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How you can increase your strength Part 2

Wie Du Deine Kraft steigern kannst Teil 2

Following the basic introduction to strength training in the first part of this article series, in this second part we will take a closer look at the correct form for performing heavy multi-joint exercises.

The basics of form - a look at the heavy basic exercises

Correct exercise form is essential for making progress and avoiding injury. If you are not healthy, you will not be able to give 100% during training. Sub-optimal exercise form will lead to sub-optimal progress and limit your ability to get strong.

Even though many exercisers have good exercise execution form, we all have areas that could use improvement. It is wrong to think that at some point you will have excellent exercise execution form and never need to work on it again. As you put more and more weight on the bar, mistakes in exercise execution will be exposed. It's safe to say that an experienced exerciser should work on their form more rather than less than a beginner.

This part of the article series will focus on advice for good exercise execution form for the following 6 exercises. The Romanian deadlift has been included in this list as it is one of the most misunderstood exercises for building strength.

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Standing shoulder press
  • Power clean (power transfer)
  • Romanian deadlift

The basics of squat form

It's rare to walk into a gym and not see someone performing squats - and just as rare to see someone using passable form when performing squats. Over the years, bodybuilding magazines have become known for publishing pictures of poor squat execution form. The exercisers in these pictures generally have their knees pointing directly forward, which is pretty much the worst possible way to perform squats.

The movement of squats is a natural movement. Most children are able to perform squats - and with good form. Over the years, we lose some mobility and squats become more difficult to perform, but when performing classic squats with a barbell, we should still aim to perform squats as naturally as possible.

If you are just learning how to perform squats correctly, then the following two methods can help you gain a better understanding of the basics of correct exercise execution form.

The "pick up an object" method

One of the most common mistakes when performing squats is the tendency to perform squats with a narrow knee spacing. This is not a natural movement and the human body is not designed to perform squats in this way.

When we did squats as a child, it was often to pick something up. Watch a child and you will notice that they squat with their knees apart. We should do squats in the same way. You can practise this as follows:

Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor as if you were going to jump into the air. When you look down, your toes should be at more or less a 30 degree angle.

Now imagine that there is an object lying on the floor in front of you. Bend your knees and try to pick up the object with both hands at the same time. You will notice that when you bend your knees, you first bend them and then spread them. Look closely... the angle between your hips and knees should be roughly the same as the angle of your feet.

The goblet squat method

The term "goblet squats" is nothing more than a fancy name for a simple exercise. It works in a similar way to the 'pick up an object' method and will help you learn the basics of performing squats correctly.

Take a relatively light dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it comfortably at chest height, preferably leaning against your chest. Do not place your elbows out to the side in this position, but hold them at an angle of about 45 degrees to your body.

Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor as if you were going to jump into the air. When you look down, your toes should be at more or less a 30 degree angle.

Look straight ahead and keep your lower back under tension. Then bend your knees until your elbows are between your knees. Look closely...the angle between your hips and knees should be roughly the same as the angle of your feet.

Tips for good squat form

The following tips can help you dramatically improve your squat form. It should be noted that this is not a complete, all-inclusive list.

Knee/foot angle

In the lowest position, the angle between your knees should be approximately the same as the angle between your feet. If the angle between your knees is less than the angle between your feet, then it will be harder to go down far enough and you will probably bend forward during the downward movement, putting unnecessary strain on your lower back.

Lead with your hips

Once you have reached the lowest position, perform each repetition by lifting the hips (gluteus) and finish a repetition by moving your hips forward. The hips and gluteus are the leading muscles and they are amazingly strong muscles. By maximizing the use of your hips, you can move heavier weights and reduce stress on your knees and lower back.

Bar over the feet

From a lateral perspective, the bar should remain over the center of the foot while performing squats. If the bar is not in this position, then some aspect of the exercise form needs improvement. Film yourself from the side and pay close attention to the position of the bar and feet.

Head position

As you move up from the lowest point of the movement, it is of utmost importance that you maintain a good head position. You should be looking forwards or slightly upwards. If you start to look down during the upward movement, your body will follow this movement and you will bend forward.

