Laine Norton

Author Archives: Laine Norton

I am a strength training enthusiast that loves discovering new ways to get stronger. As a certified trainer and powerlifting competitor, I'm always looking for different training methods and advice. I hope to pass some of what I learn on to my fellow lifters.

How to Strengthen Your Core – 7 Best core strengthening exercises

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.

Strengthen your core

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.

The Difference Between Core and Abs training

Athlete training abs image

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.

Reasons to Strengthen Your Core

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:

Core Strengthening Benefits

  • Lower injury risk, especially in the lower back
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Better posture
  • More protection for the spine
  • Enhanced neuromuscular efficiency
  • Ability to generate more power
  • Increased strength potential
  • And Yes! It will help to build your ab muscles and make gaining a 6-pack easier

What are the Core Muscles? 

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:

  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Erector spinae
  • Multifidus
  • Gluteals
  • Adductors
  • Diaphragm
  • Pelvis floor muscles

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.

Core muscles diagram

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 Strength

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.

1. Plank for time

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.

Plank abs exercise image

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.

2. Side planks for time

Side planks is another variation on the plank test above. Assume and hold the side plank position and record your time for each side.

Side plank abs exercise image

Below 60 seconds points to a possible transverse abdominis or oblique weakness.

3. Sit up and Reverse crunch progression tests

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.

Core Strength Training Plan Principles

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.

Functions of the core:

Flexion – Bending forwards
Extension – Bending backwards
Rotation – Pivoting around the axis of your hips
Lateral flexion – Bending your waist from side to side
Stabilization – Maintaining a neutral posture
Anti-flexion, rotation and extension – Resisting against flexion, rotation or extension

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.

The Best Core Strengthening Exercises 

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)

  1. Ab wheel rollouts

    What may look like a bit of a shopping channel gimmick is actually one of the most effective ab and core training tools around. These can be absolutely brutal but are awesome for training your core to stabilize your spine through movement.

  2. Pallof presses

    My very favourite exercise for training anti-rotation. It may look and feel a bit strange at first but you will soon start to feel your core muscles working hard. The key is to try and maintain good posture while keeping your trunk still during each rep.

  3. Hip Thrusts

    Extension and glute engagement is an often-overlooked area of core training, which is a big mistake because the muscles responsible for it are big, powerful and crucial for athletic performance. If you want to build a strong and powerful set of hips and glutes, hip thrusts are the way to go.

  4. Single arm carries

    Weighted carries are simply incredible for both conditioning and strength. Single arm carries get the benefits of traditional weighted carries with the added bonus of targeting anti-lateral flexion, which is one of the core’s functions that is easy to forget about.

  5. Standing cable crunches

    There is still a place for direct ab training in a program since it covers the flexion function of your core. I feel that standing flexion exercises are more likely to carry over to sports and daily life since you’re more likely to be using your abs from a standing position.

  6. Cable wood chops

    Wood chops are excellent for training rotation while integrating the rest of your body. Anybody that plays a sport which involves throwing, kicking or swinging a club, bat or racket will see some big benefits from these.

  7. Standing compound movements

    Not strictly a single exercise but very important nonetheless. Any exercise where you are using multiple joints and muscles to move a weight is going to demand a lot of core strength. Deadlifts, overhead presses and squats are some of the very best exercises in this category.
Add the above exercises into your training program, focus on getting stronger in each one over time and your core strength is sure to improve as a result. If you are sure to emphasize proper technique at all times and you are consistent, you will see the benefits and a transfer to your main training goals.

How to Lengthen Hip Flexors – Hip Mobility Guide

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.

How to lengthen hip flexors

Unlock Your Hip Flexors - Full Program

For those of you that want a full, step-by-step program from an injury specialist, complete with videos, manuals and some added bonuses, you may want to have a look at the popular "Unlock Your Hip Flexors" Program from the guys at Critical Bench.

It is very affordable and well worth it if you want a structured routine from an expert that takes away all of the guesswork.

(its a long page with a lot of info so you have to scroll a bit to reach the program details)

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.

tight hips from sitting image

Consistently sitting for long periods can play havoc with your hip flexibility

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.

What do the Hip Flexors do?

Hip flexor anatomy

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.

What are the causes of limited Hip mobility?

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.

Why Tight Hip flexors are a problem? 

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.

The Benefits of Hip Flexor Stretches?

Improved flexibility around your back and lower limbs

Decreases chance of lower limb/back injury

Improved posture

Better transfer of power to muscles around the hips

Less neuromuscular inhibition (greater range of motion)

Better athletic performance

Enhanced blood circulation

Faster recovery and less muscles soreness

Less restriction and more comfort during movements like squatting and deadlifting

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:


How to Lengthen Hip Flexors - Sample Mobility Routine


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:

  • Myofascial release
  • Stretching​​​​
  • Strengthening

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.

Self-myofascial release

Before stretching the muscles, I like to focus on massaging and releasing 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.

foam rolling to lengthen hip flexors

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.

Mobility Routine Part 1: Myofascial Release

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.

Static Stretching

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.

Mobility Routine Part 2: Stretching

Use the guidelines above and perform the following stretches after completing your myofascial release/foam rolling.

1. Lying piriformis stretch 

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.

3. “Couch” 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).

4. Pigeon stretch 

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.

5. Deep Squat Hold

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.

Strengthening the muscles

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:

1. Planks

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.

2. Lunges 

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.

3. Squats 

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.

Final thoughts on hip flexor stretching

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.

