prongs that slot into a double row of adjustment holes on the belt.
The two prongs can be an absolute pain to get in and out of those holes properly. Especially if the belt is tight.
I don’t really like using ta double-prong, I trust the strength of the single-prong enough to go with that instead.
Lever belts have no prongs for tightening and loosening the belt. Instead, they have a quick-release leaver. The lever does make them very quick and easy to get on and off.
The lever is also fixed in the same place each time so you can set it to whatever level of tightness you want and have no trouble getting it on very quickly.
There are some drawbacks to the lever belt design. firstly, is that there is always going to be a higher chance of something breaking when more individual parts are involved. I have seen a couple of videos of levers breaking during lifts but this isn’t a common occurrence.
The second drawback is that you have to unscrew and move the entire lever if you want to adjust the size of the belt. Very annoying for individuals that use different levels of tightness for different lifts.
SBD has recently released a very nice looking lever belt that combats that problem by allowing quick adjustment whenever you like. It looks like an awesome belt but is certainly at the higher end of the pricing spectrum.
Obviously, these belts are geared more towards those that compete or practice the Olympic lifts regularly.
The difference with these belts is that they feature a tapered design to allow for the extra mobility that the clean and jerk and snatch demands.
These belts will also be made of a thinner and softer material. Again, in an effort to allow for higher degrees of mobility while still providing extra support for the lifts.
There is a bit of a divide among lifter on whether a belt should be worn for Olympic weightlifting or not. Many will wear it for the clean and jerk but find that wearing a belt for the snatch inhibits their mobility and limits the amount of weight they can lift.
You will have to find that out for yourself.
In my opinion, the powerlifting and Olympic lifting belts are pretty much the only types of belt you should consider.
Powerlifting belts should be looked at by everybody that isn’t performing Olympic lifts. Olympic lifting belts should be the go-to for individuals that are completing the Olympic lifts regularly.
As a side note, crossfitters that wish to wear a belt will probably be better off looking at the Olympic weightlifting style belts. They provide much better and more reliable support than Velcro belts, which seem to be popular in crossfit, but they still allow for extra mobility that is usually required in crossfit workouts.
A good belt must be suited for the purpose you intend to use it for. You can use the information above to decide which kind of belt best suits your needs.
You must then ensure that whatever belt you choose is allowable in any competition you may currently or wish to compete in down the line.
For example, the IPF only allows belts up to 10mm thick in their classic powerlifting divisions. Check the rules of your federation.
A belt should last you a very long time if you go for quality. High quality belts are going to cost you more but, like I said, they will last a very long time so the investment value is actually pretty good.
All of the belts I have included in this article are of high quality and should certainly be with you for many workouts to come.
I have decided to choose my favourite two belts from each of the categories. Two weightlifting style belts and two powerlifting ones. Out of my suggestions, pick the belt that you think looks best or fits better in your budget and you will be more than happy with it.
The Longhorn is a 10mm belt that is available as either single prong, double prong or lever.
The leather on the Texas Belts does seem to be a bit more pliable but still just as supportive as other belts on the market.
This is a bonus as it means that it shouldn’t take quite as long to break the belt in. So, you should be getting the most out of it a bit quicker than some of the stiffer belts.
I would highly recommend the Longhorn belt if you have the budget for it. It is a very good belt and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
If you do not quite have the budget for the Longhorn, Texas Belts cheaper alternative is the Toro Bravo belt. This is not quite as high quality as the Longhorn, as reflected in the lower price, but it still is an excellent belt.
In fact, the vast majority of people won’t notice the minor drop in overall quality. The Toro Bravo does only come with a year’s warranty but should still last many years.
I feel the Longhorn is the best belt in terms of quality.
But, due to the lower price yet still high quality, I have actually chosen the Toro Bravo for my top pick. Casual lifters and competitors that aren’t at the elite level will do just fine with this one.
A super popular belt from an extremely well-respected manufacturer. These belts also all come with lifetime guarantees, hence the “forever” in the name.
