5555 N LAMAR B-110 AUSTIN, TX 78751

The Big Three: Squats, Bench, and Deadlifts

December 11, 2009


High Bar Squats: bar position high on traps, foot position is just outside the hips, feet turn outward slightly out to track with knees(about 30 degrees), back angle is generally more vertical than in the power squat, shin angle is more extreme than the Power Squat allowing the lifter to sit deeper with less forward torso lean, hamstrings make contact with the back of the calves at depth, great amount of quad activation dues to shin angle and glutes and hams are also fired strongly at depth

Power Squats: bar position is lower on the traps and more across the shoulder blades than the high bar squat, foot position is further outside the hips and toes are flared(about 30 degrees) to track with knees, shin angle is less extreme than in the high bar squat, the lifter sits back then down between the knees, depth is just below parallel(hips cross the knee joint), torso lean is more extreme than the high bar squat, fairly even contribution of quads, hams, and glutes

Key Points:

  1. scapula retracts for un-racking, tight arch held on back, keep both feet in squat stance(not split), take minimal steps into squat stance, bar placement across
  2. focal point should be neutral, not too high or too low
  3. weight distribution should remain over the ankle/mid foot region
  4. lifter should remain "tight" throughout movement, holding both lumbar and thoracic extension
  5. hips lead the movement and hips and chest should always rise at the same time

Applications: High Bar Squats allow for the most quad development and power and strength increases can be achieved more readily via a Power Style Squat, most people generally find a version somewhere in the middle depending on levers and flexibility

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Bodybuilder-Style Bench: elbows flared very high (inline with delts) with a fairly wide grip, bars starts and finishes above the upper pec line

Generic Power Bench: upper arm is roughly 45-60 degrees from torso, grip is more narrow, bar brought lower on chest (nipple level), top position looks similar to BB style, but the tuck of the elbows results in lower position at bottom

Key Points/Generic Bench:

  1. slight arch in back, feet flat on floor, lift chest
  2. grip width: forearm must be perpendicular to bar/elbows directly under bar
  3. retract shoulders before unracking, shoulders remain retracted throughout lift
  4. lower bar to nipples in a controlled manner, tuck elbows slightly at bottom
  5. "pull" upper arm across body as you "press" the weight up

Applications: To minimize risk to rotators, perform BB-style press with dumbbells only; for the average trainee, generic power bench is recommended because it is safer for the shoulders, allows the lifter to use the most weight, targets the largest amount of muscle mass at once

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Sumo-Style Deadlifts: Wider Stance, toes out, more upright posture, grip inside the legs, greater hip and knee angle, greater adductor and*hamstring recruitment, sticking point usually at lift off. Potentially hard on the hips due to wide stance. Similar muscular activity to squat.

Conventional Deadlifts: Narrower Stance, toes out (but less than sumo), grip outside legs, but as close as possible. Lats must be heavily recruited to keep bar from drifting away from body. Initiate pull with quadriceps off floor, while maintaining hip angle. Potentially harder on back due to greater lumbar shear forces.

Key Points:

  1. Bar over the middle of the foot, about 1 inch from shins
  2. Set up: grip bar without lowering hips, then raise chest without dropping hips (lumbar extension, taut triceps/lats/abdomen)
  3. Mid-foot, bar, and scapula all in line, knees slightly over bar.
  4. Back angle remains constant up to ~ knees, then extension at the hips
  5. To lower bar, start by sliding hips back, not by unlocking the knees.

Common Mistakes:

  1. Starting behind the bar
  2. "Grip it/Rip it"
  3. Shooting Hips when breaking inertia
  4. Hitching after bar crosses the knees
  5. Lowering the bar improperly


  • People with long femurs and tibias relative to their back length may benefit from a sumo stance. In a conventional stance, they can't get their back angles much above horizontal (butt higher than scapulas). A stance that sufficiently shortens the effective femur length enables a more effective back angle.
  • Heavier individuals also may benefit from sumo style deadlift. Stomach may interfere with correct set up in conventional style.
  • Many Power lifters and strength athletes may choose deadlift style based on squat style (wide squat:sumo deadlift and narrow squat:conventional deadlift).

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For a more detailed description of each of the lifts (as well as photographs) please visit:



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