Improving Weak Points in the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift

How’s it going Train Loco readers! Today we have an awesome guest blog by Strength and Conditioning-USA Weightlifting Coach Luke Propst. Luke has his masters in exercise physiology and we are big fans of his programming work. So we asked him to spread some knowledge with the Train Loco readers so you all could get into the weight room and improve some “weak points” in your squats, bench and deadlifts.  Enjoy!

-Eric and Chris




When we look at the “big three”; squat, bench, and deadlift there are usually a couple of issues that hold us back from being able to put more weight on the bar.  Depending on the person and individual leverages some might be more relevant than others, but let’s look at one very common issue that arises in each of these lifts and some potential strategies to overcome these weak points and lift more weight.


Correcting the Squat

A common issue when squatting is when a lifters knees will fall inward, or collapse (knee valgus) during the lift.  This is most common upon the initiation of the upward movement, the beginning of the concentric phase.  While this is sometimes due to glute medius weakness, it’s more often just a poor motor habit that needs to be retrained.  When a lifters knees cave or collapse inwards they will lose the ability to really drive into the ground and engage the glutes to help them to stand up.  This knee valgus will put more stress on the quads as they attempt to pick up the slack and stand the bar up.  It’s harder on the knees, more stress on the quads, and you lose the contribution from the glutes.

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Here are three strategies to keep your knees from collapsing during a squat:

1) activate the glutes before we squat; a good dynamic warmup with hip circles, x-band walks, and glute bridges will get the proper muscles ready to fire.

2) Cue the proper technique.  Emphasize the forceful drive of heels/midfoot into the ground and “spread the floor”- driving knees outward especially on the initiation of the concentric (lifting) phase of the squat.  (Do not allow the knees to actually go outward way over the feet and torque the knee, it’s just an emphasis to counteract the collapsing issue we are dealing with in this hypothetical situation.)

3.) Utilize feedback to end sure proper technique. For example squat with bands around the knees that the lifter must forcefully push out against, or have a training partner either a) place hands outside of the knees and cue the squatter to push into their hands, or b) place hands inside of the knees and cue the squatter not to touch the hands.


Improving the Bench Press

During the bench press the most common issue I see is excessive elbows flaring away from the side of the body, leading the shoulders and traps to rise up towards the ears.  This leads to way too much stress on the deltoids and losing the proper form for the chest to push optimally.  We want to pull the shoulder blades back and down, shoving them into the back pocket and using the lats and lower traps to hold them down there throughout the lift.  The excessive elbow flare isn’t about the chest failing, it’s about the back holding the scapula in the proper position to give the chest muscles a solid base to push against the bar.  We want to activate the lats, traps (lower), and rhomboids with things like band pull parts and pull downs to make sure they are warm, awake and ready to help with this lift.  We cue the proper technique, emphasizing the action of attempting to bend the bar in half and driving the mid back hard into the bench.  It sounds strange but is very effective to engage the lats and mid back muscles to stabilize the scapula for heavy benching.  We then utilize feedback to ensure proper technique by poking into the lats making sure they are engaged and tight, chalking the bar where it touches the chest so we see if the bar is drifting up rep by rep or touching the exact same spot every time.

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Enhancing the Deadlift

A very common issue with the deadlift is as the bar gets loaded heavier we begin to see the lower back round, hips rise up faster than the chest, and either a missed lift or a very ugly, shaky stiff legged deadlift monstrosity.  To address this issue we need to work on our set up and positioning.  Most know to get the hams, glutes, and spinal erectors into the lift, but it’s just as important to activate the lats and mid back.  We want the entire spine to be held stiff with tension in the back muscles, including those big wide lats running up and down each side of the spine.  We want to cue proper technique of not only the lift, but the approach and set up of addressing the bar.  During the set up, cue the lifter to take the slack out of the bar, getting tension all along the spine and lats, upon initiation of the lift reinforce the “chest up” position.  Hips and chest rising together and finishing the lockout with hips and knees at the same time.  Due to the nature of the deadlift it’s problematic to get in close and give physical feed back with bands or touch like on the squat.  Video feedback of one’s lifts is invaluable as it allows the lifter to see their actual technique and not rely on “how it felt”.  Lowering the weight and gradually working up with video confirmation that technique is appropriate is the best feedback I have found for the deadlift.


There you have it. Some great cues that will help you improve your weak points on the squat, bench press, and deadlifts.


About Luke:


Luke earned a master of science degree in exercise physiology while pursuing and powerlifting and athletic career.  He played semi-pro football and college soccer and competes as a powerlifter in the USAPL.  Luke has worked with Division 1 college teams and private clients through his Predator Strength Training studio.

Luke Propst, MS, CSCS, USAW

Training Director at The Diet Doc


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