Welcome to week one.
This week is about learning the squat deadlift:
- Shoulder packing
- Hook grip
The squat deadlift is taught first, because the squat movement is the safest, and easiest to learn, compared to the hip hinge, which is also on the list and equally as important.
Learning how to lift a kettlebell safely is one of the most important aspects of kettlebell training, but not only will you learn to lift safely, you will also learn how to use this as a resistance exercise to work your legs, core, grip, and traps.
Beginners Squat – Wall Assisted Squat
If you’re having trouble performing a squat, getting depth, folding forward instead of moving the hips lower, then the beginner’s squat is the perfect drill for you to start with.
The definition of a deadlift is: Dead as in not moving, the object has absolutely no momentum. Lift as in lifting from lower to a higher position. Deadlift does not define the movement with which the lift is performed, the movement can be a squat or hip hinge.
Considering that the deadlift can be performed with a hip hinge or squat movement, let’s cover why the squat version is safer for beginners.
With a squat, the torso remains as upright as possible, whereas, with the hip hinge, the torso comes towards parallel with the ground; with the squat the quadriceps power a lot of the movement, with the hip hinge the gluteus maximus (buttocks) is powering most of the movement.
The gluteus maximus is not nearly as developed or strong as the quads with most people, this means that when performing the hip hinge version, and going heavy, people will start employing the back to lift the weight, simply because the target muscle does not have the strength, or in some cases there simply is no proper mind-muscle connection (MMC).
We will dive deeper into these topics later on, for now, the main reason for starting with the squat deadlift is simply because the movement comes more natural to people, the muscles are more developed, and it reduces load on the back (erector spinae muscle group). Producing less load is not always good, as time under tension and load is what makes you stronger, but it needs to be done under proper progression, which is what we’re doing.
Your shoulders are the largest and most complex joints in the body, and shoulder packing is one of the major aspects of keeping your shoulders safe during training. It’s super important you understand and store this information early on. Anytime there is a weight pulling on your arm, you want to pack the shoulders to keep the ball safely in it’s socket. The same applies to anything heavy overhead, or the opposite where the body is the weight and the hands are attached, like with pull-ups, we’ll dive deeper into that later on.
With deadlifting there is always heavy weight hanging with the shoulders in between, they need to be pulled down, not only for safety but also to provide a solid rigid structure that can handle more weight, hence, produce better results.
A lot is involved with shoulder packing, and initially, it might not be easy to make this happen, I’ll cover the muscles involved so that you can get an understanding of what areas you should be tensing/contracting/feeling.
To pull the shoulders down, the following actions happen:
- Scapula depression
- Pectoralis minor contraction
- Lower trapezius contraction
- Serratus anterior contraction
- Scapula adduction
- Middle trapezius
- Shoulder adduction
- Latissimus dorsi contraction
You can translate all this to:
- Pull the shoulders away from the ears
- Slightly push the chest out
- Firm chest and back
The hook grip is covered early on because it will become such an important part of progression, efficiency, and preventing friction within the palms. When you’re going to be deadlifting, you will be asked to do this with a hook grip rather than a tight farmer’s grip. You can download the PDF on kettlebell grips here. As we progress through the weeks, it will become clear why the hook plays such an important part in kettlebell training.
The squat movement is all about getting the hip low and keeping the shoulders high. The joints affected by the squat are the hips, knees, and ankles. The following muscles create flexion, extension, dorsiflexion, and plantar flexion in these joints:
- Hip flexion
Psoas major, iliacus, tensor fasciae, sartorius, rectus femoris
- Hip extension
Gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus (these last three are part of the hamstrings), adductor magnus
- Knee flexion
Biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimebranosus, gracilis, sartorius, gastrocnemius, politeus
- Knee extension
Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius
- Ankle dorsiflexion
Tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, extensor hallucis longus
- Ankle plantar flexion
Gastrocnemus, soleus, tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, plantaris
When you’re moving down, you’re coming into flexion of all three joints, hence you’re working all the muscles listed above that create flexion.