You can buy the same belt in either a single prong or lever variations and in 10mm or 13mm. As with many lifting belts, they come very stiff and will require some time to “break in”.
The 13mm versions will always take longer to break in than the 10mm but that’s all part of buying a thicker and more supportive belt. I would say that the majority of people should be going for a 10mm belt anyway.
A 13mm should only be considered by competitive lifters in geared lifting federations for the most part.
The Inzer belts are available from Inzer's website, click here to view Inzer's power belts.
A huge choice of colours is available from Inzer. Although, certain colours can take a while to arrive.
Which brings me on to my next point. I have heard that delivery times can be very long from Inzer and that their customer service isn’t always the best.
Not something I have experienced but I thought it would be worthwhile to relay what I have heard from a few separate people.
If you get the belt from Amazon, delivery should be fast but you don't have all of the colour options.
Eleiko are a huge name in weightlifting. They know how to construct equipment of the very highest quality. Usually Eleiko gear comes at a highly premium price point so I was surprised to see how cheap this belt is.
The belt is made from leather and only comes in a white colour with the large Eleiko lettering on the back. There is a suede version available in blue but it is pretty much double the price. The suede version is padded in the back for some extra comfort during your lifts.
Both versions are IWF approved so you have no worries for competition.
These belts feature a double prong design. Great if you want some extra strength in the buckle but can be a slight pain to get on and off.
The one thing that I think lets the white version of this belt down a bit is the thickness. It isn’t as thick and therefore not quite as supportive as it could be.
If you want a perfectly good weight lifting belt at a very good price, then grab this one. If you want a bit more support and aren’t worried about paying for it, continue below.
Rogue are a giant in lifting equipment and have been cranking out some quality products in all areas of strength training over recent years. This belt is no exception.
10mm thick, it is super supportive and durable.
Made from vegetable-tanned leather and, this makes the leather firmer and, in my opinion, makes looks pretty nice too.
The front of the belt tapers down to just 2 inches so there isn’t as much material for the bar to get caught on during the Olympic lifts. I also like the addition of the buckle guard, which is just an extra piece of leather that slides in front of the buckle to stop anything from hitting that.
These extra features do make for a superb lifting belt. On the downside, you will have to pay for that quality. This one is more than double the price of the leather Eleiko belt.
I have to say that this is my top pick for Olympic lifting belts if you have the budget.
If you don’t have that kind of money to spend, then the choice is clearly to go for the Eleiko weightlifting belt.
I know there are a bunch of good belts that probably could have been included on this list. I feel that the ones included really are the best to serve the vast majority of this site’s audience.
There is a chance that I may have just completely missed an absolutely perfect belt, though.
If you do feel that one of my picks could reasonably be replaced by a better belt, let me know in the comments and I will take a look at it.
I want to keep all of my articles up to date with the latest and greatest training gear, so I’m always open to suggestions.
You found your way to this article, which means you want to know how to squat properly. So, I’m guessing you are thinking the squat could be a pretty good exercise to add into your program.
Well, you would be wrong! The squat is an AWESOME exercise to add into your training program.
I honestly feel like anybody who has the goal of getting stronger, building more muscle, being healthier, increasing athleticism or basically any other gym-related goal, should be performing some type of squat.
This article will teach you exactly why the squat is such a great exercise as well as teaching you how to perform the squat with good technique.
You may want to bookmark this post if you don't have much time to read right now. I wanted to create something super in-depth and at over 4000 words, I think I did it.
Of course, you have to learn how to squat properly in order to get all of the benefits. That will come later. For now, here is a quick run-down of just some of the reasons that many refer to the squat as the king of exercises.
The squat is a compound movement in the truest form. If you haven’t heard of a compound movement before, it is an exercise that requires movement at more than one joint in your body.
Exercises that require movement at more than one joint, require multiple muscles to be activating. Working multiple muscles at the same time can only be a good thing.
More muscles worked means more calories burnt, greater overall muscle building stimulus and usually, more weight lifted in a given exercise.
Lately, it seems that everybody wants to be more mobile or more flexible. There's all kinds of crazy stretching routines around and massage devices that look like they belong in the 50 shades of grey books.