If you are the kind of person that prefers an all-in-one, done for you routine with videos and manuals:

Click here and check out the unlock your hip flexors program from critical bench.

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.

Proper Way To Do Deadlifts – A guide to perfect deadlift form

You need to learn the proper way to do deadlifts because they’re F***-ing awesome!

Quite possibly the exercise that provides the most "bang for your buck", the deadlift is a raw strength and muscle-building powerhouse. Learning how to deadlift with good form is a must for every serious lifter.

How to deadlift

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.​

The benefits of deadlifts

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.

Stronger core, legs and back

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.

Improved Posture

poor posture

The deadlift can strengthen postural muscles to help you stand straighter and taller

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.

Mental Toughness and grit

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.

comfort zone

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.

Works more muscles than any other 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.

Muscles activated during a deadlift

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.

Muscles worked in a deadlift

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.

Muscles worked in a deadlift

As you can see, deadlifts work a ridiculously large amount of muscles!

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.

Video guide for the proper way to do deadlifts

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.

Step-by-step guide to proper deadlift form


1. Foot position and stance width.

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.

2. The start position of the pull.

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.

proper way to do deadlifts start position

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 Key Deadlift Technique Rules: The bar must be over your mid-foot. The bar must be directly below your shoulder blades.

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3. Get you upper back set and tight!

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.

4. Pulling the slack out.

“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.

5. Start the pull, keep the bar close.

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.

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Deadlift Drills and Variations

Block pulls

Dan green deadlift from blocks

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.

Snatch-grip deadlifts

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.

Sumo deadlifts

Jonnie Candito sumo deadlift

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.

Closing Thoughts and Summary

Go and deadlift. A lot!

Oh, and have a look at these other articles to help your deadlift training:

Find the best shoes to deadlift in​.

Improve your grip strength.

3 Deadlift cues to lift more weight.

How to squat Properly – Guide to good squat form

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 how to perform the squat with good technique to make sure you get the most out of your squat training and stay safe while you're at it.

How to squat properly

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.

The benefits of squatting

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.

Squatting uses a heck of a lot of muscles

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.

Full range squats increase mobility

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!

ATG squat

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.

Squats are “functional”

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.

Deep squat baby

What I wouldn't give to be able to squat like this little guy! Dresses better than me too 🙁

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.

Heavy squats build mental fortitude

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.

What Muscles do Squats Work?

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:

How to squat properly

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 old online coaching company.

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 each step is written out in order below it.

I hope you enjoyed the vid and learned a lot from it. Just to recap, the general steps are:

1. Bar position.

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.

2. Walking the bar out of the rack.

squat walk out

Think about what you are doing when you walk the bar out of the power 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.

3. Proper breathing.

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.

Valsalva maneuver for squats

Diagram of a good breathing and bracing pattern for squats. Known as a valsalva maneuver.

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.

4. The descent.

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.

5. Reaching proper depth.

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.

Parallel squat diagram

A below "parallel" 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.

6. Open your hips, knees in line with toes.

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.

7. Stand up.

Ray Williams powerlifting competition 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.

Common Squat Mistakes

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!

3 Squat Mistakes Infographic

Common squat mistakes infographic

Click to view full-size

Click image to view full size. Feel free to use this on your own site by copying and pasting the code below.

Shooting the hips back way too far

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.

Hips shooting back in the squat diagram

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.

Incorrect bracing

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.

Heels rising

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.

Heel lifting in the squat

Impressive physique. Not sure about the trousers. Very disappointed with the heels!

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.

Knees caving in or collapsing

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.

Knee valgus band drill

Mobility legend, Kelly Starrett of Mobility Wod (www.mobilitywod.com) demonstrating a banded drill to combat knee valgus during 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.

Helpful Squat Variations

Goblet squats

goblet squat

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

Box squats are very much as they sound. You squat on top of a box.

box squat image

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.

Front squats

I love and hate front squats. I love the benefits but hate how much they make me feel sick when I do them.

Girl performing a front squat

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.

Get to squattin’

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!

Best Knee Sleeves for Squatting – Guide and knee sleeve reviews

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 come up with this guide.

best knee sleeves for squats

Featured Knee Sleeves - Quick view

Do knee sleeves prevent injury?

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.

Knee pain from squats graphic

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.

Can you squat heavier with knee sleeves?

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.

Who should wear knee sleeves?

I don’t think anybody really needs knee sleeves. They should be used as another training tool just like wrist wraps, weightlifting straps, belts and lifting shoes.

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.

Best knee sleeves for squatting – Top pick reviews

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.

SBD knee sleeves

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.

Features

- 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.

Rehband RX 7mm knee sleeves

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.

Features​​​​

- 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.

Mark Bell’s Strong Sleeves

In my mind, these are the closest thing to a competitor for the all-conquering SBD sleeves.

Features

- 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.

Titan Yellow Jacket 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.

Features

- 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.

Final thoughts and recommendations

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​.

Benefits of Strength Training – 7 strength training benefits and reasons to pick up a barbell now

Getting stronger isn't all about looking better and boosting your ego. The benefits of strength training go way beyond improving your physique.

Wondering what else you could gain from lifting weights?

Read this article to discover 7 of the top reason to get strong.

benefits of strength training

Before your read the full article below, be sure to share the info-graphic. Feel free to embed it on your own site​ as well to let everybody strength training is the best!

Benefits of Strength Training Graphic​

benefits of strength training infographic

 Feel free to use this graphic. Copy and paste the code below to add it to your own site if you love strength training.


