Chapter 16: Resistance Training Technique

Fitness professionals must have in-depth knowledge of proper exercise technique to ensure client safety when performing movements. Overall, proper technique in resistance training exercises provides the optimal training stimulus while reducing the risk of injury.

When introducing clients to exercises, observing proper form checkpoints at each phase of the movement is key to both giving proper verbal technique cues as well as identifying potential muscular imbalances.1

Introduction to Resistance Training Technique

Key Injury Indicators 

The most common areas injured during resistance training include the knees, shoulders, and back.2 Therefore, common visual checkpoints for trainers to look for are proper knee tracking, shoulder complex alignment, and engagement, along with neutral spine positioning. 

Knee valgus (knees caving in) is a risk factor for lower limb injury and a potential indicator of weakness in the hip abductor group.3 

Research attributes scapular muscle strength discrepancy as a common cause of shoulder injury during resistance training. The typical shoulder muscle imbalances lead to elevation and internal rotation of the shoulder, which can occur at rest or during movements involving the glenohumeral joint. This pattern places unneeded pressure on the shoulder joint.4 Therefore, trainers must keep a strong technical focus on scapular retraction and shoulder depression during pressing exercises.5  

A neutral spine should be maintained through most resistance exercises, as it is the optimal position for power in sports-related movements and protects the muscular alongside the spine itself.6 For those clients who have difficulty holding this position, fitness professionals should include proper core strengthening exercises which can aid them in the endeavor.7

key injury prevention checkpoints

The Three Rules of Weight Lifting

During resistance training, the following “rules of weight lifting” apply generally to most exercises. Note that for certain technique applications, deviation from these rules may be warranted, but for general resistance training, these rules should be followed.

  1. Keep it close

When weight is further from the center midline of the body, the joints operate at an increasing mechanical disadvantage. This makes the same weight require more effort to lift and can place undue stress on stabilizer muscles that are not designed to exert against the typical resistance needed to train the prime mover muscles. 

For example, during an overhead press, if the weight is too far in front of the body, the deltoids act with less leverage and the demands on the rotator cuff can quickly exceed safe capacity. In this instance, keeping the weight stacked vertically in-line with the spine throughout the full range of motion offers the safest and strongest movement path.

  1. Move in a straight line

The closest distance between two points is a straight line. Any extra movement will make each rep more challenging as the lifter adds extra space they need to cover to complete the rep. This is especially true on complex, multi joint exercises where lifters can fall into an “arc” pattern, which decreases the movement’s efficiency and the mechanical advantage throughout the arc.

  1. Maintain neutral spine

As mentioned above, neutral spine is the safest position for the musculature alongside the spine, which can be injured if placed under load and the vertebrae move out of position. In sport-specific movements when the athlete needs to come out of neutral spine under load, they should still keep the core braced, which will reduce the potential for injury. Most general fitness clients should focus on the neutral spine brace when performing any heavy lifts.

three rules of weightlifting

Breathing During Resistance Training

Breathing is essential for not only correct exercise techniques, but for human life. The average lungs move around 17 fluid ounces of air with each normal breath, but during exercise that number shoots up to 101 ounces.

During a workout, levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions increase in the bloodstream, causing a drop in pH and an increase in breathing rate. The primary trigger to breathe is actually to remove excess CO2, not more oxygen.

Better breathing will increase exercise output during both cardiovascular and weight lifting endeavors.

During resistance training movements there are two breathing techniques to consider: when to breathe, and when to hold the breath.

When to Breathe

For most exercises, breathing in on the eccentric portion of the movement, and out on the concentric phase will provide the best pattern of breathing to follow.

In the case of a pull up, the lifter breathes out on the way up and in on the way down as they go through their repetitions. 

For a back squat, they would start with a breath in on the way down and then release that breath on the way up before beginning again.

When Not to Breathe

Sometimes, especially on heavy low repetition sets, it’s helpful to take one deep breath and hold it while bracing the core and pushing air against a closed glottis throughout the working set. This is called “the Valsalva maneuver,” and is very effective at creating intense pressure throughout the body that provides spinal stability, allowing the body to support substantial weight.

