Lift technique

Set Yourself Up for Success

Technique is and always will be the most important component of exercise.  All too often people set themselves up for failure by not paying attention to minor details of their workout.  Progress is often lost in the gym by making small mistakes in and out of the gym that may not seem like a big deal at the time.  Over many repetitions these small things will add up and form a habit that will become hard to break. 

During my time as a trainer, I have seen many people who lack the attention to detail when working out.  Many clients would have negatively affected their workout had I not been there to correct their form.  When I say this I am referring to a simple concept such as, "make sure the bar is centered on your back" or "grab the bar evenly", not a complex biomechanical error such as foot pronation when squatting or shoulder internal rotation with pressing movements. 

These types of cues, in my opinion, are very different as one is skill related to the individuals patterning  while the other is simply carelessness over details that help optimal performance.  These simple, immediately correctable errors in judgement can determine the level of success or failure of any particular exercise.  In the example above, a potential back injury could occur from uneven bar placement.  This same error often occurs when pushing/pressing a barbell causing an uneven load on the arms and potential compensation.  No matter how much effort is used perform the exercise correctly (or look correctly), an individual could never fully achieve symmetry all because they failed to set up correctly.

Setting yourself up for success can also be applied to the design of your exercise program, aka choosing the appropriate exercises, reps, and rest based upon your goals and abilities. 

Example: Bench Press

If your goal is to increase your strength or weight lifted in the bench press, you should be placing your feet firmly on the ground wide apart or on your toes under hips and below the bench.  If your goal is to train the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and triceps (even though I think there are better alternatives than the traditional bench press), you should have your feet placed up on the end of the bench preventing yourself from using a good hip drive or the rest of your body for assistance.  Neither way is "wrong" but one technique is a much better option for you to reach your goals.  

Taking the time to evaluate what your goals are and determining which exercises and variations are better suited to meet those goals will determine how fast (or slow) you achieve them.  Taking the time to evaluate what your current capabilities are is extremely important for avoiding injuries.  For example, understanding your current mobility and stability should impact squat variations (front squat, back squat (high bar vs. low bar), overhead squat etc.) chosen for your program.  An unknown restriction could lead to potential pain, compensatory patterns, and eventually injury.

Next time you're in the gym be sure to take your time when setting up your exercises and hopefully you (or your trainer) have done your homework in determining which exercises/variations are appropriate for you and your current goals. 

Tommy Barzal

Single Leg Squat Variations

The Single Leg Squat (SLS) is a very important exercise to incorporate into any exercise program as a strength, rehabilitation, or auxiliary exercise.  This exercise is an integral part of many activities of daily living such as climbing stairs, getting up from the floor, walking up a hill, etc.  SL Squats also directly correlate to sport specific movements including running, changing direction, decelerating, jumping, etc. 

When performed properly, SLS improve glute, quad, and hamstring strength, while improving balance.  By utilizing one leg at a time, each leg is forced to work equally which addresses any asymmetry in strength or stability.  This is extremely beneficial for rehabilitation of a foot, ankle, knee, or hip injury.  During a bilateral squat the user can compensate by shifting weight and tension to one leg more than the other to mask weakness, pain or instability. 

Single leg squat performance is crucial for sport performance as nearly all movements are done on one leg at a time.  They help transition force to the ground to sprint faster and jump higher.  SLS also improve landing mechanics to dissipate force when landing on one leg or decelerating from a high speed.

To perform the single leg squat you must understand YOUR depth for each leg (as they may differ).  To find out the depth stand hip width apart with your feet facing forward and then squat down as far as you can with losing a neutral spine, pronating your foot, breaking proper squat angles, or any other compensation.  From here, shift all of your weight to one foot and slowly lift the other foot off of the ground.  Memorize this depth as it is YOUR depth for this leg. Any additional range will come from a compensation that removes the benefit of the exercise. Any less range will not develop strength through full range of motion and decrease potential benefit of SLS.

Variations of the Single Leg Squat are endless.  For today’s post we’ll focus on a few.  The split squat is the first variation that should be performed as it takes away the balance aspect of the SLS by placing the toes and balls of the feet of the hanging leg on the ground allowing for better control.  The setup to this exercise is similar to that of a normal single leg squat with the exception of the back foot being on the ground.  Make sure the back foot is only 4-6” behind the front foot. 

After being able to perform the split squat with good control and understanding of your range of motion the back foot can be lifted and normal SLS can now be performed.  Once 15-20 reps can be performed without a loss of balance, try progressing to a BOSU ball.  The BOSU ball SLS is a very challenging exercise that introduces an unstable surface.  This requires perfect control of all lower body joints and core or the ball will shake making the exercise nearly impossible.  To set up you will place your foot directly over the center of the flat side of the BOSU ball and slowly stand up.  Be sure to keep the ball still and flat since.  If it moves the ankle joint to move as well, thus changing the alignment of your body. 

Additional progressions can include a Slideboard.  By adding in a Slideboard you can increase the difficulty of the SLS by moving your hanging leg through various planes of motion.  First, position your foot to the side of the Slideboard and allowing your hang leg to abduct (slide away from you) as you squat.  The weight of the hanging leg will move you center of gravity as you squat making balance more difficult.  Just be sure to keep most of your weight on the leg doing the SLS unless you want to try a split.  If you are unable to reach the same range on your SLS due to a groin stretch, you may need to stretch your adductors. 


