If you want to find out how strong you really are, do a deadlift.
If you want a great total body exercise, do a deadlift.
If you’re looking to build muscle or burn fat, do one of the many deadlift variations.
If you are a man or woman and want a great exercise that is both functional and fun, do a deadlift.
Why does the deadlift check so many boxes? For starters, it’s hard to use moment or cheat, and an overly eager spotter can’t give you support and “trick” yourself into thinking you’re improving. There’s no getting around it: The deadlift requires you to move a weight, and doing so has benefits for your entire body.
When you perform a deadlift correctly, it recruits just about every muscle fiber in the body, from your feet to your torso, and from your arms to your grip. Not to mention, the exercise isn’t hard to learn, says Mark Rippetoe, owner of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Texas and author of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.
But, if you want to see benefits — much like any other exercise — you need to master the movement. The deadlift is not a dangerous exercise, but the key to its safety is making sure you set-up your body the correct way before you pull the weight.
Is the Deadlift Safe?
Rippetoe believes deadlift training is easier than teaching the squat or the bench press, and he can explain how to do it in just five steps. The “secret” if you will, is in the setup. About 80% of your strength and safety will come from hand, feet, legs, and chest positioning. Once you’re in a position of power, the rest of the actual movement itself is as basic as you’ll find.
But, before digging into the specifics, you should know that the deadlift requires some personal modifications. The reason: Unlike the squat or the bench press (where you can adjust the rack to your height), the starting point of a deadlift isn’t easy to customize. Most 45-pound plates are about 17.5 inches in diameter, which means the barbell connecting them will sit a little less than 9 inches off the ground. If you’re using dumbbells, it’s even farther to the floor to pick up the weight. (Using a trap bar is an alternative that helps alleviate this issue.)
That’s great for some lifters—especially those with short arms and long torsos—but not others. Dan John, a strength coach and author of Can You Go?, will customize the lift for his clients by having them deadlift inside of a squat rack; this way, he can use the safety bars on the side to adjust the height of the starting point. “Some people will eventually deadlift off the floor, but for others the rack deadlift is all they ever need,” John says.
Or, you can prop the barbell on plates (the weight you’re pulling will sit on top of other plates on the floor), thus elevating the bar off the ground to reduce the range of motion.
Whatever the approach, once you find the right setup for your body, then you’re ready to master the deadlift and experience the benefits.
5 Steps to Perfect Deadlift Technique
To test your stability and range-of-motion, perform one set of deadlifts using light weights, says John Gaglione, owner of Gaglione Strength in East Farmingdale, New York. Since the proper deadlift setup requires 17.5-inch plates to be on the barbell, don’t perform this first set with no weight.
Instead, Rippetoe recommends finding 5- or 10-pound plastic plates that have the same height. If your gym or home doesn’t have these, you can opt for a squat rack or position blocks to set up the bar at the proper height.
Once the weight is set, here is how Rippetoe teaches the exercise:
Step #1: Deadlift Foot Positioning
Takeaway: Position your feet so that they’re about hip-width apart
Your feet positioning is closer together than you might think—about the same stance that you’d use for a vertical jump, says Rippetoe. Then, point your toes slightly outward, about 10 degrees or so.
Your shins should be vertical, and—most importantly—positioned about 1 inch away from the bar for deadlift training. That goes for everyone, Rippetoe says, because that will place the barbell directly over the middle of the foot.
“It doesn’t matter what size your foot is,” Rippetoe says. “We’ve looked at women’s size 4 on up to men’s size 17. For all of them, 1 inch puts the barbell over the middle of the foot.”
Step #2: Set Your Deadlift Grip
Takeaway: Position your grip just outside your shins.
To lock in your grip, hinge at your hips (by pushing them back) and bend over to grip the bar. “You want the closest grip you can manage, because that reduces the range of motion of the pull,” Rippetoe says.
And for all but the very heavy sets, make sure you’re using a double-overhand grip, with both palms facing the body, he says. Using an “alternate grip” can place an imbalanced strain on your shoulders.
Step #3: Adjust Your Legs Before You Pull
Takeaway: Drop your knees forward without moving the bar.
When your shins make contact with the bar, stop. “This is the position your hips and knees will be in when you start the pull,” Rippetoe says. “If you continue to lower your hips after this point, your knees will go forward, which will obstruct the bar path, or you’ll end up with your center of mass behind the bar and want to fall over backward,” he says.
At this point, Rippetoe also cues lifters to push their knees out into their elbows slightly—which should be easy to do if they took a narrow grip.