Note that this can be a dangerous technique to implement, especially for any set greater than a few repetitions, because without oxygen, humans can pass out and potentially even suffer greater negative consequences.

For this reason, the Valsalva maneuver is best used with intermediate and advanced clients training for maximal strength.

breathing patterns for resistance training

Technique for Selected Resistance Exercises

Bodyweight Movements

Push Ups

Safety Checkpoints: 
  • Keep core braced and maintain neutral spine during movement.
  • Shoulders should be pulled back and down to protect joints. 
  • Make sure to stack wrists under elbows. 
  • Hand placement will vary based on personal preference. 
  • Allowing the elbows to flare more increases chest activation, but puts the shoulder in a more compromised position so consider focusing on pushing elbows back rather than out in the movement. 
  • If the flattened hand position hurts the wrists, consider using push up stands (or two dumbbells) to keep wrists straight or limit the ROM of the exercise if needed to 90 degrees.   
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start in the plank position, creating a straight line from head to heel. Hands should be directly outside shoulders with elbows extended, fingers facing slightly outwards.
  2. Engage the core and lower the body, by allowing the elbows to flex until the chest lightly touches the ground, then come back up. 
Coaching Tips:
  • Observe client’s elbows to ensure they point back at a 45-degree angle while maintaining vertical stack above the wrist during the movement.
  • If they are unable to perform a traditional push up, regress the exercise to either push ups with the hands on an elevated box or push ups on the knees.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Pull Ups

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Keep active shoulders during movement. Scapula should be pulled back and down.
  • Watch for scapular winging during retraction.
  • Watch for shoulders shrugging during pull up as it can place excessive pressure on the joint.
  • Keep core engaged.
  • Control the eccentric portion of the movement and limit excess hip or lower back involvement; often people use a lot of extra body motion to reach their chin or clavicle above the bar, which increases potential for injury and limits use of the muscles this movement seeks to target. 
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start directly under a bar set at a height from which you can hold on to with the elbows fully extended, without feet touching the floor. 
  2. Place hands slightly outside shoulders with palms facing forward and feet off the ground. 
  3. Pull the shoulder blades back and down to initiate movement and bring the body up, bending the elbows, until the chin (or chest) touches or raises over the bar. 
  4. Complete the repetition by lowering down to the starting position with the elbows fully locked out.
Coaching Tips:    
  • Alternative grips exist at underhand and neutral, changing the associated muscular recruitment and overall difficulty of the pull up as well as differences in the width distance of the grip. 
  • If a client is unable to perform a standard pull up or chin up, utilize either a pull up machine or pull up bands to reduce the weight needed to overload the muscles properly. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboid

Dips

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Neutral head posture throughout the range of motion.  
  • Elbows stacked above wrists to avoid excessive wrist flexion.
  • Maximize ROM while considering mobility restrictions, not everyone will be able to safely lower all the way.   
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start with hands planted on parallel bars.  
  2. Step or jump into position so that arms are supporting the weight of your body while elbows are fully extended. 
  3. Lower body until shoulders are below height of elbows. 
  4. Return to full extension to finish the rep. Knees can remain flexed throughout the movement if need be.
Coaching Tips:     
  • A more upright posture with elbows pointed back will emphasize triceps, while a greater lean forward with elbows flared will emphasize chest (although be careful with flaring the elbows too much as this can put excess pressure on joints).  
  • If unable to perform a dip, clients can use a bench or box instead of a parallel bar: Have them plant hands slightly outside shoulder width with fingers facing forward on the implement. Elbows begin fully extended with legs straight, resting on heels. Lower body towards the floor until shoulders are below the height of elbows. Return to full elbow extension to finish the rep.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Air Squats

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Knees fall in line with the path of toes specifically, second metatarsals.
  • Maintain neutral spine and upright posture.
  • Make sure knees do not buckle inwards during motion.   
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Stand with feet outside hip width, toes pointed forward or slight out. 
  2. Push the hips back and down, keeping the chest open (as if sitting down into a chair) until the hips drop below the knees.
  3. Stand back up. 
Coaching Tips:
  • As the client lowers into the squat, their weight should be positioned toward the midfeet, right below the ankle.
  • Some people may prefer putting their arms out in front during movement to help with balance. 
  • If the client cannot perform a full squat safely, because of injury or balance or coordination issues, have them start by squatting onto a box or bench, practicing the correct form. Over time the trainer can lower the height of the implement until the client can squat safely without any assistance. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, quadriceps femoris