Another Slideboard variation includes a sagittal plane movement.  If you position your foot in front of the Slideboard and reach the free leg as far behind you as possible (without hyperextending your back or internally rotating your leg), you get a running specific movement to improve hip and core stabilization.  Both Slideboard variations require hip mobility and allow loading of the SLS.

All Single Leg Squats require similar coaching cues for proper technique.  The most important rules are the use of proper hip-knee-toe alignment (see Too Squat or Not To Squat blog) and level shoulders and hips.  If those requirements are not met, the rest of the squat will be done incorrectly.  Once you are in a good single leg stance, make sure to bend at the hips, knees and ankles at the same time until your full range of motion is achieved.  Be sure to keep your alignment on the way down and then back up. 

The most common mistakes include, dropping the hanging hip (tilting the pelvis) or counter leaning the shoulders over the leg you are standing on.  Both of these are signs of inadequate glute meds strength.  Other mistakes involve overpronation of the ankle, knee valgus (collapsing in toward mid-line), turning the body or bending at one joint excessively.  Follow these rules for a productive and pain free single leg squat.  Try these variations to keep your workouts fresh and fun.

Tommy Barzal 

To Squat or Not to Squat

When looking for an exercise that increases strength, incorporates a long list of muscles, and causes a large metabolic response, look no further than the squat.  Now when I mention “squat” most of you are thinking:

  • My doctor told me not to.
  • I don't want to use that part of the gym.
  • I'm intimidated by free weights.
  • What happens if I can't get back up?

Squats have gotten a bad rep over the years.  I’ve now heard from a wide variety of people including practitioners (Orthos, PTs, Chiros, etc.) that “squats are bad for the knees and / or back”.  My response is, “They can be, but they don’t have to be.” 

We all squat… all day long.  Do you get in and out of a chair?  Do you pick things up from the floor?  Do you get on and off of the commode?  If so, you are squatting.  Squats are an essential part of human movement.  Having the ability to squat effectively and efficiently MAKES LIFE EASIER.  Why wouldn’t you want to make life easier?

I’d say 1-5% of the general public have contraindications that should keep them from squatting consistently.  For the other 95-99% of us, we shouldn’t be asking whether I should or shouldn’t but “HOW SHOULD I?” What determines whether your squat is helping or hurting you is not how many reps, or in what setting (barbell, goblet, front/back, single leg, DB, etc.), or how frequent, it is the technique used when squatting.  

Poor squats can cause: 

  • Bulging disks in lumbar spine
  • Patella-Femoral Syndrome
  • Hip labrum fraying/tears
  • Patellar tendonitis

Squats completed with proper technique can improve:

  • Bone mineral density in pelvis, spine, and lower extremities
  • Core stabilization
  • Efficiency of ADL’s (activities of daily living)
  • Vertical jump
  • Sprint speed
  • Running efficiency
  • Deceleration
  • Change of direction
  • Rotational sport efficiency and power (throwing a baseball, golf swing, lacrosse shot, etc.)

It should be pretty clear by now that squats are one of if not THE most important exercise in your regimen.  Now, let’s focus on the “how”.  For today’s post, I’ll be explaining how to get your lower extremities set up properly for a bilateral (double leg) squat.  I will focus on the back and upper extremity positioning for other variations in a future post.


Proper lower extremity alignment for most of the population can be achieve by keeping your patella (kneecap) and 3rd toe on the same line or plane of motion.  As you bend your ankle, knee, and hip joints during a squat, the three points mentioned should all stay in plane.  To determine this, find your pelvic crest on both sides of your hips.  Trace it forward until you feel a bony point in the front of your hips, slightly below your pant line.  This landmark, which we’ll abbreviate as ASIS makes up the beginning of the hip-knee-toe line.  Look in a mirror with your feet hip width and pointed straight forward to determine your standing position.  If you see your knees sitting inside the line between hip and toe, lift the arches of your feet up to bring knees outward (away from midline).  In the picture, you see hip-knee-second toe alignment with a hip width stance and toes straight forward.  This is optimal alignment but not necessarily the optimal squat stance.


Stance and Hip Angle

For optimal squat depth, we need to open our stance up from hip width to shoulder width.  This gives our hip sockets “room” to work until end range impingement occurs.  The optimal stance width is roughly shoulder width.  If you take your feet to shoulder width and keep them pointed forward, as you see in this pic, your hips wind up in internal rotation.  This position can damage the hip labrum and causes early impingement in your squat range. 

Based on the hip socket (acetabulum), “ball” of joint (femoral head) and femoral neck, the optimal squat depth can be achieved with your hip-knee-toe line externally rotated.  If you were standing on a clock with 12 o’clock in front of you, your feet should be pointed at 11 & 1 to 10 & 2.  Make sure that the knees stay out with the toe angle or you will fall into a position that causes joint problems and pain.  From top to bottom, the pictures to the right show:

  • Proper width but improper angle of foot placement
  • Proper width and angle of feet but knees adducting or turning inside optimal alignment
  • Proper width, angle of feet, and alignment


Try out your new squat stance next time you are in the gym or using the motion to sit down and get up from a chair.  You should feel your range of motion increase and pain decrease.


Happy Squatting!


Ryan Morrissey