Step #4: Activate The Muscles In Your Back
Takeaway: Make sure your chest stays up.
This step is simple but important. You want the lifter to use the muscles in your upper back to help keep your chest up as you get ready to pull. Confused? Don’t be. Activating your back muscles works in a way that helps align correct posture.
Some coaches—like Jim Smith and Eric Cressey—will cue this by telling lifters they want to be able to read the writing on the front of their T-shirt.
“[Having the chest up] establishes a wave of extension that starts at the shoulders and goes all the way down to… the pelvis,” Rippetoe says. “That way all of the pull goes into the bar.”
Step #5: Grip It, Breathe, And Rip It
Takeaway: Activate and pull the weight up.
Before you start pulling the weight up, think about taking the weight off of your toes. Cue this by rocking back ever-so-slightly so that the weight comes off your toes and onto your midfoot.
Next, take a big breath to engage your core muscles and, keeping your shoulders tight, drag the bar up against your shins.
“Knee extension is first, then hip extension follows,” Rippetoe says. “If you do that correctly, then the bar will come up in a straight line directly over the middle of the foot.”
The bar should travel in a straight line. That will allow you to lift more weight—and do so smoothly and safely—than if you have to tug the bar up over the knees, then back up the thighs.
The bar should stay very close (on in contact) with your legs all the way to lockout.
Then, either drop the bar or reverse the movement to lower back to the starting position. Your feet should still be set, so repeat steps 2-5 (or 3-5 if your grip is still locked), and do as many reps as your workout requires.
The post 5 Ways To Fix Your Deadlift appeared first on Born Fitness.
Talking about squats is a lot like talking about politics: Everyone has an opinion on what works and what doesn’t—and, chances are, they’re passionate about it.
But, it doesn’t take long to realize that the squatting commandments you’ve been hearing for years are very flawed. Case in point: ever been told that your “knees shouldn’t go over your toes” during the squat? Somehow, this idea has lived for decades despite the fact that it’s not true.
Automatically assuming that your knees shouldn’t go over your toes is a great way to ensure that you put a lot of stress on other structures, such as your lower back (as a result of hips), hamstrings, or even your calves. If you’ve tried this approach, you might find that squatting suddenly feels very uncomfortable (note: uncomfortable is different from difficult). And, that’s never a good thing and likely a sign that the movement you’re forcing isn’t going to make your body feel good.
Research supports why allowing your knees to go over your toes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In one study, participants were restricted from moving their knees in front of their toes. The results? It led to a slight reduction in knee torque (22%) but at the cost of a massive increase in hip torque (1070%).
This suggests that if you apply a movement standard for everyone, it’s likely to cause stress in unintended ways, and this massive increase in stress is likely to lead to injuries, aches, and pains.
It’s perfectly fine for your knees to go over your toes as long as your heels are planted on the ground and your weight is balanced over your natural center of gravity.
The only squat stance that is “right” is the one that is suited for your body. That means it’s time to unlearn what you’ve been taught and start figuring out a better way to squat for your body. Once you do, everything feels better, hurts less, and you’ll become stronger.
Is Squatting Good For You?
“Is it good to squat?” is a fair question, but one with an easy answer. Yes. Sitting down and standing up is one of the most basic movements in life.
Whether squatting is good is not a debate, but form and depth are topics of intense disagreement. The biggest thing you need to remember is that everyone is going to squat a little differently. Your squat form might not look like the ones you see in the pictures or those little “squat form demonstration” illustrations.
Your knee attaches to 3 main muscle groups: your hamstrings and calves in the back the quadriceps in front. These muscles also play a key role in your hip movement. Translation: When your muscles contract, they work together to balance out force and keep your knees (and other structures) healthy.
Remember the study we mentioned above and how it increased hip torque by more than 1,000 percent? Trying to follow those how-tos might be why your squat form doesn’t feel quite right—or perhaps why squats feel painful. Following a movement built for someone else’s body type isn’t a good idea.
This, of course, is the reason why squats hurt so many people, get a bad reputation, and why you are often tempted to skip this move in your workout, even though you should do it.
Making matters worse, the more that you read about squat form, the more likely you are to find conflicting information. On one side you have the purists. They’ll tell you that you must squat “ass-to-grass.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, are the overly cautious types who worry that squatting too low will damage your knees (it won’t, by the way). And there are plenty of others who will advocate for stopping at seemingly every other point in between—thighs parallel to the ground, or just below it, or well above it (known as quarter squats), and on and on.
No one is “right” but everyone is wrong unless they are showing you how to figure out the right squat depth and stance for your body.
