Perfect Your Technique
For strength gains, before trying to improve your weak points you must ask the most important question of all: Does my technique need to be fixed?
Even if you're using technically sound form on an exercise, it may not be serving you the way you want. Why? Because there's a difference between making a muscle work harder and moving maximal weights. Emphasizing one means de-emphasizing the other. They require the opposite intention and physical approach:
- Making a muscle work harder: Increase the tension of a specific area. To do so, you must put it into a leverage disadvantage. This requires locking down the joints so that tension is maximized by the specific muscle you're trying to work. People who do this (bodybuilders) will try to make lighter weight feel heavy.
- Moving maximal weights: Think synergy. Bring as many muscles into play as possible. To do that, you need to be in a leverage advantage against the bar so that it becomes easier to lift. People who do this (powerlifters and strength athletes) will try to make heavy weight feel light.
To maximize leverages against the bar, the lifter has to first be aware of where he or she is actually strongest or more dominant, from a muscular standpoint.
Examples: A lifter that has massive quads and tiny hips may benefit more from a high-bar, quad-dominant squat. A lifter that has strong glutes and hamstrings may find they naturally deadlift more in a sumo stance rather than conventional.
What about weak points? Okay, sure, it's important to bring up your weak muscular areas, but your weak points are always going to be weaker in comparison to your strong points due to your natural leverages and your ability to recruit certain musculature at higher thresholds.
You also need to examine your technique to make sure you're not setting yourself up for future injury. Critical self-assessment is necessary, and one that only comes after a few years of being under the bar or under the eyes of a great coach. Here are some globally accepted technique fixers for the big lifts:
- Conventional Deadlift: Shins vertical, neutral spine, elbows back to engage the lats, load the mid-foot (this feels more like the weight is on your heels, which is fine).
- Sumo Deadlift: Vertical shins, hips as close to the bar as possible, neutral spine.
- Bench Press: Wrist and elbows in alignment, shoulders in back pockets (scapular retraction), heels on your traps (move your feet back until you're so tight you feel as though your spine will snap in half).
- Squat: Shoulders in back pockets (scap retraction), neutral spine, load mid-foot.
This isn't an all-inclusive list, but it should create a cascading effect of moving you into certain positions, or at least make you assess your own positioning against the bar, so that you can find what leverages feel the most natural and strongest for your body type.
The other part is cueing, and understanding the reason for the cues. There are internal cues (related to what the musculature should be doing) and external cues (related to what the body should do in relation to an external source, like the floor, the bench press pad, or the bar itself).
For example, "push through the floor" on the deadlift, is an external cue.
"Hips through" on the deadlift is an internal cue. Remembering these cues, both internal and external, is paramount in maintaining proper form.