In all seriousness, some of those mobility routines and tools are brilliant and really can help increase your flexibility.
Squatting should certainly help to improve mobility in those areas over time. I mean, look at the stretch the guy below is getting!
Of course, if you lack the mobility to reach a full-depth squat with good technique, you may need to look into those other tools first.
I’m not overly keen on the term “functional training” or “functional strength”. I mean, surely all training and building any type of strength is functional at some point.
It can all be transferred over to daily life in one way or another.
However, I do understand what is most people mean by the term functional and squats fit right in there.
Squatting is a very natural movement pattern.
It is the way we would defecate if the toilet hadn’t been around.
It is also the default position a baby or toddler takes up when they pick anything up from the ground.
Modern day-to-day life has rather robbed us of our ability to maintain such immaculate squat form as we grow older. Since we sit in chairs so much, our muscles adapt to that seated position, which makes the deep squat harder.
Damn you comfy but un-natural, mobility ruining sofa!
Getting your body back into the routine of being able to squat properly and getting strong will help to stay flexible and injury-free throughout your daily tasks.
Putting a heavy weight on your back, sinking down into a nice, low squat and the driving yourself back to standing is damn hard!
The bottom position of a heavy squat is not the most comfortable position to be in and the thought of getting stuck down there under such weight can be daunting.
All of that sounds awful and might make you think twice about squatting, but those things provide all the more reason to squat.
If you can overcome all of that in your mind on a regular basis, I feel like it can be transferred to your everyday thinking.
Now, I don’t want to get too deep or wishy-washy here. But, I do feel that lifting has many parallels to your life in general.
One of which is the fact that to progress, you are going to need to push and be uncomfortable. You are going to need to overcome and do some stuff that scares you, in both lifting and in life.
I think pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a learnable skill. A skill that you can begin to learn in the gym.
There is no better exercise to teach you that skill than squatting. It is probably the most uncomfortable and difficult exercise to perform. Therefore, requires real mental toughness to push through your limits and get stronger.
I just mentioned above that squats are awesome because they work sooo many muscles in your body. But, which ones are actually being used?
There really are so many. Obviously, the entire leg is involved in some way or another during a squat. So, that covers your quads, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, I will throw the glutes in this part too, your calves, anterior tibialis (front of shin muscle) all the way down to the small muscles of your feet.
Your entire hip musculature gets involved too, so that all of your hip flexors and extensor muscles.
Pretty much your whole back is being worked, especially if you are performing a barbell back squat and need to lock the bar in place.
Your abs and the other muscles all around your trunk are being worked to keep you stable and your spine safe.
Basically, the squat works quite a few muscles.
For you visual learners, here is a little video I found that shows each muscle involved with a squat and how it serves the body during the exercise.
It’s a bit weird, I didn’t really know what was going on at first but then I worked it out.
The skeleton is trying to perform a squat but doesn’t have the muscles to do so. So, the little guy attaches the muscles one-by-one so you can see exactly how each muscle affects the squat.
It’s a pretty cool way of giving a visual for how the muscles are working during squatting movements:
If you have actually read all of the text thus far, well done to you. You are now a relative expert on the theory behind squatting. Now, you will finally learn how perform a squat with the proper technique.
I will say, that this is a generalised guide that will provide a solid starting point for the majority of people to get squatting.
It is impoirtant to understand that everybody is built differently, has different mobility levels and has varied areas of strength.
That means everybody’s squat will look slightly different. Everybody’s optimal squat technique will probably also be a bit different. This is all stuff that you will have to play around with and learn over time.
This squat guide will teach you the main principles of a good squat, most of which remain true no matter what style of squat you eventually end up doing.
If you are a beginner or haven’t squatted much, then following the steps in this guide will give you a solid technique that you can build upon. So, let’s get to it.
To make the guide easier on myself and on you, I have inserted a video that I created for my online coaching company, www.onlinestrengthacademy.com
My co-coach for Online Strength Academy, Brandon, is the one squatting in the video. He has a naturally great looking squat. It’s a pretty detailed video and I will post the written steps below it.
