Jon's Fitness Tips for Squats, Deadlifts and Benchpress

  • Date: 20 March 2019
  • Category: HW Blog
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This week Jon will take us through some tips that can add just that little bit extra to some of your fundamental strength movements in the gym. If you haven’t already, take a look at the videos he has posted on the SAALC Facebook and Instagram pages or, check out the group fitness screens in the gym.


In his almost 10 year career in the fitness industry Jon has seen, heard about, and probably taught a thousand different ways to squat. Most variations have their merits and what you decide to do depends entirely on your preference, training goals and limitations. These are just a few tips that can improve the quality of most, if not all of them.

Tip 1: “Knees out”
A cue shouted by strength coaches around the world. What it actually means is place the knees in a position where they track in the same direction as your toes without collapsing inwards during the whole movement. Imagine you have a large rubber band around your knees and are trying to stretch it out and maintain tension during your squat. What this does is engage the glute muscles to create a stronger and more stable base at depth.
Why is this important? Stronger movement = stronger body.

Tip 2: “Chest Up”
Front squat, back squat, red squat, blue squat; it doesn’t matter. Open up your chest, draw your shoulders back and down, and maintain that position through range. This is a great way to make sure your back isn’t rounding during the movement. Warning: This cue occasionally forces the mid/ lower back to arch, that said it is an important aspect of the barbell squat. Ask Jon or one of our other trainers to have a look at your form next time you are in the club.

Tip 3: “Drive, don’t hike”
Jon loves a good forest hike but this cue has more to do with your hips. It is asking you to come out of the bottom of a squat at an even pace rather than forcing the weight up by any means possible. A good way to measure this is to take a mental note of your knees, hips, and shoulders during the movement. Do any of these start rising before the rest? The video shows an example of this very common deficit.


Like the squat, deadlifting variations are limited only by your imagination (and common sense). Here are a few of Jon’s tips for improving your deadlift. If you would like your deadlift or any other movement helped along, please feel free to get in touch with Jon.

Tip 1: “Screw your elbows”
Grip the bar hard and rotate your elbows backwards (externally rotate). Confusing? Watch the video for an example. This simple, small change in upper body positioning increases mid back activation and beautifully helps stabilise the upper body through this difficult hinge movement. More stability means lower chance of injury.

Tip 2: “Hips and knees”
During the deadlift your knees and hips should rise at the same rate. Do not get into the habit of letting your hips rise first. This leads to significantly more force through a potentially unsuspecting lower back. A recipe for problems down the track.

Tip 3: “Take up the slack”
One of the most common sticking points in a deadlift is overcoming the initial inertia and getting the weight off the floor. To compensate we often see members ‘ripping’ the bar off the ground. To reduce the risk of hurting yourself at higher loads, set up your lift and generate enough force to take the ‘slack’ from the bar i.e. increase vertical tension to the point just before the bar lifts off the ground. If you can reach that tension point without rounding your back, go for the lift.
Some lifters would debate this cue but Jon insists that unless you have a background in powerlifting or trust your abdominal strength completely, this is a great way to decrease injury potential.


The barbell bench press is a movement that will be attempted by most, if not all gym goes at some point in their fitness journey. Here are Jon’s tips for improving this old favourite. If you would like your bench press or any other movement helped along, please feel free to get in touch with Jon.

Tip 1: “Set your shoulders”
A strong and stable back and shoulders sets you up for a strong and stable lift. Before laying down on the bench, sit tall and drive your shoulder blades down and back. Maintain this ‘set’ position as you lie down and imagine your shoulder blades are cemented to the bench for your entire set. This increases the stability in your mid back and should decrease those final few rep wobbles.

Tip 2: “3 points of contact”
Fun fact: In a bench press competition, if your feet, bottom or shoulders come off the bench any time after you have committed to the movement, the lift is disqualified. From the perspective of good form, maintaining your contact points means less shifting around under the weight and a safer movement. If you find your legs are moving all over the place while under the bar reduce your weight. Your body and future strength gains will thank you for it. Save the dancing for the weekend.

Tip 3: “Push yourself through the bench”
This tip has come up in so many articles and conversations with other trainers. It is a great cue that often confuses most inexperienced lifters and even catches out those with a bit more weights floor wisdom. What this cue is trying to get you to do is stop bringing your shoulders forward at the top of a rep. Think of it like performing a push up while lying on your back and the bar is the ‘floor’ you are pushing against.

If you have any more questions about these, or any other movement in the gym get in touch with Jon at

Jon is a Personal Trainer at SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre. Jon is passionate about Strength & Conditioning Programming, Chronic Pain Management and Injury Prevention & Management. Read his full profile and qualifications here.