Here is the detailed list of 7 awesome reasons to make strength training a part of your life.

1. More muscle mass

Here, is one of the more obvious benefits of strength training. So, I will get it out of the way.

Your body is excellent at adapting to the demands you put on it. Its capability to adapt is the reason that training works in the first place. Getting stronger is not just lifting more weight on the bar.

Increasing amount or reps you do, the total number of sets and the speed that you perform a rep all indicate that you have got stronger. Your body will adapt to these demands by increasing the size and amount of muscle you have on your body over time.

2. Stronger bones and connective tissue

Your body will, not only adapt to the demands of strength training by increasing muscle size, it can also adapt by increasing the strength of your bones as well [1].

it's very important for keeping you strong and reducing fracture risks, especially as you age. As an extra benefit, strength training can help improve your balance and connective tissue strength as well.

3. Life becomes easier

Almost everything is easier when you are stronger. Carrying shopping bags, climbing stairs, moving furniture and even just getting up out of a chair. Everybody would like an easier life so why not train for one.

4. Keeps you leaner

As mentioned in number 1, strength training increases the muscle mass on your body. Not only does the muscle itself improve your physique, it can improve it even further by making it easier to burn fat.

You may have heard that muscle will rev up your metabolism and burn more calories while you rest. This is true but it is often overhyped and may not make as much of a difference as some people say [3].

What probably has more of an effect on calorie burn, is that those with increased muscle mass have been shown to burn more calories after their workouts [4]. Making for more effective workouts all round.

5. Reduces risks of disease and illnesses

Increased bone density, as covered in number 2, can help prevent and improve symptoms of osteoporosis.

Other Illnesses and diseases, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and diabetes have all been shown to be improved by physical activity that includes a form of resistance training [5] [6].

There has also been some talk that it could cut risk of certain cancers by up to 40% [7]

6. Benefits your mental state and energy level

Anxiety, depression, brain function, memory, chronic fatigue and sleep quality. All have had evidence to show that they can be improved upon with regular resistance and strength training [8].

7. Sense of achievement

Getting to the gym regularly is hard work, it’s made even harder when you aren’t progressing. With strength training, you will be constantly progressing and the numbers will be right there in front of you to see.

This really one of the less though of benefits of strength training. But, a very important one.

Heading to the gym becomes exciting and much more motivating when you can physically see your progress from week to week.

It also feels damn good to hit a new deadlift or squat P.R!

I'm sure after reading this, you're now itching to get yourself in the gym and picking up some barbells. If you are new to the gym, check out my article on how to conquer your first day in the gym.

Sources

[1] The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. - http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9927006

[2] Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Zhang, K., Boozer, C.N., & Heymsfield, S.B. (2001). Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11346676

[3] Smith, J., & McNaughton, L. (1993). The effects of intensity of exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in moderately trained men and women. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8299613

[4] A systematic review and meta-analysis of strength training in individuals with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson disease. -
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25634170

[5] Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992225/

[6] Men with big muscles cut cancer risk by 40 per cent -
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5371468/Men-with-big-muscles-cut-cancer-risk-by-40-per-cent.html

[7] Resistance Training Improves Mental Health, Amenda Ramirez and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. - https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/RTandMentalHealth.html

What to do on your first day in the gym? – 13 tips to crush your first day at the gym

Worrying about what to do on your first day in the gym? Fear not, everybody does. This guide has you covered, though. Read it and you will be crushing it in the gym from day one!

Your first gym session can be a daunting and unnerving experience. The gym can feel like a rather foreign, mysterious place to those that have never ventured inside.

This quick-fire tips guide has you covered.

beginner gym tips

The truth is, the gym is an awesome place to get stronger, fitter and improve your quality of life.

Sure, you can do that in a home gym but training around like-minded individuals is excellent for motivation.

The first day at the gym, however, needs to be conquered if you are ever going to enjoy the benefits of training in a gym. Here are some quick-fire tips and advice to help your first gym workout go smoothly.

What to do on your first day in the gym. Gym noob success tips:​


1. Check you have everything you need. Check again.

There’s nothing worse than getting to the gym and realizing you have forgotten something. Even for more experienced gym-goers, it can ruin a workout. It’s even more important to make sure you have everything packed in your gym bag if it’s your first day at the gym.

Forgetting something important puts you on the back foot and creates a negative experience before you even begin. Ensure you’ve got it all beforehand.

You might not need all the items, but here’s a quick list of common gym gear to take:

Towel, water bottle, lock, hair ties, earphones, membership card, toiletries, workout clothes, a change of clothes, workout trainers.

2. Have a plan.

Knowing what you’re supposed to do before getting to the gym is key for everybody.

first day at the gym plan ahead image

Making up a workout on the spot isn’t an effective way to train. Wandering aimlessly around the gym as a newbie is also a very awkward and helpless feeling. I’ve been there.

Do a bit of research on good routines and exercise technique before you head in for your first session.

3. Warm up on the bike or elliptical machine.

This isn’t because those are the best machines to warm up on, it’s actually a tactical choice.

The bike and the elliptical require less concentration than the treadmill or rowing machine, making them an excellent choice for scoping the gym out before your workout.

Try and pick a machine that has a good view of the gym if you can. Spend a few minutes looking around and spotting the pieces of equipment you want to use for your workout. Take a look at how other people are using them so you have a rough idea of how they work.

I used to do this all the time and still do if I’m heading into a completely new gym. It’s a really good way to get comfortable.