I hope you enjoyed the vid and learned a lot from it. Just to recap, the general steps are:
Create a shelf for the bar on the muscles of your upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades tight and keep them back and down. The upper back needs to remain tight throughout the whole lift.
Don’t worry too much about high bar or low bar for now, just get in in a comfortable and stable position on you back.
Think about what you are doing when you walk the bar out of the rack. Get tight under the bar before you un-rack it and walk out with it.
You should aim to take as few steps backwards as possible to conserve energy for the actual squat. I like a three-step walk out, some people prefer to do it in two.
Toes will probably be pointed out slightly. Commonly around a 30-degree angle. Again, this is something you can play around with.
Proper breathing is key to keeping your torso rigid and in a good position throughout the squat. It will also help to keep your spine safe.
Take a big breath into your stomach when you are ready to squat. The breathing into your stomach is key.
As you breathe in, your stomach should expand. Whilst pushing your stomach out, you need to then brace your abs and squeeze your glutes.
To brace your abs, tense them as if something is about to hit you in your stomach and hold that tensed up feeling for the duration of the rep.
Bracing your abs and squeezing your glutes, will bring your rib-cage down slightly and will tilt your hips forward a little. All of this creates a neutral spine from the beginning of the lift.
A good lifting belt can be used to as a tool for increasing the intra-abdominal pressure and helping you to lift heavier weights. To choose the right belt, check out my weightlifting belt guide.
As you drop down into the squat, you should aim to break at the hips and knees simultaneously.
Some people will bend their knees first, others will tend to bend at the hips and shoot their butts back behind them. Doing either of these often shifts the bar-path backwards or forwards on the way down.
By breaking the knees and hips at the same time, you should have an easier time keeping the bar in a straight line as you squat down.
A good squat should aim to reach below “parallel” in depth. Parallel, in squat terms, is when the top of your knee-cap is in line with your hip crease as you look at it from the side at the very bottom of your squat.
Below parallel, which is what you should ultimately be aiming for, is when your hip crease is below the top of your knee at the lowest point of your squat.
You should be able to reach at least a parallel squat without your technique breaking down or your back rounding.
If you are unable to reach that level, you may need to work on your mobility (I will cover a bit of that later on) or you could have certain weaknesses that need to be addressed.
If your mobility is ok, a weakness in the core or upper back could be causing your technique to falter as you reach good squat depth.
I have written a complete tutorial on how to squat lower, click here to read it.
In order to hit proper depth and keep as upright as you can, you need to create some space between your legs for your trunk.
To do this, you have to open your hips as you reach the bottom of your squat. Opening your hips, is achieved by actively pushing your feet outwards against the ground.
The mental cue for this is to imagine you are pulling the ground apart with your feet by driving them outwards. Or, if you were standing on top of a sheet of paper and wanted to rip it in two with your feet.
You must keep those glutted engaged the whole time. If you relax them at the bottom or on the way up, your knees will probably cave inwards.
Knees caving, or valgus as it is known, is not good for your knees at all. Your knee caps should be kept in alignment with your toes for the entire squat.
Now that you have reached proper depth safely and with good technique, all that left is to stand back up.
It isn’t quite as simple as that, though. There are way more teaching points for the start and descent of the squat, but there are still a few things to be mindful of on the way back up.
The first one would be to keep your abs braced and maintain that pressure that you created at the start in your trunk. This will serve to keep your spine position constant.
Aim for the position of your back to be the same on the way up as it was when you came down.
Many people just think about pushing up with their legs, which can make their hips move up and backwards before the bar actually starts rising.
Think about driving your back into the barbell. This cue can help you to make sure that the bar starts rising at the same time as your hips.
If you are competing and they are allowed in your federation, a pair of knee sleeves can make the initial drive out of the bottom easier. Have a browse through my knee sleeves guide to find the best pair.
There you have it. The step-by-step guide to performing a proper squat. The only thing you can do now is practice, practice and practice some more. You should treat squatting just like any other skill, perfect it over time by performing it frequently and you will do just fine.
