Master of the Basics

Squats! Everyone knows how to do it right? Just load the bar on your shoulders and start going up and down with your legs. Deadlifts are just picking the bar off the floor. Its so easy that anyone can do it! Its also functional for strength and muscle mass building, surely everyone should do them!

Are Squat and Deadlift All That Simple?

This person was lifting the bar in a bad form while being coached by a bad trainer

Fact is, improper technique for either squat and deadlift will cause injury when its not done properly. Back when I only had an NASM personal training certification, I didn’t realize that my poor squat and deadlift form was harmful to my back. My knee dominant squat movement was damaging my knee. Now that I have properly applied the McGill techniques described in Ultimate Back Fitness and cleaned up my techniques, none of the old injuries became problematic anymore.

Can Anyone Do Standard Squat and Deadlift?

You have probably heard the news floating around on the internet. Some old grandma was having problem simply climbing up the stairs, started deadlifting, and ended up having no problems climbing up the stairs while being super strong in the process. If a grandma can do it, surely anyone can do it too right?

What is the problem with this line of thinking?

There’s a reason why femur head replacement came in different sizes and shapes. Source: The San Antonio Orthopaedic Group

Different hips and spine angle results in different movement range. This is something determined by your DNA and training will not change it. Depending on the depth of your hip socket and your lumbar spine curvature, you might not be able to pick the bar off the floor without flexing your back. Same thing can be said about achieving a deep squat. Hence not everyone can do the standard squat and deadlift movements without high risk of injury. This may sound contradictory to my post on why you should try powerlifting. Just because you can’t do standard deadlift with a perfect form doesn’t mean that you can’t reap the benefits of deadlift exercise.

How You Should Train

Move Well

You must first learn how to move properly. When I was young, the ligaments and spine disks still have the capacity to perform even with faulty movement. But as I age, those injuries pile up and causes pain. Even if you are not in pain now, its not an excuse for you not to learn how to move properly. If your back hurts the day after every leg day, your leg day is definitely breaking your back. If you are unsure, get a proper trainer that actually knows how to coach proper movement.

Move Accordingly

If you are born with hips that will not allow you to pick the bar off the floor with a straight back, you could try using a trap bar or by lifting from a higher position. You won’t be able to compete in a powerlifting meet but you can still reap the benefit of lower body posterior chain strengthening from modified deadlifts. Having said this, it could also be a movement engram i.e. software issue but this is a topic for another day.

Ultimately these “basic moves” are not as simple as it seems and unless you want to experience spine and knee injuries by your mid 30’s (like the author of this article), you should focus on the right way to move for your body. Just like in martial arts, mastering the basics is no simple matter.

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