4. Work with a trainer.

Many gyms will offer induction sessions for new members. Take advantage of them and gain as much relevant information from the trainer as you can.

It is an easy way to get around the confusion of What to do on your first day in the gym. Let a professional take care of that for you.

Walking around with a trainer on your first visit will take away the feeling of vulnerability that sometimes comes with being alone. The trainer will also be able to show you exactly how to set up the equipment so you won’t need to fumble around by yourself.

5. Train with a friend.

Following on from my last point, being with a friend gives that “safety in numbers” effect. It doesn’t really matter if your friend is experienced in the gym, although that can help, the main thing is that you have somebody familiar with you.

Arnold and Franco training together

6. Wear comfortable and suitable clothing.

Sounds obvious but a lot of people either don’t think about it or don’t fully realise what type of clothing is suitable. Do a little research.

Pick clothing that isn’t going to get caught up in machinery or inhibit your movements but that you feel confident wearing. You will probably feel conscious enough so go for clothes that make you feel good to wear.

7. Forget about what others think.

Easier said than done, I know.

But, Honestly, they probably aren’t thinking anything. Most people are either there to train and don’t pay attention to what others are doing, or they are feeling just as self-conscious as you.

In the gym and life in general, people are way too focused on themselves to worry too much about what you’re doing so don’t even sweat it.

8. Hold back a bit.

You do need to push outside of your comfort zone at some point to get results. Your first session probably isn’t the time to do that.

You need to be learning exercise technique and getting your body used to the movements first. Pick weights that you are comfortable handling and build up from there.

Another point is that you are probably going to quite sore for a day or two after. Everything will be new to your body so it’s going to create a bit of soreness. Take a look at this post to find out what you need to know about muscle soreness.

9. Clean the equipment after use.

Self-explanatory, you don’t want to be laying or sitting in anybody else’s sweat puddle and they don’t want to sit in yours.

10. Don’t tip the barbell.

This would be a most scarring thing to experience on your first day in the gym.

I have never done it myself but, many times, I have heard the almighty crash and turned around to see the red-faced, horrified victim looking helpless in the aftermath.

Not to mention it could also be very dangerous.

What I’m talking about is balancing the barbell on the rack, bench press or stands. Loading too much weight on one side has a see-saw effect that sends the opposite end flipping into the air.

It depends how far apart the uprights on the rack are, but to be safe, I never have more than a 45lbs/20kg difference between each side.

11. Ask for help.

bench press spotter

Don’t struggle by yourself or do anything you are unsure of. There should be plenty of staff around to lend a hand.

If not, ask a member that looks like they know what they are doing. Most people will be willing to help you out.

If they’re not willing to help, then good news, you discovered the gym a$$-hole on your first day. You can now avoid him/her from the get-go.

12. Do not answer a call in the gym.

A quick text is fine, just don’t spend ages sitting on the bench press staring at your screen. However, full-blown phone conversations in the gym should be illegal.

I might be sounding like some grumpy old man here but it winds me up so much. I’m pretty good at letting people do their own thing, not much bothers me but it’s quite hard to ignore somebody wandering around, shouting over the music with their phone stuck to the side of their face. It’s quite off-putting to word it lightly.

I know you can’t ignore calls, it could be an emergency. Answer it and walk away to the changing room or the exit to take the call.

13. Put back everything you use.

A sure-fire way to make yourself an enemy to members and staff alike, is to leave equipment lying everywhere.

Be courteous and anything you use back where it should go. Don’t be lazy.

My view has always been that returning the equipment and weights is just another part of the exercise. You get some extra work for your muscles when you are carrying plates and bars across the gym anyway, so why not do it?

What do Sore Muscles Mean – Does soreness indicate a good workout?

“No pain, no gain.” You have probably heard that before but is it really the case when it comes strength gains? What do sore muscles mean for muscle growth?

This article explores the causes of that post-workout soreness, what it means for your muscle or strength gains and how you can deal with it effectively.

are sore muscle good

The pain and soreness I’m talking about here is the feeling of tender, stiff and aching muscles after exercising or training. This phenomenon is called ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ (DOMS).

DOMS could be an indicator of how good a workout was.

But, probably not in the way you or most people think.

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Your muscles repeatedly expand and contract during exercise, your probably know this. When you work hard you create small tears in the micro-structures of your muscle tissue, the fascia around the muscle tissue and your connective tissue.

The micro-trauma to the muscles is part of the reason for decreased performance in the gym as your workout goes on.

The burning pain you sometimes feel during exercise is normally ascribed to lactic acid build up and is not the same as DOMS.

To alleviate that kind of pain, you need to stop, breathe, maybe hydrate a bit. That is not the type of pain I'm talking about here.

DOMS doesn’t set in until a while after a training session.

Lactic acid build-up is not the cause of post-workout muscle soreness.

What does DOMS feel like?

Here’s how DOMS usually hits you.

After you complete your workout, the endorphins are rushing and you feel great. You head home, make a big meal, and move on to the next thing in your day.

The next morning is usually when you get to know DOMS. In very bad cases, you feel like you can’t get out of bed. Your muscles barely respond and when they do, all you feel is pain.

sore back image for what do sore muscles mean article

You probably start regretting your last workout the same way you regret a night out at the club, the next morning.

This pain is expected and should be welcomed to a certain degree. It tells you that your muscles were worked hard or in a way they aren’t used to being worked.

Nobody ever made their gains without feeling these exact same pains.

