Have Some Standards – Learn the Big 3 Lifts

Beast Skills author Jim discusses the three big lifts and the difference between movement standards and movement form. This is something everyone needs to understand.

Nothing I say in this post is revolutionary. Nothing I say here is all that new. But what I will cover in this post needs to be repeated time and time again. Every new lifter that comes up through the ranks should be acquainted with good movement standards, and I just don’t see it happening as much as I’d like.

Movement standards are rules about how a lift should be performed. They have been discussed, revised, and developed over the decades so that every lifter knows what is expected of them when they perform a lift. This is assumed that the lifter is of normal function with no inherent anatomical restrictions. Inflexibility is not an inherent anatomical restriction. Missing one leg is.

To clarify, bad form is not necessarily a bad movement standard. Someone may successfully perform a squat, but their knees may cave in a bit, or they may start to collapse forward. They’ve still completed a squat, but they could improve their form (knees out and chest up, respectively, in this case). In contrast, someone could keep their knees out and chest up (good form), but fail to get low enough to consider their movement a squat. (bad movement standard)

As a general rule of thumb, having a bad movement standard will allow you to move more weight in the given exercise, while having bad form will generally limit your ability to move more weight.

Common Movement Standards

So what are some common standards? I give a brief description.

Squat

Lifter must squat down until the crease of the hip is at or below the top of the knee. These are the two points we are looking to get parallel in a “parallel squat”. Different powerlifting federations will have different rules regarding depth, but I and many others believe that the harder option is the better option.

A good, deep squat on the left, and an emphasis on the hip crease on the right.

Image from 70′s big.com, in an article discussing this same topic.

The crease of the hip and the top of the knee can be seen and judged, regardless of the size and dimensions of the lifter. If other biological markers are used, say the bottom of the hamstrings, then squat depth would vary among lifters – as those lifters with bigger hamstring would ironically not have to squat as low! Here’s anotherfantastic article on what I’m about to cover.

Biggest Common Infraction – Not squatting low enough! Enough of the excuses, I’ve heard them all –

Poor flexibility?

Work on it. A squat is a privilege, not a right. Why should people who lack proper mobility be rewarded with less work? If you can’t squat to proper depth, and as I mentioned you have no inherent anatomical restrictions, then your most important order of business is to work on proper depth. Don’t start bragging about your squat numbers, until you can actually squat. Need help on getting lower? Check out MobilityWOD.com for more than enough ideas.

Close enough to parallel?

Wrong. The definition of a parallel squat doesn’t leave room for interpretations. That’s why it’s a movement standard! If it was “close enough”, then you should have no problem squatting low enough. “Close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

It helps me get ready for bigger weights/jumping/unracking heavy weights?

I use to believe this too, and admittedly tried doing half and quarter squats with 400-500 lbs. It felt like it really worked . . . my ego. It was great to say you just moved 450 lbs in an exercise, but not nearly as much is accomplished as if you just squatted the weight to full depth. I can load up a bar to 500 lbs and roll it across the floor, but that doesn’t mean I got stronger from it. Speaking of bars on floors…

Deadlift

The lifter must stand up with the bar in one motion. The bar can slow down, but can not descend again until the lift is complete. Hitching, the act of bending the knees and scooping them under the bar, is prohibited. Trying to jerk the weight up and down in order to raise it, is also prohibited. This would violate the standard of allowing the bar to descend.

Biggest Common Infraction – Hitching is by far the most common violation that I see. Get yourself intimately acquainted with what a hitch looks like, as you want to avoid it.

And while I’m no master at these movements, here’s my 500 lb deadlift in comparison. Even taken with a sumo stance, the knees stay back and hips extend in one smooth lift.

Why do people hitch? They same reason they don’t squat to parallel – they are using weights that are too heavy for them. But while a shallow squat will simply cause me to ridicule you, a hitched and jerky deadlift can have much more serious consequences. There is a video out there that gives the full story of a crossfit guy who put himself in a wheelchair for a year from a bad deadlift. I can’t find the link at the moment, but will post it here when I dig it up again.

Bench

As with the squat, different federations will have different specific rules. Generally speaking, you need to press the bar from chest to arms length under your own power, while keeping your feet, hips, and upper back on the bench.

Biggest Common Infractions – The two I see a lot are lifting the hips off the bench, and getting excessive help from your spotter.

For those unfamiliar, let me explain why lifting the hips off the bench is advantageous in the first place. If you’ve benched, then you might possibly have also performed the decline press.

the decline press. notice the hips are very high in relation to the  shoulders.

If not, let me tell you that you’ll be able to move more weight on the decline press than on the regular bench press. Your body has better leverage to press more weight.

What does this mean on the regular bench press? It means that lifting your hips 10 feet off the bench will give you greater leverage. This is great to move more weight! But, it’s not a bench press anymore, so don’t call it as such! This standard has no room for interpretation. Your butt is either on the bench, or it’s not.

The next infraction I mentioned is excessive spotting. Your spotter is there for three primary jobs. Helping you unrack the weight (if you want), helping you re-rack the weight (if you want), and picking the bar up off of you if you fail to make the lift (I hope that’s what you want). Past that, any contact with the bar during the press from a spotter will nullify the lift.

If your spotter touches the bar in any way shape or form while you are pressing, then sorry Charlie, the lift was no good. The old line of “he was barely helping” is just an excuse. The lift can’t be judged fairly if there’s a likely chance that the press was assisted. The bench press is a one person lift, not two.

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