Lower-body compound movements, like the squat and deadlift, form the basis of our programming here at Halevy Life, and they should form the basis of any fitness program, period. There are countless benefits to performing these movements, and I could take hours of your time explaining why. But, more than anything else, these are the patterns that build pure, genuine, unadulterated strength. If you held a gun to my head and made me choose one lift to do for the rest of my life, it would be the deadlift (although the squat would come in at a close second).
On the surface, the beginner trainee, or anyone who hasn’t had a lot of training experience will struggle with these movements, for good reason: they are hard. Both technique intensive and taxing. But those who can appreciate the exercises and stick with it will reap the benefits, and the loading potential on a squat or deadlift lends itself to lifting and training with these lifts throughout your lifetime.
We program a lot of squats, deadlifts, and their derivatives for our clients here at Halevy Life, and I’ve been programming and coaching them since I first stepped foot into the strength and fitness profession. One common mistake that I see over and over again in the squat, deadlift, or any other lower body lift for that matter, is an incomplete finish at the top of both lifts.
For simplicity’s sake, we will just refer to the squat and the deadlift, although this mistake and what I’m going to say can apply to most other lower-body lifts. When there is an incomplete finish/lockout at the top of a squat or deadlift, trainees will often substitute and “finish” the lift by arching the lower back hard. A full lockout however, should not involve this over-extension of the lower back (or any extension for that matter), but rather, full extension of the hips. By doing this, the trainee will actually spare the lower back, and thus will continue lifting pain-free for the long haul.
So, how do we lockout fully? How do we finish with the hips? I like to keep things simple, so here’s how to do so, very concisely: Use you abs, and use your glutes. The abs (the entire core really) and the glutes act almost like a buffer against low back pain. Full hip extension of the hips utilizes actions of both, with no contribution to extension from the lower back.
For the core, I really like telling trainees to exhale hard during the effort arc of the movement; in squat or deadlift terms, this is when the bar is going up. By exhaling hard, we are bracing our core hard and creating a solid base from which to transfer force from the ground, though our legs, through our core and up into the bar. If there is a soft link anywhere, this force transfer is diminished. For the glutes, I like telling trainees to simple squeeze and clench the glutes. By doing so, we are pushing our hips forward, and thereby finishing the hip extension.
In the squat and deadlift, be careful of leaning back through your torso at the top of the lift—this usually indicates that you are trying to substitute full hip extension with lower back extension (especially in certain positions; see video). Other than “exhale hard” and “squeeze the glutes,” another cue I like to utilize is “punch through with the hips,” especially for those who don’t actually lean back and over-extend the lower back, but actually have trouble locking out in a fully upright position. When done correctly, you should feel proper hip extension through your glutes.
So for now, use your abs, use your glutes, and spare your back. Exhale hard, squeeze the glutes, and punch through with the hips. If you have trouble correcting these common mistakes, stay tuned for strategies to drive full hip extension so that you can lift harder and healthier in the long run.
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.