However, it isn’t essential to be sore. In fact, soreness should decrease as you become better adapted to recovering from your workouts. Less soreness over time is a good thing.

Who Gets DOMS?

-People lifting for the first time. Muscles that aren’t used to working hard will respond strongly to the first couple days of exercise.

-Experienced athletes who increase their intensity or change their routine. This creates new levels of muscle stress and targets new muscle groups.

Delayed onset muscle soreness doesn’t necessarily occur every time you work out. Imagine you do the same fifty push ups every day for two weeks.

By the end of the first week your muscles have grown to accommodate that stress and can recover from it pretty well, you probably no longer feel sore the next day.

If you double it to 100 push ups, you probably don’t need me to tell you that the next morning might be a sore one again.

The really interesting thing is if you just slightly change the way you do a push-up, you could bring on DOMS again.

Even small changes in hand or foot position will engage different muscle groups.

You may feel it during your sets, or the difference may be so slight that 50 push ups still feels easy.

The next day, however, your muscles will probably a bit sore again, as a result of changing the way you worked them by altering your body positions.

The topic of post-exercise muscle soreness is pretty interesting and full of confusion.

In all honesty, scientists aren’t entirely clear yet on all the factors that contribute to maximised muscle growth or on what exactly causes DOMS, much of it is theoretical.

Your body is an incredibly complicated set of systems all working together.

What do sore muscles mean for your gains? - Facts about DOMS

skeletal muscle structure diagram

One theory suggests that muscle soreness is a results of micro-traumas to the muscular structure caused by training. View source.

-DOMS normally sets in between 12 and 24 hours after a workout and can last up to 72 hours! This varies widely for different people and exercises.

DOMS is normally far more intense for people who do not frequently exercise.

So, if you are getting DOMS for very long periods of time, you can probably take that as an indicator that you need to increase the training frequency of the muscle/exercise that caused the soreness.

-After a workout, your body undergoes a state of elevated protein synthesis. This is basically, the repair and rebuilding process of the muscles you just broke down.

Protein synthesis is a complicated process and is essential to creating new muscle mass. It is extremely important to building strength. I will go into it in more detail later.

-Getting adequate protein during this window of protein synthesis is essential for the repair of your muscles. The window of elevated protein synthesis is sometimes what is known as the “anabolic window”.

You may have heard that term thrown around. Often, you will hear that your window is very short so you must rush to your protein shake straight after a workout or you could miss it.

In reality, this window of muscle repair and growth can last up to 48 hours in complete novices.

What this means is that the absolute maximum amount of growth time, the “anabolic window”, for your muscles from a given workout is 48 hours.

If you’re interested in the science, here’s an in-depth review of the anabolic window.So, the fact that some people can be sore for up to a week after a given workout shows us that DOMS does not equal muscle growth. Muscle growth stops at the very most 48 hours after you train.

This brings me back to the point I made earlier:

DOMS could be an indicator of how good a workout was. But probably not in the way you or most people think.

What I actually meant was that being sore for days on end after a workout is probably an indicator that your workout really wasn’t that good.

You probably did too much overall volume (sets, reps and exercises).

-Stretching is very good for your body. It helps you warm up and helps reduce the risk of injury during exercise.

However, it has been shown to have little to no effect on DOMS. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21735398

On the other hand, massage and foam rolling is a good way to increase blood flow to the sore muscles. Increased blood flow could help with recovery​.

Some old-school Elliot Hulse, going through a bit of foam rolling for recovery.

What Do Athletes Do About Muscle Soreness?

They manage their training volume so that they are not sore for long and are ready to train again as soon as their anabolic window is “closed”.

Athletes will usually train full body workouts with just enough rest days in between to allow for protein synthesis to run its course. Also, by splitting up their overall volume for each muscle group into multiple days, soreness from workouts is much lower.

Thinking like this, suggests that full body workouts are the way to go for most people.

There’s a lot of wisdom that will point you in different directions on recovery times and workout intensity.

Each perspective usually has some pros and cons. But the bottom line is that everyone is different.

How to Manage and Get Rid of DOMS?

What is muscles soreness and how can you get rid of it? Here's a checklist for defeating DOMS:

Muscle Soreness Cheat Sheet

The soreness you experience the day after an intense workout is called DOMS.

DOMS indicates that you have broken down your muscle and connective tissue during a workout. But does not necessarily mean your muscles are growing just because they are hurting.

The worst DOMS is usually felt by completely new gym-goers or a change in the routine of more experienced individuals.

The best way to combat DOMS is to train your entire body frequently so that you adapt to the recovery demands and get less sore.

Icing and moving the muscles that are sore can help to relieve the soreness when you do get DOMS.

DOMS is not an indicator of muscles growing or of a good workout.

The actual process of muscle repair and growth is called muscle protein synthesis. This can last for up to 48 hours after a training session.

If you are too sore to train after that period of elevated protein synthesis, then you went too hard in the gym and your recovery is hindering your potential growth.

You need to be able to train again once muscle protein synthesis returns to baseline in order to elevate it again.

It’s basically impossible to get that timing exact, but for most people, a good guide is to train the same muscle groups 36-48 hours apart.

I feel like this topic is super important for your training as a whole. Not understanding the concept of DOMS and muscle recovery is the reason so many people don’t make the gains they could be making in the gym. Usually killing themselves and working much harder for fewer results.

So, do everybody you know a favour and save them by sharing this on whichever social media you like to hang out on.

No pain, no gain! Or should it be TOO much pain, much fewer gains?