“There’s no one right way to squat—and there’s no one wrong way, either,” says Dean Somerset, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. “It’s all about finding what works for your body.”
What’s right for you depends on your goals, strength, and level of mobility, which are things you can influence. But, not everything that determines how well you squat is within your control.
Your body’s bone structure will affect how you move too. Because of all that, many of the standard squat cues you hear about where your feet should be or what direction they should point may not actually work for you. (But don’t worry, we’ll show you what will.)
The bottom line: Forget the politics. Forget all the “one-size-fits-all” opinions. There are a lot of ways you can go about fixing squats when they hurt. We’re going to break down the different types of squat depth and share a test that can help you start to personalize your approach.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know the right range of motion for your body, so you can get the most out of the squat.
The Deep Squat
Being able to execute a full deep squat is a good thing, but it might not be your thing. Doing the move requires a full range of motion at all four of the body’s major load-bearing joints (the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders) and proper mobility throughout the spine. Those joints, your muscles, and your brain all have to work together to achieve this position:
That demonstration comes from Georges Dagher, C.S.C.S, a chiropractor and strength coach based in Toronto. He likens the deep squat to brushing your teeth. “From my perspective, the deep squat movement is a toothbrush for our joints, ensuring they are all moving without any sticky or restricted areas,” Dagher writes in the Journal of Evolution and Health.
Just as you brush your teeth every day, Dagher suggests performing at least one bodyweight squat per day, as deep as you can.
If you look at the photo above and think “no way,” don’t stress. Lots of people have strength or mobility issues that can make achieving a deep squat challenging—at least at first.
The good news? By simply working on your deep bodyweight squat form, going as deep as you can with control, and holding as long as you feel reasonably comfortable, you’ll help address and improve those issues.
“The positions we place our bodies in will have an effect on various elements such as muscles, which can improve our comfort in the squat,” Dagher says.
You can also get more comfortable by adjusting your stance. Somerset explains that the standard squatting position— “stand with your feet shoulder-width apart…” —doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s more of a general recommendation or an average, he says, not a hard-and-fast rule.
To help his clients reach a deeper, pain-free squat, Somerset has them experiment with different stances until they find one that feels right.
“Think of it like going to the optometrist, when they put the lens in front of your eyes and ask which one is better,” Somerset says. “There’s no one standard prescription. It’s about finding the right one for you.”
Here are the two main elements Somerset asks clients to adjust when they dial in their stances for ideal squat form:
- The direction of your toes: Try them pointing straight ahead first. Let’s call that 12 o’clock. Squat as deep as you can. Now turn your feet outward slightly – think left foot pointing at 11 o’clock, right foot pointing at 1. Try the deep squat again. Now angle them even farther outward, to 10 and 2. Squat again. Notice which position feels the most natural and allows you to sink the deepest.
- The width of your feet: Start with them set shoulder-width apart. Then, gradually try wider distances, giving each the bodyweight squat test and noticing which feels the most natural. One thing to note: The wider your stance is, the more the exercise will emphasize your glutes (the muscles in your butt), and the less work it’ll put on the quads (muscles of your upper leg around the knee).
Here’s more good news: Even if your range of motion is limited, you probably squat more throughout the day than you think. “Most of us can squat to at least a 90-degree angle,” says Dagher. “We do that every day, every time we climb into our car or get up from a chair.”
Each of those moments is an opportunity to practice lowering yourself into a 90-degree squat with control. Think of them as box squats you do throughout the day; don’t just plop onto the cushion, says Dagher. Doing this throughout the day can shore up your stability and make you a better squatter in the future.
Why You Can’t Squat Deep
Bodyweight squats are one thing, says Dagher, who says that, with the right adjustments, pretty much everyone can go into a deep squat. But, Somerset points out that weighted squats are a different story.
“For some people, their squats fall apart under a certain amount of loading,” he says.
You see, even if you’ve maxed out your mobility in your joints, when it comes to doing weighted squats, you may not be as comfortable—or as powerful—at the deeper end of the squat as you’d like, says Dagher.
Why? It comes down to simple genetics. Some people are built with better squatting hips than others.
Quick anatomy lesson: The place where the femur (the big bone in your thigh) meets your hip, called the hip socket, looks something like a spoon going into a bowl. The top of the femur (called the femoral head) neatly fits into the pelvic socket (acetabulum) and is held in place by ligaments.