This inforgraphic shows 3 common squat errors with a few tips on how to fix them. I go into more detail on each, plus an extra one, below. Feel free to share use the infographic for your own website by copying the code below it!
This is usually caused by breaking at the hips way before you bend your knees. It's primarily done by people that want to get their back and posterior chain involved in the movement more.
Often times, people feel more comfortable leaning forwards and throwing their hips backwards at the start of a squat, as opposed to bending the knees at the same time and staying more upright.
Squatting this way makes it more difficult to achieve a good depth squat and increases the likelihood of your squat resembling a "good morning" on the way back up.
It also causes the bar to get out in front of your mid-line (if you were watching from a side angle), which puts the weight over your toes and can pitch your body forwards at the bottom.
You can remedy this by focusing on bending your knees much earlier during your descent. Remember, you should be aiming to break at the hips and kneed together.
It is quite common for people to be confused by how to brace or tense the abs properly. A cue I sometime here is to “draw the abs in”. I hate this cue.
While technically, the abs will be drawn in and your rib cage will be set downwards when you brace, this cue usually makes people suck their stomach in like they are trying to squeeze into an old pair of jeans.
Bracing correctly involves drawing a big breath into your stomach, pushing your stomach out to increase pressure around your trunk (think about creating a belly like a Buddha) and then tensing your abs hard as if something is about to hit you in the stomach.
Proper bracing is so important for keeping your spine in a safe, stable position during your squats.
Sometimes, people’s heels may rise as a result of breaking with only their knees and trying to stay ultra-upright by not bending at the hips at all.
If you squat this way, you will normally find that your heels lift up as you get lower into the squat. You can fix this in the opposite way as the first mistake, by trying to break at your hips earlier in the movement.
Again, knees and hips should break at pretty much the same time.
Another cause of heels lifting off the ground is a lack of ankle mobility.
It happens If you lack range of motion in your ankle, more specifically dorsiflexion (the ability to bend your ankle upwards by bringing your toes towards your shin). Tight calf muscles will very likely be the cause of this one.
If you know you have tight calves, take a look at this detailed and very useful article on how to fix them: http://www.lisallc.com/blog/are-tight-calves-ruining-your-squat
Alongside improving your ankle mobility, you may also find that a pair of weightlifting shoes could help you out. Here’s my complete guide on buying weightlifting shoes and reviews of the best ones.
This is the final common mistake that I wanted to cover, it is actually extremely common.
Like the squat guide and the video above explained, you must aim to keep your knees in line with your toes during your squats. What you certainly do not want is for them to cave inwards as you rise up from the bottom.
The main cause of knees collapsing inwards is relaxing the glute muscles at the bottom of the movement or barely using them at all.
I already mentioned it earlier, but you should be imagining that your feet are pulling the floor apart while you are squatting. Using that cue should help you to keep your knees driven out and your glutes turned on.
A good little warmup drill is to place a mini resistance band around your knees and do a few reps with it there.
The band will be forcing your knees inwards and you will be forced to use your glutes to keep them out. It’s a nice drill to do if you have trouble feeling or engaging your glute muscles in a squat.
One other fairly common cause of the knees caving inwards is the collapse of your foot arches. If your arches collapse, your feet will angle inwards and your knees will follow them.
The arches usually collapse because your body is trying to find for a stable position under a heavy load.
Your body is very clever and does this kind of thing automatically. It flattens your feet by collapsing the arches because a flat foot equals greater ground contact and a more stable base.
Good in theory, but it causes problem further up the chain, at the knees.
If you find your arches collapsing, you can combat the problem by using the “spread the floor” cue and strengthening your feet arches.
A good exercise for that is to stand on a towel that has been laid flat on the ground, then use your feet to scrunch the towel up by grabbing it with your toes and bringing it towards you.
As you can see from the picture, a goblet squat is performed by holding a weight in front of you at your chest.
Having the weight in front of you means that you are forced to engage your abs quite strongly. If you don’t use them, the weight will pull your forward and you will be off balance.