Other important tips and information for correct squat form

  • High bar squats - In this variation of squats, the bar is placed on the upper part of the trapezius.
  • Low bar squats - In this variation of squats, the bar is placed on the lower part of the trapezius.
  • Hand position - To find the right position for your hands, start with a wide grip, pull your shoulder blades together and then move your hands inwards until you have reached a comfortable grip position.
  • Firm grip - Maintain a firm grip throughout the exercise.
  • Elbow position - Once you have found a comfortable position for your hands, rotate your elbows downwards and hold them in this position throughout the exercise.
  • Hold your breath - Inhale at the start of the eccentric phase of the movement and hold your breath throughout the repetition.
  • Check the position of your feet - After removing the bar from the rack and taking a step backwards, look down and make sure your feet are positioned correctly.
  • Downward movement - Move your hips back as you move down and keep your torso in an upright position.

The basics of deadlift form

It is rare to see novice exercisers using correct form when performing deadlifts. Far too many exercisers perform this exercise with a mechanical disadvantage by trying to move the bar with their hips lifted. This is reminiscent of Romanian deadlifts or straight-leg deadlifts and puts a lot of strain on the lower back.

Tips for good form when performing deadlifts


Position your feet halfway under the bar. Seen from the side, it should look like the bar is directly over the middle of your feet. If you are looking down, it is difficult to judge whether your foot position is correct, so you should ask another exerciser for help or video record your deadlift set.

Foot spacing

Your feet should be a comfortable and natural distance apart, but not too wide. The toes can point a little outwards, but you should not perform deadlifts with your feet pointing clearly outwards.

Grip the bar

Grip the bar with your feet correctly positioned, using either an overhand grip or an alternating grip (one hand in the overhand grip and the other in the underhand grip). An alternating grip will allow you to hold more weight.

Lower your hips

Move your hips down until your shins touch the barbell. You should feel that your hips are in a natural position and allow for maximum leverage, which means that you may need to move your hips slightly up or down. Performing deadlifts with your hips in too high a position will put you at a mechanical disadvantage and will also put more strain on your lower back. If you start with your hips too low, you will reduce your lever arm and lose strength.


Next, make sure you are looking at least directly ahead. During the deadlift, your body will follow your head. If you start the upward movement with your head tilted forward, there's a good chance you'll lift your hips, worsening the form of the exercise execution and moving the weight with your lower back. This is a very common mistake when performing deadlifts.


Make sure you don't round your back. You should never start the deadlift upward movement with a rounded back.

Now that you are in the correct starting position, it is time to perform the upward movement. Do not try to pull the weight away from the floor. Although deadlifts are often referred to as a pulling exercise, exercisers who mentally focus on pulling the weight away from the floor often lift their hips too much at the beginning of the movement. They also tend to move their head down as they pull, which further contributes to lifting the hips. As a result, deadlifts are performed like Romanian deadlifts. This means a position with poor leverage and can put unnecessary strain on the lower back.

Instead of pulling the weight off the floor, you should therefore focus on standing up with the weight in your hands. Standing up is a natural movement and by keeping the deadlift movement as natural as possible, you will tend to maintain better form and leverage throughout the exercise.

Start this get-up movement with the head. Lead with the head. Think of moving the head up explosively as you try to stand upright. The body will follow the head.

As soon as the bar is above your knees, try to push your hips forward. Many deadlift max attempts fail because the trainee pulls on the bar to the highest point of the movement. Concentrate solely on this at the top of the movement:

  1. Standing up - which is a natural movement
  2. Moving your hips forward

Remember that deadlifts are not really a pulling exercise. Picking up objects from the floor in a bent-over position is not a natural movement - standing up is.

The basics of bench press form

Bench presses can be a frustrating exercise. A small percentage of exercisers are naturally able to move a ton of weight, while the rest struggle to perform a few reps with 100 kilos. Is there anything you can do to increase your bench press weights? Absolutely.