Lunges

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Knees fall in line with the path of toes specifically, second metatarsals.
  • Maintain neutral spine and upright posture.
  • Make sure knees do not buckle inwards.
  • Do not put excess pressure onto the back leg.
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart. 
  2. Step forward a few feet with one leg and lower the hips, allowing the front knee to bend until the back knee lightly touches the floor,
  3. Rise back up and bring the front forward foot back to the starting position. Finish repetitions on one side and repeat for the other leg. 
Coaching Tips:   
  • If the client cannot lower into the lunge, have them instead step up onto a box. This movement is the same as the lunge but in reverse as it begins with the concentric phase of the movement instead of the eccentric.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, quadriceps femoris

Dumbbell Movements

Bent Over Row

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Maintain neutral spine.
  • Shoulder blades should be pulled back and down as weight comes up. 

Exercise Instructions:  

  1. Start standing, holding two dumbbells at sides. 
  2. Push hips back and lower torso while keeping back flat until dumbbells are at knee height. 
  3. Pull dumbbells to the torso allowing elbows to flex at a 45-degree angle. Dumbbells will stop next to either side of the ribcage. 
  4. Slowly lower back to full extension while keeping the torso stationary.
Coaching Tips:
  • This exercise can also be done one arm at a time with the hand and knee of the opposite side supported on a bench, which reduces lower back load.
  • If the dumbbells are pulled higher on the body, like to the chest line, it activates the rhomboids more. If the dumbbells are pulled lower to the ribcage, that involves more of the lats. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid

Flat Chest Press

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Maintain head, shoulders and tailbone contact with bench or flat surface.
  • Vertical forearms and wrists.
  • Shoulder blades pull back and down.
  • Keep core braced and torso tight, maintaining a stable base.    
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Lie on a flat bench holding two dumbbells. 
  2. You can use knees and arms to push the weights up into the starting position over the chest or have someone help position them there. 
  3. Lower the weights to the chest. Elbows can open up to 45-degrees of the torso. 
  4. Once the weights lightly touch the chest, push them back up, extending the elbows. 
Coaching Tips: 
  • For extra power, have the client keep contact with the floor during the entire movement and push through the legs and feet, while keeping hips on bench to drive the dumbbells up.
  • Different elbow angles will work for different people, but a wider elbow has the potential to aggravate the elbow and shoulder joints.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Incline Chest Press

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Maintain head, shoulders and tailbone contact with bench or flat surface.
  • Vertical forearms and wrists.
  • Shoulder blades pull back and down.
  • Keep core braced and torso tight, maintaining a stable base.     
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Lie on an incline bench holding two dumbbells. 
  2. You can use knees and arms to push the weights up into the starting position over the chest or have someone help position them there. 
  3. Lower the weights to the chest. Elbows can open up to 45-degrees of the torso. 
  4. Once the weights lightly touch the chest, push them back up, extending the elbows.   
Coaching Tips:
  • Bench angle varies from an incline of 15-60 degrees for this exercise. The angle will change depending on goals and preferences, but for most, a lower degree angle in the 15-30 degree will suit goals best as it places more emphasis on the pectoralis muscle and less strain on the shoulders. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Overhead Press

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Upright torso with neutral spine.
  • Push the weights straight overhead, perpendicular to the floor.
  • Keep abs braced.
  • Make sure mobility is adequate before excessively loading this movement.     
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Dumbbells held at shoulder height. 
  2. Brace core and press the weights straight over head to full elbow extension, directly over each respective shoulder. 
  3. Lower the weights with control. 
Coaching Tips:
  • Having clients keep elbows tucked in will increase triceps involvement and help maintain external rotation, while letting elbows open outwards allows more shoulder and chest involvement, but increases the likelihood of impingement. 
  • This exercise can be performed seated or standing.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, triceps brachii

