4 Drills to Own Your Position in the Big Lifts
Listen to any seasoned powerlifting coach talk and you’ll no doubt hear him or her say that position is key in any big lift. Whether we’re trying to sit in the hole during a squat, pull ourselves to the bar to create tension before the bar even breaks the floor in a deadlift, or drive our upper backs into the bench for the press, the ability to get into good positions will ensure our success.
Every movement has positions where leverages can be optimized to lift heavier weight. If strength is our goal, we should always be trying to get into these positions effectively. So, here are three position tips for the three big lifts that can help you do just this.
1. Learn to Use Your Leverages Correctly for the Bench Press
You may have heard the bench press cue, “Push yourself into the bench. Don’t push the bar away from you.” The idea is that when you bench press, you should focus on driving your upper back into the bench with the aid of the bar and use this as leverage to press the weight up.
"There are little techniques, like these, that can help you take little leaps to improve position and as a result, help you lift bigger weight."
If you’ve ever done this correctly, you’ll completely understand the concept. If you’ve attempted it but have yet to feel the described sensation, chances are you don’t have the mobility to get into the correct position to take advantage of this strategy. Most of the time, the inability to get into this position is partly due to thoracic spine stiffness and partly due to lack of hip mobility.
To address the first part, you can mobilize at the point of restriction using a roller of some sort. Lay a roller horizontally on the bench and then lay on the bench with the roller across your back under the segment where your lower back (lumbar spine) meets your mid back (thoracic spine). Now get in your bench press position and use the bar to push your shoulders and upper back toward the bench while keeping your feet stay firmly planted.
Using the foam roller is a great teaching tool for getting into a stronger position for the bench press.
This will help you learn to extend through this area and allow for a safe arch that will help keep the pressure on your upper back. Move the roller an inch or so up toward the base of your neck and try to arch at this position as well. Keep moving up, repeating the same thing until you’ve reached the top of your shoulder blades.
To address the hip mobility, take a band and attach it to a post or rack. Step through it and pull it up to the crease of your hip. Step back facing the rack and get some tension on the band. Now kneel down in a half kneeling position and rock forward pushing your rib cage toward the ground. Hold for two seconds, rock back to the upright kneeling position, and repeat.
It surprises some people, but having strong and mobile hips is just as crucial to the bench press as the upper body.
Your hips will never feel so good and you’ll be able to get your feet a little farther back when you lay down to bench press. With this improved range of motion, you can set your feet first, then grab the bar and fold yourself up, trying to push your shoulders toward your bottom without moving your feet, making sure to extend through your upper and mid back. Now you’ll have a much better arch and improved leverage from which to press heavy weight.
2. Work the Bottom Position
Staying tight going in and out of the hole during a squat is a problem for many athletes in powerlifting. All the good intentions and focus on bracing and maintaining rigid tension in the bottom position won’t help you when a heavy barbell is pushing down and crushing you if you don’t have the range of motion to hold this position stable.
To be successful, you’ll need to learn what it feels to screw yourself into the ground and create torque at your hips, as well as how to maintain this as you brace and settle down into this position. To specifically train for this, we can once again use a band.
Creating and maintaing adequate torque in the hips is the key to a powerful drive from the bottom of a squat.
Tie the band to the rack and step through it. Pull it up to where your butt meets your lower back. Now step back so the tension of the band can help you sit way back without falling. Place your elbows between your knees and try to push your knees together but resist it with your elbows. Do and all-out contraction for five seconds then relax your legs and use your elbows to push your knees further out to a new range of motion. Repeat as needed. This will get you used to creating that torque in your hips.
You can also practice breathing and bracing in this position to learn how to maintain the tension and position in the bottom of the squat. As time goes on, you can use a lighter band until you can hold this position for as long as you want without a band.
"If strength is our goal, we should always be trying to get into these positions effectively."
3. Snatch Grip for the Deadlift
Every serious lifter has gone for a personal record and had to drop the lift half way up. Sometimes the weight is just too damn heavy, but sometimes the miss is due to an inability to hold position.
Your upper back may be weak, making it impossible to lock yourself into place and finish the pull. Or the reason you can't keep your shoulders and upper back locked may be due to something further down the chain, like your grip strength. Even still, maybe you just don't have the hip mobility to bend down and grab the bar in a good position with your hips loaded. The snatch grip deadlift can help resolve some of these problems.
Snatch grip deadlifts develop a stronger grip and upper back - two things you will need if you want to pull heavy.
The wide grip makes it difficult to hold the bar. You’ll no doubt have to lower the weight you’re handling, but if you supplement your regular pulls with these and keep trying to progress in them, your grip strength with come along nicely. It has to.
This wide grip also requires that you have a strong upper back to stay upright when pulling any significant weight. So, the practice and work dedicated to increasing the weight you can handle will by itself increase strength in the upper back.
"Listen to any seasoned powerlifting coach talk and you’ll no doubt hear him or her say that position is key in any big lift."
Lastly, the wide grip requires you to get down lower to grab the bar. To get down in a good and safe position, you need adequate hip mobility. I’m a big believer that doing exercises that challenge position and range of motion can be as beneficial as certain mobility drills. The snatch grip deadlift, if progressed properly, is one of those great lifts that can increase range of motion while increasing strength, provided it is progressed properly.
There’s no hack for mastery of the sport of powerlifting or for true long-term progress in strength training. Likewise, there’s no hack to master the lifts. That takes years and dedication. But there are little techniques, like these, that can help you take little leaps to improve position and as a result, help you lift bigger weight.
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