How to Master Basic Strength Moves with Perfect Form

By John Papp

You can't afford to miss out on the major benefits from squatting, benching, deadlifting and pressing. But you will if your form is off! Check out how to master these basic strength moves for maximum results. 

Squat-"KNEES OUT" 

Arguably the king of lower body strength movements, the squat builds the quads, glutes and lower back like no other. There are many variations of the squat, but let's talk about the classic back squat. 

What to Watch Out For

  • Don’t let your knees cave together! Knees out!
  • Keep a flat back throughout, chest up, and brace your abs to stay in good position.

Form Refresher

  • Set up under the bar with it resting on your upper traps, make sure not set the bar too high up onto your neck.
  • Pull your arms forward and squeeze your upper back tight, unrack it and take one step back with each foot.
  • Your feet should be just wider than hip width with toes straight ahead or angled out slightly. This will depend on each person’s structure.
  • Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back, then moving down.
  • As you descend keep pushing the hips back and keep your back flat until you reach at least parallel if not slightly below if your mobility allows.
  • Once you reach the bottom, explode up until you reach the top.

      Bench Press- "NO CHICKEN WINGS"

      This movement will train your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Here are a few cues and keys to keep your bench press safe and strong.

      What to Watch Out For

      • It is perfectly fine to arch your back but keep your butt planted on the bench.
      • It is important to pause versus bounce the weight off the chest.
      • Elbows tucked slightly to the sides, try not to 'chicken wing' them out to the sides. This will protect your shoulders.

      Form Refresher

      • Lower Legs/Feet: You have two options with your feet: tucked behind your knees with your feet firmly planted into the ground or out past your knees, flat on the ground, and driving your heels though the floor pushing back up towards the bench. 
      • Upper Back: Your upper back should be tight and firmly planted to the bench. Think of your upper back as the brakes of the bench press. Try to “tighten” up your upper back before you unrack the bar.
      • Hands: Pick a width that works for you, this will depend on the structure of your body. 
      • Squeeze your glutes as hard as you possibly can and keep it planted on the bench.
      • Once you have mastered your set up, unrack the bar but let it settle for one second to let your body get accustomed to the weight in your hands.
      • Initiate the movement by lowering the weight to your chest.
      • Let the weight touch your chest, pause for one second, then initiate the press to the top. 

        Deadlift- "KEEP YOUR BACK FLAT"

        This movement will train your hamstrings, glutes, and back. Let’s break it down.

        What to Watch Out For

        • Keep your back flat throughout the whole movement, the most common mistake is to round the back.
        • Don’t let the hips come up first. A common mistake is to let the hips come up first then push them forward. The hips should move forward as they simultaneously come up.
        • Be careful not to overextend at the top, you should be perfectly straight up and down at the top.

        Form Refresher

        • Set up a loaded bar on the ground.
        • Step close to the bar with about six inches or so between the bar and your shins.
        • Your feet should be relatively close together, about hip width apart, with toes pointed straight ahead or angled slightly outwards.
        • Drop down to the bar by pushing the hips back, and grab the bar with your hands, at this point your back should be flat, chest up, and hands on the bar.
        • “Pull the slack out of the bar,” by tugging slightly up without lifting the bar off the ground. You should feel the lats tighten up.
        • From your set up position, start to pull the bar off the ground, keeping your chest up and back flat the whole time.
        • Try to think of pushing your feet through the floor while you pull the bar up.
        • Drive the hips forward during the pull until you are locked out completely at the top.

          Overhead Press - "STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN"

          The overhead press will build your shoulders, triceps, and help your push more weight on the bench press. 

          What to Watch Out For

          • Be careful not to press the bar away from you. The bar path should move straight up and overhead.
          • Don’t arch the back too hard, a slight arch is fine but be careful not to lean back too far.
          • Don’t use a false (thumbless) grip! The last thing you want is to dump the bar on top of you.

          Form Refresher

          • Set a bar up in a power rack at about chest height.
          • Grab the bar with your elbows slightly up and pointed ahead of you.
          • Walk the bar out with one step back with each foot.
          • Squeeze your glutes tight and keep your back flat.
          • Initiate the movement by driving the bar straight up.
          • The bar should pass in front of your face by a few inches.
          • Once it clears your face, finish the movement by driving up until your arms are locked out overhead.
          • Return to the bottom under with control, and repeat.
          • Keep abs tight and squeeze your glutes tight throughout the entire movement so you stay in position.


              Master these movements, practice them regularly, and you are guaranteed to get stronger and build lean muscle.



              About John Papp

              John Papp is a certified personal trainer, body transformation specialist, sports performance coach, published fitness writer, and aspiring fitness model based out of Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His goal is to help change lives through health and fitness. 

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