Which Kettlebell? Your Guide to Buying the Best Kettlebell

Kettlebells are a great bit of kit; they can combine strength, flexibility and endurance into one workout. However, sorting through all of the available options and choosing the best kettlebell for your training needs can be a pain.

I have created this in-depth guide with all of the information you need to make the right decision. I have also reviewed some suggested products to make it even easier for you.

best kettlebell for training

Recommended Kettlebells

Here is a quick view of my two suggested kettle brands and types. You can read more about them below.

Best Competition Kettlebell

Best Cast Iron Kettlebell

Though they were a little known and seldom seen piece of equipment just ten years ago, lately the kettlebell has become popular around the world.

This is no accident. The simple piece of equipment, which originated on Russian farms around the 1700s, can do a surprising array of things for your body.

Kettlebell workouts are dynamic and often ballistic in nature so they work multiple muscle groups at once in ways that mimic and support real world motion. Most kettlebell workouts are based on high rep, high intensity movement and can burn incredible numbers of calories while strengthening muscles.

It’s no wonder they have become so popular.

The problem is that now that everybody is training with them, everyone seems to be selling them too and not all kettlebells were created equal.

For someone just looking to buy their first one, it can be hard to figure out how much you should be paying and what makes a quality kettlebell.

I have put together this buyer’s guide to help you find the very best kettlebell for your needs.

What Makes a Good Kettlebell?

Well, anytime you want to know about a piece of equipment, a good place to start is asking “what do the pros use?” Take a look:

​Competition Kettlebells

Those guys are using professional-grade steel kettlebells, also known as competition kettlebells.

They are the most expensive option, running up to and over $300 depending on weight (the heavier you go, the more expensive they get).

Competition style are the best kettlebell type. I generally recommend them to everybody, but they might not be right for you if you are on a budget.

However, there are some important things that they can teach us as we explore the pros and cons of the different options.

The most important thing to note is the shape. Kettlebell exercises are diverse and many involve touching the kettlebell to your body in various ways.

You don’t want an awkward shape with sharp corners, edges, welds or seams that are going to scrape your skin or be uncomfortable.

An added bonus to professional-grade steel competition kettlebells is that all the different weights are the exact same size and shape.

This allows for a consistency that is very important at high levels of performance, but may not be a factor when you are just starting out.

You will also see,  the handles are not painted.

It is so that any paint chips, which will happen over years of use, do not affect your grip and tear at your skin.

You will want to bear that in mind when you look at other, less expensive types of kettlebells.

​Cast Iron Kettlebells

Cast iron kettlebell image

Cast iron kettlebells are the most common type on the market and what we recommend you start with. They are what you will see most commonly in gyms, as well as what you would have seen on a Russian farm three hundred years ago.

Most importantly, they are normally cheaper, ranging from $40-$100 depending on weight and brand.

No matter which style of kettlebell you choose, if you find the right brand they can be of extremely high quality and last you your entire lifetime.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of brands out there to choose from and it would be impossible to cover all of them.

Instead, I am going to take you through an in-depth look at what makes a kettlebell high or low quality and how you can make an educated decision when buying your own.

​What Weight Kettlebell to Buy?

This is the first big question and it can be a tricky one to answer, since everyone's body and level of fitness is different.

There are some general guidelines, though.

Typically, for men, it is recommended to start with a 12-16kg, depending on fitness and strength level.

For women, I recommend starting with an 8kg or 12kg, then move up as you get fitter, stronger and more technically proficient.

If you do have the budget to start with both the lower and higher end of those recommended starting weights (for men, both the 12 and 16kg kettlebell), then go ahead and get both.

You will probably outgrow certain exercises quite quickly with the light bell and need something heavier, swings for example.

There will be other exercises that are a bit more technical like the snatch, that you will need to perfect using the lighter option for a period of time.

Having a couple of options means you can push your training harder and with more variety.

It still works out very affordable to buy a couple of them when you think about the huge variety of exercise you can perform with them.

Kettlebell exercises are widely diverse and normally focused on both high or low numbers of reps so just one or two can turn into months of training before you will need to think about the next weight.

Remember, you could be swinging this thing around for sets of 20, 40, even 80 reps. It won’t feel so light then.

​Kettlebell Construction

Mostly, kettlebells are cast from a single mold. Sometimes, you will come across bells that have been made from two separate pieces.

The two-piece ones may not be as safe or secure so I would advise steering clear of those.

The cast iron kettlebells that are made from a single mold, can sometimes have a sharp seems under the handle so be sure to check for that if you can.

It is very important that the handle is smooth and rounded so that it will not pinch your palms. The best kettlebell should not have any welds at the edges of the handle or those sharp seems from poor molding.

These days, many kettlebells are being sold with ‘sleeves’ around the body of the bell to make them more comfortable to use.

Don’t worry if you can’t tell for certain if it has been welded or molded, as long as it feels solid, secure and there are no seams or burrs to pinch and scrape your skin, you’re on the right track.

​Best Kettlebell Handle Size

For the competition bells, the handle size should be the same throughout the range of weights (33mm in diameter). This is another huge benefit to paying that little extra for the competition style.

When it comes to the other types of kettlebell, handle sizes can vary greatly. Usually, the sign of a poorer quality product is a very thin handle. You should be looking to get a kettlebell with a handle diameter of at least 30mm.

On the other hand, you don’t want it to be much more than 40mm thick either. Once the handles get too fat, they become very hard to keep your grip on.