Tips for good form when performing bench presses

Place your feet correctly

One of the hidden keys to increasing weight on the bench press is leg pressure. Learn to place your feet firmly on the floor in a position that allows for optimal leverage and maximum strength. Start each repetition with a push against the floor. If you focus on turning the bench press into a full-body exercise, your weights will go up.

The right grip

Once you have found the correct grip width, you should grip the bar firmly and imagine that you are trying to bend the ends of the bar towards your feet. This will help you to keep your elbows in a better position, improve your eccentric movements and help you to keep your upper body tight and strong.

Stop pointing your arms out to the side

This is by far the biggest mistake in the bench press. Stop placing your arms out to the side. This is terribly bad for your shoulders, is poor exercise form and is not good for your strength. It is far better if your elbows form a 45 degree angle with your torso. This is a good starting point from which to make minor adjustments to your form.

Row the bar

Row the bar? Yes, row the bar. Row the bar towards your chest. We all know that keeping your back tight is an essential aspect of good exercise form. To achieve a tight back, you should focus on rowing the weight towards your chest as if you were doing barbell rows or lat pulldowns.

Look up at the ceiling

Look up at the ceiling after removing the weight from the rack. Try to push the bar to the same point on the ceiling with each repetition.


Speed strength involves speed and speed requires explosive power. Therefore, focus on moving the bar upwards in an explosive manner. This will not only help you perform one or two extra repetitions, but will also help you build strength in the long run.

Train correct alignment

When the bar is at chest height, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. Also make sure that your wrists are directly above your elbows and that your ankles are pointing towards the ceiling. This is the correct alignment for the bench press.

The basics of form for shoulder presses / push presses

The standing shoulder press and push press are two variations of the same exercise. Both exercises are performed standing upright with a barbell at shoulder height in front of the body. The standing shoulder press is performed in a more rigorous manner, while the push press is performed more explosively with momentum from the legs.

Many exercisers mistakenly avoid overhead presses because they believe that this exercise is inherently bad for the shoulders. In reality, however, training imbalance is the biggest threat to shoulder health. In recent years, it has become commonplace for exercisers to overdo it with variations of the bench press while paying little attention to overhead pressing exercises. This lack of balance is not good for the shoulder girdle and can lead to strains and injuries.

Don't be afraid of overhead pressing exercises and instead aim for a better training balance between chest presses, shoulder presses and rowing exercises for the back.

Tips for good form when performing shoulder presses / push presses

Foot position

The position of your feet should be as if you were about to jump into the air. The distance between your feet should be about shoulder-width apart or a little wider. Your stance should be stable and balanced. If necessary, you can also place one foot further back to stabilize your body.

Hand spacing

Place your hands in a comfortable position and move the bar from the rack to chest height. Your forearms should be pointing almost vertically downwards. This angle should be roughly the same when you hold the bar above your head with your arms straight.

Bend your knees

Perform standing shoulder presses with your knees slightly bent. This will help you to achieve better stability. For push presses, bend your knees a little more and then move the weight upwards, starting with your legs.

Lean back

Keep your chest up as you press and lean back slightly if necessary. This will help you with stability and balance.

Eyes forward

Try to look forward during the press. If you move your eyes upwards, you will tend to lift your head. This can affect your exercise form and lead to instability.

The basics of Romanian deadlift form

The Romanian deadlift and the related straight-leg deadlift are two commonly misunderstood exercises. You should be aware that they are not the same exercise. Below you will find a list of some important differences between these exercises, as well as a few tips on correct exercise form.

Deadlift with tucked legs

The deadlift with straight legs is performed with slightly bent knees but without moving the legs. You can also perform this exercise with your knees fully extended.

During this movement, the bar is moved downwards in a natural way, keeping a certain distance between the bar and the legs. Start the downward movement with the lower back in a tight, curved position. Finish the downward movement when you feel your lower back rounding out.

Romanian deadlift

Romanian deadlifts are performed in a similar way to straight-legged deadlifts, although there is one big difference. When you move the bar down, it should be held close to your legs. Move your hips backwards as the weight moves down and stop the downward movement when you feel your lower back rounding.

In the third part of this article series, we will look at some popular strength training systems.


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