I have to say that out of all the Learn to Train seminars I've attended, LTT7 was definitely the best. They really do seem to get better each time. If you haven’t attended one yet, then I highly recommend doing so if you take your training seriously. And it doesn't matter if you’re a raw beginner or if you're already crazy strong—you will leave more educated and as a better lifter. I can guarantee you that. And let's not forget that it’s for an amazing cause.

On my drive back from London, OH to Paducah, KY following the seminar, I started thinking of all the little things my lifting group tweaked, changed, or fixed that made a big difference in our performance. Below I will be highlighting some of those things. As you read through them, think about your setup, your technique, etc. and see if you can apply any of these tips to your own training. If so, I am sure you will see immediate improvements.

However, I will not be covering any of the presentations (which were great by the way), anything discussed in the Q&A panel, or the incredible amount of information that was shared during the conversations at the hotel and the compound.

We had a great group of lifters coaching attendees, and all were motivated and eager to better themselves. Personally, I had a lot of fun coaching these lifters. My coaching group included Scott Yard, Josh Bryant, Jennifer Petrosino, Alexander Cortes, and myself. I can’t take credit for everything below, as these coaches’ eyes and brains were working just as hard as my own, but we all worked together to help improve every lifter in our group.

The Squat

  1. We started out coaching the grip and simply had them begin with an empty bar. Sure enough, we immediately spotted an issue. Some lifters had an almost lackadaisical approach to squatting the empty bar. After all, it’s only 45 pounds, right? Wrong. Every rep you do should be done with thought and purpose. From hand position, bar position, the walkout, foot position, upper back tightness, elbow angle, hip hinge, knee placement, etc.—all should be done with an empty bar just like you would do with 90% or more of your max. You perform like you practice. Ingrain that movement pattern correctly. Every rep you do in the gym is a rep you can improve upon. Let’s say you have 25 total work reps in a session, plus another 20 warm up reps. If those 20 warm up reps are crap, but the 25 work sets are done with better technique, well...you've still only performed five good reps for the day that will help ingrain proper and efficient movement patterns. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have 45 good reps at the end of the day...not five.
  2. Elbow position also seemed to be an issue for some. When you are squatting, you want to pull your elbows in towards your lats (and you want to pull them in hard). Get that upper back as tight as possible and create as much tension as possible. You’ll also want to torque those elbows forward when coming out of the hole. Remember, elbow angle and body angle are relative when squatting. If you push your elbows back and up hard, then you are going to throw your torso forward. This puts you in a less than optimal position to recover. By pulling the elbows forward, it helps keep your chest up and in an optimal position to finish the lift. Give this a try if you don’t already.
  3. Make sure you are bracing your abs/core/torso (whatever you want to call it) circumferentially—not arching the lower back and filling the belly with air. We want to brace the core all the way around—the whole 360 degrees. And this does take some practice to figure out. I recommend practicing it even when you are not training. In turn, make sure you practice it from your first warm up set with the bar on. A good way to do this is to take your hands and put them on your sides with your four fingers squeezing into the side of your abdominal wall. Next, take your thumb and push it under your ribs and into your lower back. Now take a deep breath and brace yourself, forcing not only your fingers out but also your thumbs. It’ll take some practice, but once you figure this out, you’ll be stronger and put less stress on your lower back.
  4. Make sure that you are unlocking at the hips—a hip hinge or “booty pop” (as Miss Jennifer Petrosino calls it). Always unlock at the hips. This forces the hips back and the knees out the whole time. Imagine that you have strings attached to each knee that are pulling them out the whole time.
  5. We also had some mobility issues as lifters weren't able to hit depth while keeping their lumbar spine in a neutral position. This can be a few different issues, but bracing properly can usually make a difference. We also noticed that some raw lifters were squatting in very flat soled shoes and benefit from making the switch to Oly shoes. And if you have major issues with not being able to hit depth without losing a neutral spine, then make hip mobility work something you work on daily. Squat to a high box and gradually decrease the height until you are squatting to depth with proper spine alignment.