Great for working your forearms, but not so great when your grip gives out as the kettlebell passes overhead during a snatch.

If the manufacturer lists the sizes, then 30mm – 40mm is good.

​Surface Finish

Cast iron kettlebells have a durable, smooth, painted finish. This is to prevent rusting and to create smooth surfaces for your skin that can provide just the right amount of grip.

The finish can be applied in a number of ways. Some companies bake their paint on, others use a powder coating process, and others use epoxy.

Paint that has been epoxied can chip more quickly than other methods. When the paint starts to chip on the handle it can damage your hands.

Inevitably, any type of finish will chip over time. The important thing is that the finish does not cause blisters or pain when sliding in your palms repeatedly.

To a certain degree, it comes down to your preferred texture, powder coated paint can tend to have a little more grip while baked and epoxied paints can be smoother.

Some users prefer a texture that is like a very smooth sandpaper, usually achieved by powder-coat paint jobs. The rougher surface means less movement, and fewer blisters on sweaty hands than a smooth polish.

I, however, like the smooth, bare-metal finish of a steel bell. It just feels so much more natural and solid in your hands. You can always use a bit of chalk to keep the handle dry and grippy.

man using weightlifting chalk

Use some chalk when kettlebell training to keep your hands dry from sweat. It will minimize the risk of you losing grip and hurling lump of metal across the gym.

The Base of a Good Kettlebell​

If you are able to do a hands-on inspection with your kettlebell, it is good to test that it rests completely flat on the floor.

Take the kettlebell to an uncarpeted part of the store and place it on the ground. Squat down above it and put both hands on the handle.

If you slowly put your weight onto it, does it feel completely solid or do you feel it wobble underneath you?

It should provide a stable base upon which you could put part of your body weight without worrying about it tipping to one side or the other.

You are going to want to do pushups or renegade rows in your training, for example, and you don’t want them tipping over and damaging your wrist.

If you can't get hands-on before you buy, the likelihood is that you can't, just ensure the based is flat.​

Are Adjustable Kettlebells Any Good?​

So, you may have seen what’s called an adjustable kettlebell at your local fitness store.

They might have told you that it was the perfect way to get started, how one great purchase could give you all the different weights you need, all for the low, low price of… wait a minute.

Sounds a bit too good to be true? That’s because it is.

While adjustable kettlebells have come a long way since the first rickety designs, there are good reasons why they still aren’t used in many gyms or by coaches often:

- Believe it or not, you really don’t need a whole set of different weights to get started.

- You can add more reps to progress and improve technique in the beginning.

- The same kettlebell can be right for you when you can only manage fifteen good reps of a certain exercise as it can when you can manage fifty.

- There are so many ways to use a kettlebell that when you have mastered basic exercises and are feeling stronger, there are always harder variations you can move onto with the same weight.

- Kettlebell exercises require the bell to touch your body in a number of ways for up to 80 reps in a set.

Remember when we talked about a smooth finish earlier on? The same concept applies here.

While adjustable kettlebells are more often rounded in shape and attempt to take this into account, most brands still come with slots between weight plates that make them uncomfortable to use.

Classic kettlebells are basically cannonballs with handles; they are one of the most durable pieces of equipment you can find.

They need to be durable because they are swung, tossed, dropped and generally beaten across the course of their lifespan.

The more moving parts introduced into an adjustable system, the more likely they are to wear down over time creating wobbling weight plates or all out malfunction.

It is important to note that in the past couple of years, adjustable kettlebell technology has come a long way and will continue to do so.

If you weigh these pros and cons, do a little research and find a brand that you think is right for you it may be the cheapest way to get a ‘full set’.

Pictured above is the Kettlebell Kings Adjustable Bell. If you are set on having a few weight options but don't want to break the bank, this is the best looking adjustable option I came across. Click here to view it on Amazon

However, I still recommend a solid cast iron or competition steel kettlebell over the adjustable ones if you're serious about kettlebell exercises.

​Which is the Best Kettlebell to Buy

Now you have all the knowledge you need to make an educated purchase that fits you best.

Maybe you’re a real believer in quality and just want one professional-grade steel competition kettlebell that will last you your lifetime. You’re ready to spend a little extra for that quality.

Maybe you prefer the flexibility of an adjustable kettlebell despite some of the possible drawbacks. That could be right for some. Although, I do advise against it.

Whatever your buying preference, you can now use this guide to sift through the options online. 

Or, you could go for one of the suggested kettlebells below since you really can't go wrong with either of them.

My Top Pick Competition and Cast Kettlebells​

Top Competition Kettlebell

Top Cast Iron Kettlebell

As with most fitness and strength equipment, you really do get what you pay for with kettlebells.

The higher prices usually mean that the manufacturer has been able to be more precise and to take more care in producing the finished product.

You can get some cheap ones that may do the job for a while but they likely won’t last or provide a great experience.

I have tried to pick high quality brands that don’t break the bank for this whole guide. So, if you stick with one of the products mentioned here, you won’t go too far wrong.

Grip Strength Training – How to improve your hand strength and build a powerful grip

Your hand and grip strength plays a vital role in numerous daily activities like carrying bags and picking up objects. A weak grip can seriously limit your sports and training performance.

A firm grip when shaking hands is even seen as a sign of authority that demands respect.

A strong grip is super important and you need to train for it.

This article will provide you with the best exercises and techniques to build a vice-like grip and a powerful set of forearms at the same time.

