Squats And Deadlifts

May 30, 2022
Sam Foran (Physiotherapist)

Squats and deadlifts are arguably two of the most functional lifts you can perform. If you think about it, we perform these movements every day. Getting out of bed in the morning, sitting on the toilet, chair or lounge – we are doing a squat!  

Picking things up off the ground, picking the grandkids up – we are doing a deadlift!  

We utilise these two movements constantly throughout the day. Therefore, it is important to make these two movements efficient and as strong as possible to maintain our quality of life. How often have you heard a friend say, “I felt my back go when I bent down to pick something up” or “my back hurts when I get out of bed of a morning”. Being in pain and not being able to do the things you want is not fun.

In this blog I will give you some tips and advice on how to improve your squats and deadlifts so you can continue to live a happy, healthy and pain free life!

Deadlifts

Before talking about the deadlift, first we need to establish why it’s such a valuable and important exercise. I like to think of our back like the structural foundations in your home. For you to create long lasting happy memories, the foundations of your house need to be strong, sturdy and reliable to keep your house standing. Similarly, our back works as our foundation. And the best way to maintain this foundation is through deadlifting!

So how do we safely perform one?

Here are some cues that I like to think about when in the gym!

  • Squeeze your bum! Our glutes are one of our most powerful muscles, so use them! I like to think about squeezing my bum cheeks together when picking the barbell up.
  • Brace your core! Our core acts like a corset. It helps protect the spine/lower back and consists of muscles around your abdomen. It is important to have good control and strength of these muscles!
  • The next cue is to imagine putting your shoulder blades down into your back pockets! Sounds odd, I know. By retracting our shoulder blades is creates upper back tightness/tension that prevents any excess rounding that may occur in the back when you pick the barbell off the ground.  
  • The last cue I think about is trying to “bend the bar”. What this means is imagining the bar is a stick and you’re trying to snap it in half. What this does is it engages your latissimus dorsi muscles or “lats” for short. This muscle runs from your arm all the way down to your pelvis on your back. This gives the back some extra protection when lifting.

Give these cues a go next time you’re in the gym!

Fun fact: the current world record for the deadlift is 501kg! It is held by an Icelandic man, Hafthor Bjornsson. Watch it here: 501KG Deadlift - Hafthor Bjornsson

How many kgs will you lift?

Squats

Squats utilise some of our most important muscles: our quads, hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles.  

So how do we safely perform a squat?  

Here are some cues that I like to think about when in the gym performing barbell back squats:  

Where do we position our feet? As a rule of thumb, your feet should be positioned where it feels comfortable for you. For me personally, I feel comfortable with my feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart. For you, this might be narrower than shoulder width apart.

How deep do I go in the squat? There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how deep you squat. In a perfect world, most people should aim for at least parallel which means your thighs run parallel to the ground. As you can see from the picture, her thighs are running parallel to the ground. If you are struggling with this, try doing some box squats instead! (see the box squat blog)

  • When we un rack the bar from the rack, we need to create some upper back tension. While the bar is in the back rack position, make sure you are squeezing your shoulder blades together. This creates tightness/tension in the upper back which prevents any “rounding” of the back.

Box squats

Have you ever wondered why you see some people squatting to a box in the gym? These are called box squats and they are an awesome exercise to in cooperate into your gym program. They are effective with anyone who is new to squatting – particularly with barbell back squats. But they also have their place for more experienced lifters as well.

Squatting with a bar on your back with heavy load can be quite scary to begin with.

How heavy do I go?  

How deep I squat?   

If you have found yourself asking these questions, try giving box squats a go! The box acts as a target for you to aim for. Typically, the hardest part in a squat is the point where you stop lowering yourself down and begin to ascend. This point can be quite scary if you are not familiar with squatting, especially if you’ve got a lot of weight on the bar. The box allows you to work in a comfortable range. The beauty of box squats is you can alter or change the height on the box as you feel ready. Once feeling confident in the higher range, you can reduce the height of the box, so it requires you to sit deeper in your squat.