When you’re moving up, you’re coming into extension of all three joints, hence you’re working all the muscles listed above that create extension.
Both ankle flexion and extension have the word flexion in the name, however, dorsiflexion represents extension (bring toes towards shin), and plantar flexion represents extension (bringing the toes away from the shin).
To perform the squat movement and reach the objectives of getting the hips as low to the ground as possible while keeping the shoulders as high as possible, one performs the following actions:
- Feet placed in a comfortable position just slightly outside of the hips
- Let the knees come forward while the hips are moving back
- Keep looking ahead
- Move the hips down
- Push the chest out (slight spinal extension, scapula depression and adduction)
- Keep the feet flat on the ground
- Maintain a neutral spine
- Pull the knees outwards to keep them in line with the feet and hips (top of the femur)
- Keep the pelvis in alignment with the spine
- Use the gluteus maximus to control the alignment of the pelvis
- Pull the knees back into extension (straight legs)
- Keep aligning the pelvis with the hip extensors (muscles responsible for hip extension)
- Come into a full upright and extended position
- The heels come off the ground
- The back is rounding
- The hips are no longer moving down
- The knees are buckling in
- The pelvis is out of alignment with the spine
- Anything starts to hurt
Reaching good squat depth takes time, focus on good form and technique, strength and depth will come.
Heels coming off the ground can be a sign of tight muscles in different areas, but commonly the calfs and hamstrings.
You can see the squat deadlift in action in the following WOD.
The squat deadlift is also used in this kettlebell combo that consists out of renegade rows and squat deadlift.
Putting it all together
Let’s put all of this together and talk about the exercise in its entirety.
- The weight(s) is placed between your feet approximately in line with your ankles
- Everything from a normal squat is implemented
- The shoulders are packed
- The upper traps are active
- The consequences of not packing the shoulder and contracting the upper trapezius are that the shoulders will come forward during the lift
- Come down and hook grip the handle
- Create slight tension between you and the weight
- Breathe in
- Brace the core
- Start the lift
- Push the heels into the ground
- Pull the knees back
- Push the hips forward
- Squeeze the glutes
- Come into full extension
- Keep the arms extended
- Look ahead
- Keep the weight moving in the same direct path up and down
It might sound counterintuitive to pull the shoulders down, and then use the upper trapezius to pull them up again. But you have to put it into the perspective of creating a static nonmoving structure. Lifting heavy weight with packed shoulders but no contraction of the upper traps does not provide the balanced out contraction we want to achieve.
Your grip is the first point of failure, be careful, pay attention to the muscle fatigue, especially at this stage. If your lower back starts to hurt, check your form and technique. If you purchased additional support and coaching, contact your coach to talk about adjusting reps, weight, stretches to use, alternative exercises etc.
As this is your first week and the first exercise, this workout will be tailored such, keeping it basic, with exercises added that are simple to perform. One workout will focus on strength, while the other will focus on cardio.
- Squat deadlift
6 super slow reps with one or two heavy kettlebells
- 30 seconds rest
- High plank
30 or 45 seconds static hold
- Static quarter squat
Hold for 30 seconds
- 30 seconds rest
Repeat 6 to 8 times
Alternatives: If you’re still working on your squat strength, you can do the static quarter squat against the wall, keeping your back flat against the wall with the weight on your quads. You can do the low plank on your forearms.
- Squat deadlift
8 fast but controlled reps with medium weight using one or two kettlebells
- Jumping jacks
- Bodyweight squats
- Squat jumps
5 minutes AMRAP (As Many Rounds/Reps as Possible)
2 minutes rest
Repeat 3 to 4 times
Rest as required, good form and technique first, keeping it going comes second.
When working out, program appropriate rest days in your schedule, the body grows and heals during these important days.
This week your tasks are:
- Practice the wall assisted squat whether you already squat good or not
- Analyze yourself with the bodyweight squat and write down your weaknesses
- Complete both workouts
You can store your analysis in one of the exam questions, allowing you to look back in the future.
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