Grip strength training featured image

With so many activities dependent on your grip, it’s hard to understand why grip strength training is so often ignored. Considering a good firm grip is seen as a sign of the overall strength and health of a human-being, it makes a lot of sense to work on improving it.

It doesn’t matter if you are a common man or a sportsperson; your grip strength is a significant part of your muscular structure.

“Grip strength is the symbol of the overall vitality of a person. It reflects the overall muscle mass and can predict a number of complications with someone’s future health.” - Richard Bohannon, a professor of physical therapy in the department of Kinesiology at the Neag School of Education

Different types of grip strength

There is use of about 35 muscles while your hand is trying to grasp something using your forearm. Depending on the angles, the weight of the object and the purpose of your grip, varying amounts of strength will be required to determine whether or not you’re able to perform the task demanded of your gripping abilities.

There are three different types of grip strength that you can use. They are crushing, pinch and support grips.

Each is used in different scenarios for grasping different object. Here’s an outline of each type:

1. Crush:

The grip between your palm and fingers is known as a crush grip. It’s like crushing something inside your hand depending on the strength you are applying. It is the most common type of grip and often used while you are handshaking with someone. Breaking a beer can in your hand; a bone-crushing handshake, etc. are some examples of strong crush gripping.

2. Pinch:

The grip using the just your fingers and thumb is known as pinch gripping. It’s like pinching the skin while crushing it between your fingers and your thumb. The basic use of pinch grip is to pick a piece of paper in between your fingers and thumb. While using this grip one must be careful about muscle cramping so make sure to use it carefully and with adequate pressure.

3. Support:

The combined use of your thumb, palm and fingers give rise to support grip. Holding a shopping bag in a clenched hand is a good example.

Pull-ups, rows and farmer’s walks are some of the activities that use support grip inside the gym. This grip is sometimes called carrying grip with the basic function of holding something in your hand. As compared with the other two types of grips stated earlier, this grip will be stronger when maximum force is applied and engages the use of more muscles than the other two types.

man grip strength training with heavy carrying

Heavy carries are an excellent grip strength training tool

Why is grip strength training so important?

There are a number of benefits and advantages to having a strong grip. Many have significance in day to day life, your general health and some will help with sports and physical activity.

1. Symbolizes the overall physical health of your body.

By using grip measurement as measuring tool, there are a number of physical factors that can be assessed such as dietary status, rotator cuff weakness, fatigue and entire physical functioning.

2. An important component for a sportsperson.

It doesn’t matter if it is badminton or tennis, baseball or cricket; a strong grip will make nearly every sport easier, all that make use of your hands anyway.

Being strong in general has injury prevention benefits. Hand strength is a part of what makes a strong athlete. Therefore, it could play a role in decreases the amount of injuries you pick up as a sportsperson.

3. Can aid with muscle building

For the most part, the stronger you get, the bigger you will get. Having a more powerful grip makes lifting heavier weights easier. Hence, increasing the potential you have for building more muscle over time.

4. Could act as an indicator for unforeseen health issues.

An un-naturally poor grip can be a symbol of a weak and tired body. This weakness can be due to poor diet or due to some developing health issue inside your body.

Some doctors around the world will check your grip strength in case of health issues like heart problems and blood pressure. Although there is not much evidence related to such practice, there are a number of researches that have proposed that grip can signify health.

Grip strength training methods:

Below, are several methods that can help build stronger hands. Each type of grip requires different strengthening exercises.

Hanging

A really simple way to build a stronger grip. All you need to do is hang on a pull-up bar for a long time. You can improve your support grip by hanging. You can add a number of variations like chin up, pull ups, hooks, single finger hooks, etc. in order to achieve a different level of strength. There are a number of means to make this simple procedure complex as well, depending on the level of complexity you want in your workout.

Hand grippers

They are the equipment made especially for strengthening your crush grip, although, you can actually get miniature ones for pinch grip now too. They will work the muscles of your forearms and hands, as well as building the strength of individual fingers to increase the overall strength of your hand.

grip strength training equipment image

Plate pinching and passing

Use your thumb and fingers to hold two plates with a barbell placed in between them. This technique help in improving your pinch grip. Now hold a heavy plate using your thumbs and finger but not the palm and pass it around your body in a clockwise direction for three times. Repeat this procedure again in the counter-clockwise direction to improve your pinch strength.

Weighted carries

Commonly known as farmer’s carry. You have probably used or seen these in strongman events. You just need something relatively heavy to hold in each hand like a pair of dumbbells and walk for a given distance. Doing these will not only increase your support grip, your core and cardio system will get a heck of a workout too.

Sandbag crushing

In this method, you will not pick the sandbag up with your whole hand, but will try to pinch it or try to crush the material of the sandbag. Grabbing softer weighted objects in this fashion is one way to strengthen your pinch and crush strength.


Treat your grip strength training just like any other workout. Train it hard but don’t overdo it, you can still get injured when training your grip.

A healthy diet, supplements like calcium and multivitamins Alongside you training could be useful. Although, I would only think about taking supplements once all of the other factors are in place or if your GP makes you aware of any deficiencies.

Gripping objects is the basic function of your hands. Without the ability to grip things, a number of physical activities would be near impossible. All the methods stated above will help in improving grip strength and building stronger hands.

Grip building can be done either at home using simple equipment, or in the gym using barbells, dumbbells and other specialized equipment.

If you would like to start working on your grip strength, which I’m sure you will do after reading all of the advantages, take a look at this article on grip training equipment to discover my recommended accessories for building a better grip.