What is the first reason that comes to mind when people say the can't squat or deadlift? My guess is that the next words coming out of their mouths are going to have to do with their knees or their lower back. Given the way many people move I can see where they are getting this objection and while I believe the lifts themselves are fine for most people, the way most people do them is not. The most obvious problem stems from not sending the butt back at all. When they squat you see the knees go shooting past the toes and the but going straight down the the ground. When they deadlift they round their lower back either because they can't get their hips low or back enough. Both of these lifting positions put undue pressure on their knees or lower back and lead to the pains that scare people from the lifts. One small change can dramatically improve a persons lifting position and I have seen people improve with just 10 minutes of practice.
The solution is to practice the hip hinge. Many gym goers find the movement confusing and unnatural which is why it needs to be practiced, once they get a hang of it though they find that their lifts feel far more comfortable and the pressure has moved from their knees or back to their legs. The hip hinge is essentially involves keeping your feet planted, sending your hips and butt backwards while maintaining a straight back. The best way I have found to learn or teach the hinge is to stand a few inches from a wall, send the hips until the butt touches the wall. If you are able to touch move a few inches further away and try again, If you cant touch or your lower back arches move closer until you are able to touch. While doing this drill it can help to keep the hands touching the legs, the don’t need to stay in one place and should slide down the leg but this will increase the stretch in the hamstrings and give you better feedback from the movement.
Once you feel comfortable with the hip hinge it is time to try and transfer that feeling to other exercises. The most basic of which is the Romanian deadlift, don’t let the name fool you as it is essentially a hip hinge while holding weight. If you perform the lift and you feel your hamstrings working and your lower back staying tight then you are well on your way. If you can perform Romanian deadlifts then you should be able to squat and deadlift with significantly safer and more effective form. While the movements are not completely the same (and there are many more cues for those lifts) sitting back into the heels and allowing for movement at the hips are some of the best changes lifters can make for those exercises.
Next blog post will cover the 5 of the best habits to develop as a gym goer.