As with many exercises, there is a lot of technique to the squat. It can take a while to get it right but it’s worth persevering if you want to push heavy weights whilst remaining injury-free.
This instruction pertains specifically to the Low Bar Squat, which I tend to think is easier for the beginner in terms of balance and, in my opinion, is a better compound exercise in general than the High Bar Squat.
First of all, make sure the barbell is racked at the correct height. It should be at a height where you can unrack it without too much vertical movement. That’s about an inch or so lower than the height the bar is when it’s on your shoulders when you’re standing up. The aim is to walk into the rack ever so slightly stooped and then just by standing upright you should be able to clear the J-hooks, take a couple of steps back and start the squat. You should neither have to stand on tiptoes nor crouch down too low to unrack the bar.
The bar should be as low down your back as possible without being too uncomfortable. It should feel slightly uncomfortable when you’re in the upright position (but not outright painful) but that discomfort will disappear when you actually squat and the low position of the bar will give you a mechanical advantage.
In this short article I want to lay out the basics about the five key exercises every weight training routine should be based on. I base this in part on what I’ve learnt myself from nearly 14 years of working out and in part on what other experienced weight trainers say.
The Absolute Basics
The three main exercises every weight training system should be based on are the squat, bench press and deadlift.
The squat works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and calves,
the bench press works your chest, shoulders and triceps,
the deadlift works your hamstrings, lower back, middle back, lats and forearms (and other muscles too to a lesser degree).
These are all compound movements. They’re most effective when performed with free weights, due to the fact that more stabaliser muscles get involved with free weights, although they should still be the core of a workout if you’re using machines (levergyms, Smith machines etc.).
After moving house in early 2016 and getting my home gym organised, I needed some Olympic weight plates. The ones I settled on were Body Power Rubber Encased Tri-Grip Olympic Plates.
I wanted rubber encased plates to keep the noise down. I live in a small block of flats in an old building and, whilst the walls are pretty thick, I wanted to make sure I disturb my neighbours as little as possible.
I never intentionally drop the weights and rarely do so accidentally, but I wanted to be covered just in case.
The rubber casing protects the weights too of course. I’ll grant you it is fairly difficult to actually break a weight plate but I have seen a few with chunks out of them over the years.
How often should you train and how often should you train each body part? This is what is meant by high or low frequency training.
If you took a poll in any gym, you’d probably find that most dedicated weight trainers train between three and six days a week and train each body part between one and three times a week. Sure, there will be a few that train seven days a week and a few that train each body part less than once a week or more than three times a week, but I’d suggest they’re rare.
So what’s the most effective training frequency?
Well, getting scientific studies on training frequency is difficult. I did find one though . In this particular study, they tested a group of people training the whole body three times a week (what they called high frequency) against a group of people training on a three-way split, three times a week (what they call low frequency). It went like this:
Chest, shoulders, triceps
The test was configured so that both groups trained for the same number of sets per body part per week and the reps were kept in the range of 8 – 12. Workouts were kept to 45-60 minutes.
I have trouble rating these FXR Sports 2 x 14″ (35cm) Steel Chrome Spinlock Dumbbell Bars & Collars. On the one hand they’re pretty good for what they are. On the other hand I’m not a fan of standard (as opposed to Olympic) equipment and I really don’t like spinlock collars.
So first of all let’s take them for what they are. I bought some of these when I moved house and was getting my new house organised and saving up to buy better equipment. For a few months all I had were these dumbbell handles, some standard weight plates and a bench.
As far as spinlock dumbbells go they’re pretty good. With other dumbbell handles and collars of a similar nature, I’ve found the collars quickly deteriorated and the threads got damaged; they become loose and rattle and don’t keep the plates firmly in place. But that didn’t happen with these – they worked as they should for the three months or so I had them. They feel pretty good in the hands too.
I also think they’re good value for a mere £14.95.
Just so you know where I’m coming from with this, I trained for seven years from my late teens to mid 20’s and then had a 20 year layoff and start training again at 46 and, as I write this article, I’m now nearly 53.
Things may have been different if I’d trained throughout and hadn’t had he 20 year layoff.
But here are the things I’ve noticed as an older weight trainer.
I Can’t Train As Frequently
I used to train evey weekday evening and on a Sunday lunchtime, with Saturday being the only day I had off, and I used to use a split system that hit each body part three times week.
My body simply can’t cope with that now. These days I either train four days a week throughout or four days one week and three days the next (training seven out of 14 days essentially) and the most often I train a body part is twice a week.
I Can’t Train For As Long
I used to train anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours but that would kill me now. I try to keep workouts to an hour, although sometimes they run to about 75 minutes.
This is related to the previous two points. It takes me longer to recover from a workout these days. The DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) can last longer after a good workout. I want DOMS so that I know I’ve worked hard but I have to give it a bit longer for body parts to recover than I used to.
When I moved in early 2016, I pretty much had to set up my home gym again from scratch. At first I had weight plates all over the floor, which is what led me to buy the MiraFit 300kg Weight Plate and Bar Rack.
It’s easy enough to put together. As with most of these things, it’s easier with two people but I managed it on my own in less than 30 minutes.
The rack is about 1 metre (~ 3.25 ft) wide, 1 metre high (~3.25 ft) and the feet give it a depth of about 0.5 metres (~ 1.75 ft).
There are seven prongs for weight storage, four on the upper level for smaller plates and three on the lower level for larger plates. At the back of the rack there are four pairs of hooks for barbell storage and the top of the rack can be used to store dumbbells.
Ideally you’d want a reasonable sized room you can set aside for a home gym. A 10m x 10m (~ 30ft x 30ft) would be luxurious. You’d have room for a power cage (providing there’s no height restrictions) and a few other machines besides that. Even a 5m x 5m room (15ft x 15ft) would seem like a luxury to me.
As you can see by that diagram of my workout space (on the left, click on the image to enlarge it), I’m not afforded such luxuries. I only have part of a bedroom to dedicate to my workout space. It’s a reasonably large bedroom but it still only leaves me with a 4m x 1.8m (13.1ft x 6ft) rectangle and a small space to the left of that.
I have an Ironmaster IM2000 at the back of that rectangle and that takes up 1.25m x 1.52m (4.1ft x 5ft), with the bench extending the depth sometimes depending on what exercise I’m doing.
It can appear that the deadlift is the easiest of exercises: you just pick the bar up off the floor right?
Well, yes and no. You do indeed just pick the bar up off the floor but good technique will ensure you remain injury free and lift more weight.
Start with the bar across the middle of your feet (about 1 inch away from your shins) with your feet about shoulder distance apart, maybe even slightly narrower. You need to take a stance that allows your arms to hang straight down, without flaring out.
Your toes should be pointing slightly out.
The barbell should not move now until you perform the lift.
Then bend over from the hips – with fairly stiff legs, don’t bend the knees, just unlock them slightly – and grab the bar. The reason you want to grab the bar with fairly stiff legs is because you don’t want to move the bar away from the centre of your feet, which you could do if you bent your legs at the knees to grab the bar.
Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than your legs. As mentioned above, your arms should hang straight down.