Any squat where the weight is in front of your body is also going to put a bit more emphasis on your quads. So, if you need to strengthen your quads, try a front-loaded squat variation like this.
I personally like using the goblet squat as a teaching tool or a corrective exercise for the squat. Having an easy to hold weight like a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of you acts as a bit of a counterbalance. The counterbalance is great for getting into a nice deep and upright squat position.
I use goblet squats in my own training as a warmup exercise for every squat workout. I like to use a weight as that counterbalance and just hang-out for a while in a very deep squat. It’s great for getting stretching out the hips and increasing comfort in the bottom position under a little bit of load.
Box squats are very much as they sound. You squat on top of a box.
Box squats are great for learning a squat pattern if you don’t yet feel comfortable in the bottom position. You could also use them to improve your squat depth over time if you have trouble reaching below parallel.
You would start by squatting to a box that is at the height of the deepest squat you can perform with good technique. Over time, you can then lower that box height bit by bit until you are squatting to a box that is below parallel.
Another great use for box squat is for athletes or sports people. Box squats tend to be more hip dominant and strong hips are super important to an athlete.
Squatting to a higher box also mimics the action an athlete would take if they were jumping. You wouldn’t squat all the way down and then jump, you perform a much faster and shallower squat before you launch yourself into the air.
Squatting to mimic that kind of athletic movement pattern is probably the only reason for somebody not to hit below parallel in a squat on purpose.
I love and hate front squats. I love the benefits but hate how much they make me feel sick when I do them.
Front squats are hard.
They are especially hard for lifter like myself, who naturally squat with a bit more forward lean due to my build and tendency to try and the stronger muscles of my back involved in the squat.
Front squats work in pretty much the same way as the goblet squats, they are both front-loaded. Being front-loaded means that you will be forced to maintain a much more upright torso position.
Maintaining that upright torso position puts a huge demand on the muscles of your core. Heavier weights can be handled with a front squat than with a goblet squat.
Heavy weight held in front of your body during a squat really does demand a lot of your core and your upper back strength. That’s why I love them so much.
Whenever I focus more on front squats in my program, my back-squat technique improves almost right away.
Give them a try if you need some extra core work or if you want to shift a bit of extra focus on to your quads.
I think that was a pretty in-depth article on squats. I’m not one to brag but I feel like it covered a s**t-ton of useful information, feel free to disagree in the comments and I will do my best to include anything I might have missed.
Also, feel free to hit one of the share buttons below to spread the squat love with your pals.
After you have commented and shared it, get yourself in the squat-rack and put it to good use!
Knee sleeves are becoming a staple accessory in the gym bag of many lifters. Primarily used for squats, lunges and sometimes deadlifts, a good pair of knee sleeves could enhance your training and take your performance to new levels. Finding the best knee sleeves for squatting and lifting is a task not to be taken lightly.
It requires research and reviews. Luckily, I have done all of it for you and written it all down below.
This article contains the complete guide to buying the right pair knee sleeves for lifting and reviews the very best sleeves around.
Knee sleeves are an elasticated material used to compress the knee joint during physical activity. For this article, I am focusing mainly on squatting in knee sleeves so I will primarily be using squats as a measure for my recommendations.
The idea for compressing the knee joint comes mainly down to injury prevention. The knee sleeves are designed to keep the knee “in place” and keep the joint warmer through the compression. However, the effectiveness of knee sleeves when it comes to actual injury prevention is a bit of a grey area.
I could find no studies on the injury prevention from knee sleeves themselves but this study looked at the effects of knee braces (the bulkier looking knee-wear) on athletes. Interestingly, it showed fewer injuries in the non-braced participants.
So, knee sleeves have limited solid proof of preventing injuries. Of course, that can be hard to study. It’s very hard to tell if a knee sleeve would have prevented an injury once it’s actually happened or not.
What has been looked at and seems to favour the use of knee sleeves is the effects they have on reducing pain in already injured knees. This study showed a decrease in pain in subjects diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
The study stated that the reduced pain probably came as a result of the increased warmth around the joint provided by the knee sleeve. Increased warmth around a joint usually causes people to feel more comfortable and less pain.