Bulgarian Split Squat

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Keep torso upright and midline stable.
  • Forward knee stays in line with second metatarsal during flexion and extension.
  • Make sure knee does not buckle inwards.  
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Hold a pair of weights, arms hanging on either side of the torso. 
  2. Targeted leg will have the foot planted on the floor with the opposite leg elevated and its foot resting on a bench/block/box at knee height behind the lifter. Planted foot should be in front of the torso rather than vertically stacked.  
  3. Begin the movement by lowering the torso to the floor allowing the planted leg to bend. Avoid the planted knee going past the toes by driving the elevated knee towards the floor. 
  4. Return to single leg standing to complete the repetition. 
Coaching Tips:
  • This movement is often done holding two dumbbells at the sides, but can also be done with one dumbbell held in a front rack position or with a barbell racked on the client’s shoulders.
  • The length of the step of the forward leg from the back leg will change the muscle emphasis: a shorter step recruits more quad musculature and a longer step will focus more on glute muscles. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, quadriceps femoris

Goblet squat

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Upright torso with neutral spine.
  • Elbows stack under wrists and tuck tight into the mid section. 
  • Knees stay in line with second metatarsal. 
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Stand with feet outside shoulder width, holding a dumbbell with both hands at sternum. Toes pointed forwards or slightly outwards provided knees track with toes. 
  2. Push hips back and sit tailbone as low as possible (ideally lower than the height of the knees) while maintaining an upright torso. 
  3. Return to standing to complete the repetition.
Coaching Tips:
  • This is a great movement to teach clients who lean forward too much when they squat, because the weight is placed on top of the chest and any leaning forward will dramatically increase the difficulty of the movement. 
  • While this movement provides many benefits, as clients progress it becomes harder and harder to load it properly enough to tax the legs, because the weight must be held in place using the shoulders and arms, which are not as strong. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Quadriceps femoris, gluteal muscles

Lateral Raise

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Torso upright and static during movement.
  • Minimal elbow flexion during ROM.  
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start standing or seated, holding a pair of weights by the hips. 
  2. Perform the lateral raise by raising both arms to shoulder height directly to the side of each respective shoulder.  Body should present a “t” at the top of the movement with arms parallel to the floor and each other.  
  3. Return arms to the sides of the hips to complete the repetition.
Coaching Tips:
  • Have clients use a minimal bend at the elbows during exercise.
  • This movement is best done for higher repetitions with lighter weights. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Medial deltoid

Dumbbell Snatch

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Maintain neutral spine.
  • Hips are the driving force behind this movement, not arms.
  • Weight travels in a straight path. 
  • Clients need excellent mobility to load this movement.
  • This movement requires much more coaching than most other exercises.
Exercise Instructions: 
  1. The goal of this movement is to attempt to lift the dumbbell placed in front of you in one smooth motion from the ground to overhead. This is accomplished through three phases of movement: the jump, the transition, and the catch. 
  2. The jump: squat down to reach the weight with a straight arm. Bring the weight to shin height, then explode with their lower body using triple extension (extension of the hips, knees, and ankles) to drive the weight into the air.
  3. The transition: as the dumbbell travels through the air, bend your elbow, allowing the weight to be flipped from the wrist pointing down to the wrist facing up.
  4. The catch: immediately after the weight is flipped up, stabilize the weight over your center of gravity with a straight arm. You can do this by dropping into either a full squat (in the full snatch) or a quarter squat (in the power snatch). 
  5. When momentum stops, the weight should be locked out overhead and the body should be in a squat or dip.  
  6. Finish the move by standing completely upright with the weight overhead.
  7. After this the weight is returned back to the ground. 
Coaching Tips:
  • As clients bring the weight down, have them bring their hips back to take the force of the movement, instead of the spine.
  • Teach this movement in stages, using the three phases separately before integrating them together in the whole movement.
  • A snatch is the fastest way to move a dumbbell from the ground to straight overhead.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Total body power movement

Bicep Curls (supine grip)