Everyone’s hip sockets are different. Some of them are deeper than others. The deeper your socket, the harder it will be for you to squat, since the femur bone will hit the pelvic bone. To go back to our “spoon in bowl” analogy, the stem of the spoon (your femur) runs into the rim of the bowl (your pelvis).
People of Scottish and French heritage typically have deeper hips, according to world-renowned spine expert Stuart McGill. Meanwhile, people from the Ukraine, Poland, and Bulgaria tend to have shallower sockets that allow them to painlessly sink into the deep part of the squat.
McGill says it’s no coincidence that Eastern Europe is home to some of the best Olympic lifters in the world.
A deep hip socket has different advantages. It’s helpful for walking and standing and great at producing rotational power (the type of force you need to hit a baseball or swing a golf club). And having deeper hip sockets doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t squat deep. But, it does mean you’ll have to work harder on the move—and may feel pain when you perform it.
The Squat Form Test
There’s a simple way to gauge the depth of your hip sockets. Simply get onto your hands and knees in an all-fours position, engage your core, and slowly rock your hips back toward your heels. You can see Dr. McGill explain how to do the move at the 2:50 mark of this video (although the entire clip is worth a watch if you have the time).
While it’d be great if you too could do the move under the guidance of the world’s leading researcher on spinal health and performance, you can do this assessment on your own. Simply set up your smartphone to your side, hit record, and do the move.
As your hips lower, you may reach a point where your lower back starts to round. The technical term for that is “spinal flexion.” When it happens while you’re squatting with a barbell on your back, the position is known by the delightful name “buttwink.”
Fun as that word may be to say out loud, buttwink while squatting under load can be bad news. “That’s when your hips stop moving and your start compensating with your back instead,” says Dagher. Disc injuries or even fractures of the spine can result.
How Deep Should You Squat?
The buttwink is why you should not view the weighted deep squat as something you must perform.
As McGill says, a lot of great ATG squatters “chose their parents wisely.”
“The extreme amount that I see people deep squatting is just unprecedented,” McGill says. “The risk is greater than is justified by the reward. No one is going to give you an extra million dollars for squatting deeper. If you need to do that for competition, then that’s one thing. But if your objective is health, then it’s pretty hard to justify.”
The same isn’t true for deep bodyweight squats, however. “Buttwink here is not an issue,” Dagher says. Go ahead and wink away when you’re working the deep squat without weight with the goal of improving your mobility and comfort in the squat.
But, where your back begins to go into flexion when you’re doing the all-fours test, that’s where you’d want your descent to stop if you were performing weighted back squat. If that means you can only squat as low as a box, no problem.
If the box isn’t high enough, you can take a cue from Jim Smith, C.P.P.S, and stack mats on top of the box until you reach the right height. As your mobility and ability to squat lower improve over time, you can pull mats off the pile. No matter what height you reach, Somerset says your main objective should be one thing: control.
A deep range of motion isn’t meant for everyone, so don’t overthink your squat form. In fact, for many people, trying to reach more depth can be counterproductive–or even dangerous. And for no reason.
Less depth doesn’t mean less strength or muscle. But, it also doesn’t mean creating such a short range of motion (like moving 2 inches, so it looks like you’re bouncing up and down) that you’re not creating tension in the muscles, challenging your body, or doing the exercise in a controlled manner. That’s just called cheating.
“Keeping the squat controlled is more important than the depth or the amount of weight being used,” says Somerset.
Hit the height that’s right for you, with the stance that’s right for you, using a weight that you can manage. And then work the deep bodyweight squat. You’ll soon find that you’ll improve your squat form, will move better, and you will become a lot stronger, too.
Why Do Squats Hurt? (And How to Fix the Problems)
6 Exercise Upgrades for Better Results
The Tension Weightlifting Technique: How to Make Every Exercise More Effective
The post The Mystery of Squat Form: How Low Should You Go, Really? appeared first on Born Fitness.
How To Control Hunger
Sticking to a healthy eating plan can feel like a full-time job. There’s the meal prep, carefully weighing portions, and tabulating carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to try and make sure you have the perfect balance of calories.
All of that work usually leads you in one direction: feeling hangry. It’s hardly an appropriate reward for your hard work.
Much of the difficulty of adjusting your diet is the byproduct of the two realities of any type of diet adjustment:
- When you start eating less food, hunger increases. This hunger can become unbearable, and you fall off plan.
- Many of the “dieting rules” feel unrealistic. Whether it’s feeling obligated to eat superfoods or — as we just mentioned — meal prep and macro counting, it can be expensive or draining.
Even research shows that dieting can drain your mental resources and require willpower to succeed if you’re going to avoid snacks and treats when hunger inevitably hits.