So far, I have spoken about the medical reasons for knee sleeves. I’m sure what you’re really interested in is the boost they will give your squatting.
You really can’t argue the fact that knee sleeves can improve your squat performance by a decent amount. More or less every competitor at the IPF world championships last year was wearing them.
Heck, you would struggle to find many local-level competitors not wearing them if their federation allows them to be worn.
It is important to note that you should not rely on knee sleeves to help your squat if you have bad technique. Perfecting your form always comes first. You can make sure you're technique is on point by viewing my squat form guide.
Back to the sleeves. The increase in squat weight comes as a result of the elasticated sleeves being stretched over the quad then bunched up and compressed behind the knee at the bottom of a squat. These factors create a slingshot effect out of the bottom position, which is the most difficult part of the squat.
Some lifters report an increase of up to 25lbs/11.3kgs from their knee sleeves. It does depend on sizing; tighter knee sleeves have a bigger effect but are going to be less comfortable and may restrict mobility.
A note on sleeve tightness for competitive lifters: you have to be able to pull on your sleeves by yourself if you wear them in certain competitions. You won’t be able to do that if they are super tight. No more of this technique, despite it's genius:
Another factor that can help with performance is the proprioceptive aids that the sleeves can offer. I find this myself, they offer feedback that makes it really easy to know when you have reached the depth you are aiming for.
Yes, you should be able to learn this without any sleeves, it just becomes much easier and repeatable when you do wear them.
Especially under heavy loads, I have found that there is more chance for me to sink the squat way too deep as the load is pushing me further down. Wearing my sleeves definitely helps me to hit a more consistent depth every time.
If you are able to lift heavier when wearing a pair of knee sleeves, then wearing them at certain times during your training can really help you push past your current limits and progress in your squat.
As mentioned earlier, if you are already suffering from a slight injury then knee sleeves could help you to train around it while you recover.
However, you need to make sure that you are recovering and rehabbing the injury as well. If squatting in the sleeves impedes recovery, don’t use them.
If you are a competitive lifter and your federation allows the use of knee sleeves, use them. Be sure to use them in your training leading up to the competition as well.
Similar to using a belt, you have to get a feel for them first. It isn’t wise to just throw a pair of sleeves on and expect an immediate increase in your one rep max.
I think the bottom line for the use of knee sleeves is very similar to most other training aids and equipment. They can be an excellent tool and will improve your squat numbers.
Use them to supplement your training but don’t become reliant on them. I once became so reliant on my knee sleeves that if I forgot to bring them, I wouldn’t even bother squatting.
I don’t know what I thought I would achieve by skipping my squats completely, it was entirely down to my ego not letting me go a touch lighter for the day. Ridiculous! Don’t fall into that trap.
All of the sleeves I am picking here, with the exception of one brand, have been made by manufacturers that specialise in powerlifting equipment. These are the guys that you want to be buying knee sleeves from, they will have researched and worked with the strongest squatters around to come up with these products.
All of the brands I have picked are also worn by some of the strongest guys in the world so that should tell you all you need to know.
I also believe all the featured sleeves are approved by the IPF, which is vital for competitors in that federation.
Each sleeve does have a few little differences that might sway your decision. I will get into those for each product below.
Probably the most popular brand of knee sleeves among lifters today. They have been around for a few years now and still remain the cream of the crop, in my opinion.
- 7mm thick
- High-grade neoprene
- 30cm in length
- Very durable
These sleeves will definitely give your squat a boost. A big plus for the SBDs is their length, this means greater coverage and support over more of your leg.
They should also last a very long time. Mine have done thousands of reps, worn for competitions, washed numerous times (an absolute necessity that you will soon understand once you have worn knee sleeves for a few workouts) and they still look and perform like new.
The only downsides I could think of would be that they only come in a single colour variation.
I really don’t think you can go wrong with the SBD knee sleeves, to be honest.