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Upright stable torso.
  • Shoulders retracted and depressed. 
  • Avoid excessive body movement.  
Exercise Instructions: 
  1. Hold weights with a supinated grip (palms out) with straight arms by sides. Weights should be just in front of the hips. 
  2. Keeping shoulders retracted and depressed, flex the elbows to bring weights to shoulder height while minimizing any accessory movement through the body.  
  3. At the top of the movement, palms should be facing shoulders. Upper arm should remain in contact with torso. 
  4. Slowly lower back to the start position to complete the repetition. 
Coaching Tips:
  • Can be performed standing or seated.
  • To help clients do this movement correctly without any extra body motion, you can teach it while having clients lean against a wall, making sure to keep their back against the wall during the movement.  
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Biceps brachii

Biceps Curl (hammer/neutral grip)

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Upright stable torso.
  • Shoulders retracted and depressed. 
  • Avoid excessive body movement.
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Hold weights with a neutral grip (palms facing hips) and straight arms. Weights should be by the side of the hips. 
  2. Keeping shoulders retracted and depressed, flex the elbows to bring weights to shoulder height while minimizing any accessory movement through the body.  
  3. Upper arm should remain in contact with torso and palms should face each other throughout the repetition. 
  4. Slowly lower back to the start position to complete the repetition. 
Coaching Tips:
  • Can be performed standing or seated.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis

Chest Fly

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Torso stays in contact with bench during movement.
  • Slight flex at elbows.
  • Weights should start stacked directly above shoulder and at maximal abduction should present a symmetrical line from right to left wrist.
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Lie flat on a bench with a pair of weights extended directly above the chest. Maintain a slight amount of elbow flexion. 
  2. Slowly abduct the weights to the sides maintaining arm length to spread the chest while also retracting shoulders. Upper body should be nearly parallel from weight to weight at the bottom of the movement. 
  3. Adduct the weights back together over the chest to complete the repetition.
Coaching Tips:
  • Have clients arch their back slightly on the bench to help open up the chest, along with retracting their shoulders.
  • There is much more tension at the bottom of the movement than the top, so focus on that range of motion more for hypertrophy work.  
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Barbell Movements

Bench Press

Safety Checkpoints
  • Maintain head, shoulders and tailbone contact with bench or flat surface.
  • Vertical forearms and wrists.
  • Shoulder blades pull back and down.
  • Keep core braced and torso tight, maintaining a stable base.
  • Bar should follow a symmetrical range of motion for both right and left sides.
  • When using heavy weights, this movement requires a spotter or stable safety pins. 
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Lie on a bench with barbell racked, hands gripping barbell outside shoulder width.
  2. Unrack the barbell and bring it over the height of the chest.
  3. Pin the shoulder blades back against the bench and lower the weights to the chest. Elbows can open up to 45-degrees of the torso.
  4. Once the bar lightly touches the chest, push it back up, extending the elbows completely.  
Coaching Tips: 
  • For extra power, have clients keep contact with the floor during the entire movement and push through the legs and feet, while keeping hips on the bench to drive the barbell up.
  • A back arch will aid in total body stability and strength during movement, but it makes the press more of a full body move and can shorten range of motion. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Overhead Press

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Upright torso with neutral spine.
  • Push the weight straight overhead, perpendicular to the floor.
  • Keep abs braced.
  • Make sure mobility is adequate before excessively loading this movement. 
  • Make sure client moves their head out of the way of the bar path.
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start with the barbell held at shoulder height with palms facing forward and elbows to the side of the torso. Grip should be spaced just outside shoulder width. 
  2. Brace core and press the weights over head to full elbow extension, making sure to move head out of the way of the bar’s straight path. Keep active shoulders at the top of the movement. 
  3. Lower the weight with control. 
Coaching Tips:
  • Can be performed seated or standing.
  • Having clients tuck elbows in will increase triceps involvement and help maintain external rotation, while letting the elbows open outwards allows more shoulder and chest involvement, but increases the likelihood of impingement. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, triceps brachii