The Bench

  1. One of the biggest issues I saw among people on the bench press was little to no leg drive. If you’re looking to move maximal weights, then you have to learn how to use leg drive. The problem, however, is that most people think they are using leg drive, or they aren’t quite sure if they are. Without being under the eye of a good coach, it’s really hard to know. There are plenty of bench press articles here on elitefts™ concerning leg drive, so I highly recommend looking them up. Still, I’d also recommend finding a good coach or powerlifter in your area and see if he can work with you a time or two on it. Of course, you could also attend the next LTT seminar. Leg drive really is one of the most common mistakes on the bench (in my opinion), and it’s very important if you’re after maximal weights.
  2. Make sure you are squeezing the barbell as hard as possible. We want to create maximal tension here. I noticed a few lifters who just casually gripped the bar, and this is wrong. Squeeze that bar like you’re trying to crush it.
  3. The bar should be sitting on the meaty part of the hand, and the bar should be positioned in a fairly straight line over the wrist and elbow. Some lifters had the bar sitting in more of the palm of their hands. This caused their wrists to flex back, putting them in a poor and less than optimal position.
  4. Although some people are set in their ways, I am against using a suicide (thumb-less) grip on bench press. This is just an accident waiting to happen, and it’s not really if it happens...but when.
  5. When creating your arch, dig the upper back into the bench as hard as possible and try to get your sternum as far from the bench as possible. While most people arch pretty well, this can always be done better. If you are comfortable when you are bench pressing, then you aren’t arching enough and your technique could be better.
  6. Train your back for a bigger bench. Many lifters could use a good dose of upper back work. It’s not their shoulders, triceps, or pecs holding them back. It’s their upper back. Train the upper back more and train it like a bodybuilder. Make sure you are performing rows, chins, pull ups, face pulls, shrugs, and band pull aparts. Sometimes the weak link isn’t what you think.

The Deadlift

  1. One issue for the deadlift was stance. Many lifters seemed to want to pull from a stance that was a little too wide. This isn’t optimal for force production and moving maximal weight. The wider stance also pushes the grip out wider and actually increases the range of motion of the pull. Again, this does not allow for maximal weights to be moved. I recommend that most lifters start in the stance they’d be in if they were fixing to test their vertical jump—about shoulder width apart. Then, experiment with this position, going slightly narrower and wider if needed.
  2. Inconsistent hand positioning. It’s very important to pay attention to every little detail when training. Some lifters had the tendency to grab the bar unevenly. In other words, one hand would be one inch from the knurling and the other would be one and a half inches from it. Make sure everything is consistent and symmetrical.
  3. When finishing the deadlift, make sure to finish with hip extension instead of back extension. When using back extension, the smaller and weaker low back muscles are forced to finish the lift instead of the larger and stronger hamstrings/glutes. This causes undue stress on the lower back and is definitely not good in the long run. It also increases your chance of injury. You’ll also have a stronger lockout by utilizing hip extension over back extension.
  4. Grip...Double over, Alternate, or Straps? The answer is: It depends. For beginner/intermediate lifters, start with a double overhand grip and work up until your grip becomes your weak point. Then, switch to alternate grip for your remaining sets. More advanced and stronger guys would be better off starting and staying with the alternate grip. I don’t know if this is backed by research, but it’s something Josh Bryant and I discussed and agreed upon. In theory, by starting with an alternate grip on your warm up sets, you allow your biceps tendon of the underhand to warm up gradually to the weights being lifted, thus decreasing the chance of a biceps tendon tear once you’re moving your heaviest weights. Josh and I both also mentioned that our technique is slightly different when pulling double over versus alternate grip. Lastly, bodybuilders who are concerned with symmetry should use straps when their grip becomes their limiting factor.
  5. If you’re more of a slow twitch dominant lifter, or if all of your weights seem to move slow from the floor (even submax weights) when you are trying to move as fast as possible, then you will highly benefit from speed work. I like using straight weight, elitefts™ short bands, and chains for speed work, and I have rotated them all with great success.
  6. The bar position at the start of the deadlift should vary from individual to individual. It seemed like many lifters wanted to start with their shins touching the bar. While this is correct for some, we must remember that everyone’s joint angles and biomechanics are different. Because of this, I recommend playing with your starting position and suggest that most people start a few inches off the bar. From there, play around with what feels best. I know that when I start with my shins on the bar, I lose my starting strength because my quads are almost none existent in the pull. A few years back I was experimenting with foot position, and I missed a weight that I could typically pull for five or so reps because I was too close to the bar. Many of the people in our group benefited from backing off the bar slightly. You should still be pulling the bar back and towards you as you lift, but the start position can vary from person to person.
  7. When setting up on the bar, it’s very important to pull the slack out of the bar. If you don’t train on a deadlift bar, then you’ll have less slack. However, it’s still very important to pull the slack out and create as much tension as possible. We also want our upper backs tight...but differently than on the squat. We want our lats flexed hard, as this helps with bar movement and helps prevent bar drift. It also helps the chest and hips to rise together for those who have a problem with their hips rising too fast.

So there you have it. A ton of tips on the squat, bench press, and deadlift from LTT7. I want to thank all those who attended LTT7, and thank you to those who were in our coaching group. Not only do you all benefit, but you also help make us better coaches as well.

I will leave you with this simple piece of advice from Matt Wenning’s presentation. And while it’s simple, it’s quite possibly one of the most important pieces of advice a lifter can implement.

“Train what you suck at.”

What’s your weak point? What do you suck at? Train it. Don’t train just what you’re good at and what you like. While it may seem like common sense, I see too many lifters fall into this trap.