The only company on the list that doesn’t just specialize in powerlifting gear but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to knee sleeves. The wild popularity of their original knee sleeves, the Rehband 7051, shows that Rehband knows exactly how to make a great pair of sleeves.
- 7mm thick, as you may have guessed
- Anatomically shaped for the knee
- 27mm long
- Colour options available
The original sleeves were the go-to squat sleeves for many before the powerlifting brands came along with their purpose-built knee sleeves.
Now, Rehband has a pair of knee sleeves that were made for the purpose of heavier, single or low rep lifts in mind. The RX 7mm sleeves.
Rehband has been specialising in knee equipment for over 60 years, they probably know the knee better than any manufacturer on this list.
The anatomically shaped design has been introduced to provide a more natural and comfortable joint motion while wearing the sleeves. One of the disadvantages of most heavy-duty knee sleeves is that they can be uncomfortable and a bit restrictive so this could be a huge benefit to some lifters.
One downside/annoyance of the Rehbands is the fact that they are sold in singles so be careful for that and make sure to order two.
I would be a little hesitant to suggest these for very heavy squats over the other brands on the list.
But, if you have tried and liked the original Rehband sleeves but are looking for something a bit heavier and geared towards increasing squat numbers, I have no doubt that you will like these sleeves.
In my mind, these are the closest thing to a competitor for the all-conquering SBD sleeves.
- Seams on the side of the knee
- 7mm thick neoprene
- Available in a range of colours and designs
The Strong sleeves are produced by Mark Bell of Slingshot and supertraining.tv. This guy obviously knows his powerlifting and hangs around a huge circle of other guys that know more than a thing or two about it as well.
The fact that mark has so many knowledgeable influences to call upon when it comes to designing and testing products, makes it no surprise that he keeps producing such quality gear.
The Strong sleeves are made of the same material, thickness and length of the SBD sleeves but they do have a couple of differences.
The seams being along the sides of the knee on these sleeves is really the main difference that I can tell. They are said to be there in order to reduce irritation around the knee during your workouts. I can definitely see this to be a good point.
The SBD sleeves have a seam that wraps around the knee and it can become fairly itchy once you begin to get a sweat on in the gym. It isn’t much but it can be annoying.
The wider choice of colours will be a huge plus to many. I know a lot of lifters that like to show a bit of personality or “flare” in the gym and on the platform so this will go down a treat with those guys.
I will admit, it’s always nice to have some design options to differentiate yourself.
In terms of performance, I don’t think there is going to be too much to separate these and the SBD sleeves.
I would say if you are worried about getting itchy legs from the SDB seems or you want to coordinate your knee sleeves with your shoes then go for the Strong sleeves.
I will admit that I have never worn or even seen these sleeves in person. They are not as popular as the other brands but they still look like an interesting and solid knee sleeve.
- 7mm thick neoprene
- 30cm long
- Unique X-seem construction
- 11 sizing options
I have included them here since, despite my lack of personal experience with them, I see these sleeves as a very viable alternative to the others on this list.
Again, this is going to be fairly similar to all of the other sleeves. Just some very minor differences. These are made of the same material as the others and are the same 7mm thickness, which is the thickest allowable by the IPF.
The obvious difference here is the seam design. This time they are sewn around the knee cap in an X-shape.
Like with the SBDs, the company claims that their seam pattern adds support to your knee joint. The X-shape does make some sense to me, your ligaments run over the patella in a kind of X shape already so I can see their thinking.
I must say that I have seen a couple of reviews that have complained about the Yellow Jacket sleeves not being the most durable. Some saying they have fallen apart after a while.
The yellow jackets only come in one colour, black with quite a striking yellow accent.
I love the SBD sleeves, you will find them in any list of the best knee sleeves for squatting and I cannot recommend them enough.
The only other sleeves I would think about are the Strong sleeves. They are pretty much the same as the SBDs but the colour options might be enough to sway some people.
So, I say pick one of those two and be happy with the confidence of knowing you picked a great knee sleeve to squat in.
Let me know your favourite knee sleeves for lifting in the comments and be sure to share this guide around with your lifting buddies by clicking the "share" buttons below.