Incline press

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Maintain head, shoulders and tailbone contact with bench or flat surface.
  • Vertical forearms and wrists.
  • Shoulder blades pull back and down.
  • Keep core braced and torso tight, maintaining a stable base.
  • Bar should follow a symmetrical range of motion for both right and left sides.
  • When using heavy weights, this movement requires a spotter or stable safety pins. 
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Lie on an incline bench with barbell racked, hands gripping barbell outside shoulder width.
  2. Unrack the barbell and bring it over the height of the chest.
  3. Pin the shoulder blades back against the bench and lower the weights to the chest. Elbows can open up to 45-degrees of the torso.
  4. Once the bar lightly touches the chest, push it back up, extending the elbows completely.  
Coaching Tips: 
  • For extra power, have clients keep contact with the floor during the entire movement and push through the legs and feet, while keeping hips on the bench to drive the barbell up. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Pectoralis major/minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid

Back Squat

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Knees fall in line with the path of toes specifically, second metatarsals.
  • Maintain neutral spine and upright posture.
  • Make sure knees do not buckle inwards during motion. 
  • For heavy weights use safety pins in case lifter gets stuck at the bottom.  
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Start with the barbell resting on a squat rack at shoulder height. 
  2. Bring your body under the barbell, letting the bar rest on the shoulders behind the head. Barbell should be resting on the upper trapezius across the back without putting any pressure on the neck’s vertebrae. Hands go just outside the shoulders on the bar. 
  3. Extend the knees to lift the barbell from the rack and step into free space for the exercise.  
  4. Begin the movement by pushing hips back and down to lower body towards the floor allowing knees to bend. Ideally knees track in line with toes while torso remains upright.  
  5. Control the lowering of the body then when max depth is reached (lower than parallel) drive the weight back up to a standing position by extending throughout the hips and legs.
Coaching Tips:
  • Use the greatest ROM possible with this exercise and then standardize the depth, otherwise progression will be harder to control.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, quadriceps femoris

Deadlift (Standard)

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Vertical bar path.
  • Keep the weight close to body.
  • Shoulders remain retracted during movement.
  • Hip drive is catalyst for movement, not lower back extension.   
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Bar starts on the floor in front of you. 
  2. Push your hips back and down and roll the bar in until it’s as close as possible to the shins. 
  3. Grabbing the bar right outside their knees, extend your hips and stand up with the bar.
  4. Return the barbell in the same path to the floor to complete the repetition.
Coaching Tips:    
  • The goal of the movement is to lift the bar from the floor in as vertical a line as possible by driving hips forward to a standing position. 
  • Emphasize a full standing posture without hyper-extension of the low back (which may require ab and glute activation).
  • Grip options are either double overhand, mixed (under and over), or double overhand with a hook grip. If you clients prefer to use a mixed grip, make sure to alternate which hand is over and under to avoid muscle imbalances. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps femoris, latissimus dorsi

Deadlift (Romanian)

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Vertical bar path.
  • Keep the weight close to body.
  • Shoulders remain retracted during movement.
  • Hip drive is catalyst for movement, not lower back extension.
  • Knees angle stays constant. 
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Starts standing up with the bar held at mid thigh level with minimal knee bend. 
  2. Push your hips back allowing the bar to travel downwards as far as possible without bending the knees any more. 
  3. Once the hips are as far back as possible, loading the hamstrings, contract your glutes and bring the weight back up.
Coaching Tips:
  • Some people will be able to keep the legs completely straight during movement and some will need a slight bend so vary based on mobility of the client.
  • Tell clients to think about, “sitting back” during the movement to emphasize the hip motion more. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Gluteal muscles, hamstrings

Power Clean

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Maintain neutral spine.
  • Hips are the driving force behind this movement, not arms.
  • Weight travels in a straight path. 
  • Need to be able to split exercise into 3 phases: pull, dip/transition, catch.
  • This movement requires much more coaching than most other exercises.
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Lift the weight in one smooth motion from the ground to your shoulders. This is accomplished through three phases of movement: the jump, the dip, and the catch.
  2. The jump: squat down to reach the weight with straight arms, grabbing just outside hips. Bring the weight to shin height, then explode through the lower body using triple extension (extension of the hips, knees, and ankles) to drive the weight into the air.
  3. The transition/the dip: as the barbell travels through the air, bend your elbows, allowing the weight to be flipped from the wrist pointing down to the wrist facing up. While this is happening, dive underneath the bar. 
  4. The catch: immediately after the weight is flipped up, you need to stabilize the weight. Do this by dropping into either a full squat (in the full clean) or a quarter squat (in the power clean) under the bar, pulling your elbows up and in so you can catch it.
  5. When momentum stops, the weight should be held in a front rack position and the body should be in a squat or dip.  
  6. Finish the move by standing completely upright with the weight on the shoulders.
Coaching Tips:
  • When the client brings the weight back to the ground, coach them to bring their hips back to take the force of the movement as the barbell drops off of the shoulders.
  • Teach this movement in stages, using the three phases separately before integrating them together in the whole movement.  
  • A clean is the fastest way to move a dumbbell from the group to the shoulders.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Total body power movement