While finding a balance between health, sanity, and enjoyment is difficult for most people, here’s some good news: controlling hunger doesn’t have to be so hard.
Some simple changes to your diet — a little more of one thing, a little less of another — can have a big impact on making the process of healthy eating a little bit easier. It all starts with tricks to increase fullness and control your hunger.
When you’re not hangry all the time, life sucks a little less. You won’t hate your diet, which means you can stick with it for a longer period of time, and that is what really delivers the change you desire.
Whether you’re trying to eat better, curb your cravings, or focus on fat loss without as much frustration, these four changes can help increase your results without adding much burden.
Eat Less Often
I know what you might be thinking. Aren’t more frequent meals better? If you’re trying to gain weight or muscle, then sure. But, the outdated (and inaccurate) advice of eating more often to “boost your metabolism” can do more harm than good.
For starters, eating more often does not boost your metabolism. So if you love small meals that’s fine. But, if you eat that way thinking you’re unlocking metabolic magic, you’ve been tricked.
In fact, the more frequent meals might be part of the reason you’re so hungry all the time. A Czech study had 54 people — all of whom were on a plan to reduce their food intake by 500 calories a day — either eat twice a day or six times.
While both groups lost weight, the twice-a-day group dropped their body mass index by an average of 1.23 points over 12 weeks, while the six-meals group only dropped their BMI by .82 points.
Many more studies have replicated these findings by comparing more meals vs. fewer, and the results hold up: more is not better. In fact, one study made the very definitive claim, “Higher Eating Frequency Does Not Decrease Appetite in Healthy Adults.”
From a practical standpoint, it’s much more manageable. Every meal is an opportunity to overeat or pick something that isn’t quite as healthy but you can’t resist. For many people, meal time can be stressful. So, focusing on fewer meals per day can make it easier to eat the foods your body needs to achieve your goals.
Include Protein Each Time You Eat
This one is simple: Protein is the most-filling macronutrient, compared to carbs or fats. Translation: when you eat more protein, it keeps you feeling fuller for longer and lessens hunger. Added bonus, it’s also more metabolically active (it has a higher thermic effect of food or TEF), which means your body needs to work harder to digest protein, meaning you burn more calories.
What’s more, focusing on protein might reduce “reward-driven eating,” which means you won’t find yourself endless snacking on everything in your pantry. Add it all up, and protein is a no-brainer.
Pile On Seeds
Fiber is your friend when it comes to fullness. That’s the easy part. The hard part is that — while veggies are loaded with fiber — most people struggle to eat enough servings every day. Enter seeds.
While nuts usually get most of the credit for being high in fiber (they are), they are also filled with lots of calories and can be difficult to combine with other foods. Seeds are a flexible option you can snack on, add to meals or smoothies, and help you curb your hunger.
For example, both flaxseeds and sesame seeds are high in lignans, which are an antioxidant compound found along with the dietary fiber in plants. And research suggests adding these foods can help with weight management. A study conducted by Harvard University researchers followed nearly 1,000 women over 10 years, and found that the women who ate the most foods containing the compound gained nearly 1-pound less per year than women who ate the least amount.
A small gain, yes, but over time that adds up. Try mixing a tablespoon of flaxseeds in with your yogurt, oatmeal, or your protein shake, and sprinkle sesame seeds into rice, on top of protein, or into salads.
Double Down On Fruit
Fruit gets a bad reputation because it contains sugar. But, it’s not a reputation that it deserves. If you look at the research, eating fruit is one of the best things you can do for your health. In fact, “epidemiological research has consistently shown that most types of fruit have anti-obesity effects.”
Eating more fruit means having more fruit in your home. And, the mere presence and visibility of fruit might work wonders for your hunger, according to research at Cornell University. After comparing photos of 210 kitchens and the homeowners’ waistlines, the researchers found that people who had fruit on their countertop weighed 13 pounds less than the average, while people with breakfast cereal weighed 20 pounds more. “You eat what you see,” says study author Brian Wansink, Ph.D.
And, when eating fruit, you’re setting yourself up for a diet that’s easier to follow. That’s because fruit is relatively low in calories, has reward value (because of the natural sugar) that keeps you satisfied, and is higher in fiber and water — both of which keep you full. The combined impact helps you limit overall calorie consumption, as well as avoid foods that pack on calories without helping with fullness.
When you add it all up, these minor changes can make a major dent on your hunger.
The post Feeling Hangry? 4 Simple, Effective Ways to Control Your Hunger appeared first on Born Fitness.