Bent Over Row

Safety Checkpoints: 
  • Maintain neutral spine.
  • Shoulder blades should be pulled back and down as weight comes up. 
  • Arms remain symmetrical throughout the movement.
Exercise Instructions:  
  1. Start standing, holding the barbell with extended hanging arms directly in front of the hips. 
  2. Push hips posteriorly while keeping back flat until the barbell is just below knee height.  
  3. Pull barbell to torso with the weight meeting torso at approximately the bottom of the sternum, allowing elbows to flex out at a 45-degree angle. 
  4. Slowly lower back to full arm extension to finish the repetition.
Coaching Tips:
  • Variations of this exercise include the t-bar row, Yates row, and Pendley row. Different variations will work for different clients as well as different grip positions. 
  • It’s very easy for the hips to aid in the movement, so choose the load, repetitions, and volume that allows proper technique for clientele.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid

Biceps Curl

Safety Checkpoints:  
  • Shoulders should remain depressed and retracted throughout the movement.  
  • Torso remains upright.
  • Avoid swaying during exercise. 
Exercise Instructions: 
  1. Stand, holding the barbell with a supinated grip (palms out) and straight arms at shoulder width apart. Barbell should be just in front of the hips. 
  2. Keeping shoulders retracted and depressed, flex the elbows to bring barbell to shoulder height while minimizing any accessory movement through the body. At the top of the movement, palms should be facing shoulders. Upper arm should remain in contact with the torso. 
  3. Slowly lower back to the start position to complete the repetition. 
Coaching Tips:
  • To help clients do this movement correctly without any extra body motion, you can teach it while having clients lean against a wall, making sure to keep their back against the wall during the movement.  
  • Variations of the barbell curl include preacher curls, spider curls, partial repetitions, and curls utilizing an E-Z bar for more range of motion and better wrist position.  
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:  

Biceps brachii

Machine Movements

Lat Pulldown

Safety Checkpoints: 
  • Keep active shoulders during movement. Scapula should be pulled back and down.
  • Watch for scapular winging during retraction.
  • If elbows flare out to the side during pulldown, it places extra pressure on the shoulders so watch for this. 
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Set the thigh pad pin so that your knees fit snugly into the opening and the correct weight.
  2. Reach or stand up and grab the bar, using your body weight to bring it overhead with straight elbows as you get into position.
  3. Pull the shoulder blades back and down to initiate movement and bring the bar down, bending the elbows, until the chin (or chest) touches or raises over the bar. 
  4. Complete the repetition by allowing the bar and cable to return to the starting position with the elbows fully locked out.
Coaching Tips:
  • Experiment with different grip widths, but for most clients, directly outside the shoulders will be best with a pronated or supinated wrist position.
  • As the weight travels back up, make sure clients aren’t being pulled out of the seat.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:

Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboid

Calf Raise

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Use full range of motion and control descent. 
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Select the appropriate height on the machine so you can stand or sit and still complete the entire movement without obstruction. 
  2. If standing, place the pads on your shoulders, if seated they go above your knees.
  3. Push the weight through your ankles and feet and come up as far as you can onto the toes.
  4. Lower all the way down and repeat.
Coaching Tips:
  • Calf raises are best used with high repetitions and lower rest times.
  • Have your clients use the most ROM as possible, getting a stretch at the bottom as well as the top of movement.
  • Clients can point their toes forward, in, or out, which may recruit different sides of the calf, although the best foot position is going to be whichever allows the client to do the most quality repetitions.  
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:

Gastrocnemius, soleus muscles

Leg Curl

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Make sure machine angles are lined up with joints. 
  • Control eccentric. 
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Set up the machine so pads lie flat against the lower back. Raise your legs and slip them into the padded lever. The leg pad should sit on the lower calf. Drop the lap pad so that it sits comfortably tight above the knees.
  2. Start each repetition by pulling your legs back toward your glutes as far as possible.
  3. Hold for a one second at the finish point and return the weight back to the start. 
Coaching Tips: 
  • Most machines will have dots or markings to indicate where the knee joint should line up with the machine, so double check the machine.
  • There are several types of leg curl machines including lying and seated. Both will work well. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:

Hamstrings, gluteal muscles

Leg Press

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Knees fall in line with the path of toes specifically, second metatarsals during motion.
  • Make sure knees do not buckle inwards during motion. 
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Load the machine with the weight and sit down.
  2. Position your feet on the sled slightly outside hip width. 
  3. Extend your knees and unlock the safety devices.
  4. Lower the weight under control as far as possible with the knees tracking over the feet and the lower back flat against the seat.
  5. Pause briefly and then drive the weight back to the initial position by extending the knees. Do not lock out the knees completely but maintain a slight flex at the top of the movement.
  6. Complete the repetitions and then relock the safeties. 
Coaching Tips
  • The range of motion will be dictated by client’s mobility, but seek to lower the weight past a 45 degree knee angle. 
  • Placing feet higher on the sled or lower will be different based on goals and anthropomorphics of clients, but the main goal should be to put the knee in a safe position. 
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:

Gluteal muscles, quadriceps femoris

Triceps Pushdown

Safety Checkpoints:
  • Maintain neutral spine, use triceps to control movement, not lower back. 
Exercise Instructions:
  1. Pick either a rope or a v-shaped bar attachment and clip it into the cable system.
  2. Raise the height of the rope to eye level using the drop pins.
  3. Stand upright leaning very slightly forward with your upper arms close to the body.
  4. Grab tightly with both hands on either side of the device, and bring the rope down until the elbows are fully extended, perpendicular to the floor.
  5. Hold for a second and return the rope up to the starting position. 
Coaching Tips
  • As the client brings the rope or bar down, allow their elbows to open out slightly, which will help with the muscle contraction.
Targeted Major Muscle Groups:

 Triceps brachii

Summary

Proper exercise technique prevents risk of injury and targets the correct muscles used in the movement. Additionally, coaching the correct motion pattern requires knowledge, communication skills, and patience. Above all, fitness professionals must make sure their clients can perform exercises properly before adding extra resistance, because as weights increase it becomes very easy for minor changes in movement to create large impacts on the body in both a positive and negative way. Generally, stressing the three rules of weightlifting and correct breathing will go a long way, but each exercise contains specific cues that enhance the movement and aspects to watch out so correct technique on that particular exercise is essential.

References

  1. Colado, J; Garcia-Masso, X. Technique and Safety Aspects of Resistance Exercises: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Phys Sportsmed: 2009 Jun;37(2):104-11.
  2. Gean, RP; Martin RD; Cassat, M; Mears, SC. A Systemic Review and Meta-analysis of Injury in Crossfit. Journal of Surgical Orthopaedic Advances: 2020 Jan;29(1):26-30.
  3. Wilczynski, B; Zorena, K; Slezak, D. Dynamic Knee Valgus in Single-Leg Movement Tasks. Potentially Modifiable Factors and Exercise Training Options.  A Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: 2020, 17(21).
  4. Barlow, J; Benjamin, B; Birt, P; Hughes, C. Shoulder Strength and Range-of-Motion Characteristics in Bodybuilders. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2002 Aug;16(3):367-72.
  5. Kolber, M; Beekhuizen, K; Cheng, M; Hellman, M. Shoulder Injuries Attributed to Resistance Training: A Brief Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 2010 June:24(6):1696-1704.
  6. Akuthota, V; Ferreiro, A; Moore, T; Fredericson, M. Core Stability Exercise Principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports: 2008 Jan:7(1):39-44.
  7. Cissik, John. The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment. Strength and Conditioning Journal: 2011 Feb:33(1):10-15.

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