The Myths of Weightlifting: Part 4 w/ Ilan Cumberbirch

By Yard Athletics – April 2nd, 2019

Folks, April Fool’s was yesterday, so it’s time to cut out the jokes, pranks, lies, and most of all, the MYTHS that turned our day upside down (yes, we fell for pretty much all of them including the LA Times trolling New York saying they had an “emerging” restaurant scene).

But fitness myths?? Those are sadly not a once a year, gotcha joke, but an every day occurrence! We have covered 3 so far in our on-going series featuring Yard Athletics founder Ilan Cumberbirch, who feels it’s time to set the record straight on how weightlifting is good for you, won’t kill you, and will likely get you better results in the gym than just going on the treadmill.

For our next myth in the series, see below…

Do squats and deadlifts pose a higher risk of getting injured?

Ilan: The squat and the deadlift are two of the “Big Three” (the third being the bench press) in the sport of powerlifting. They are also two of the best “bang for your buck” exercises, as they are compound (multi-joint) lifts and are therefore two of the most popular exercises in most training programs. Generally performed bilaterally, and being primarily lower body exercises, they allow for a great deal of weight to be moved if performed correctly.

That’s the kicker… “if” performed correctly…

Despite their popularity within gym culture, both the squat and the deadlift are quite complex. This blog does not allow for a full bio-mechanical breakdown of both the lifts, as there’s a lot going on!

Without overwhelming you or scaring you away from training the squat and deadlift, be aware that they should not be approached with a “laissez faire” attitude. Just because you see Instagram models and show-pony trainers performing them with obscurely contorted physiques or in novel variations, does not mean that is how they are meant to be performed. They are simple in nature, complex in execution, and extremely effective once mastered and executed appropriately.


No two humans are identical. Like your mother used to tell you, we are all unique! So too are our techniques, based on our anatomical makeup. With that in mind, never allow someone to convince you to squat or deadlift like them, or make you think that there is a one size fits all model for these lifts. That being said, there are general guidelines which do apply to the masses.

  • Back Squat Technique
    • Stance: A little bit wider than hip width apart, weight equally distributed between the big toe, pinky toe and heels, feet slightly externally rotated (~30 deg).
    • Bar Positioning: High bar, resting across the upper traps (we will not get into low bar positioning for any powerlifters reading this).
    • Hand Positioning: Hands gripping the bar, as close together as possible without causing pain at the front of the shoulders. Elbows driving back and down so as to create tension through the upper back and lats.
    • Bracing: Always begin fully extended, standing tall. Before descending, take a large inhale so as to fill up your lungs and expand your diaphragm. Avoid flaring your rib cage, focus on tucking your rib cage down into a neutral position and connecting with the top of your pelvis. “Feel your obliques”. Hold this tension and breath throughout the full range of motion. Exhale once back at the top of the lift.
    • Descent: Lower your hips, allow your knees to travel forward (in front of the toes if necessary) until your hip crease is below your knees. Maintain a vertical torso position so as to stack your spinal column, keeping your eyes forward and head in a neutral position.
    • Ascent: Focus on “screwing your feet” externally, rooting in through your big toe, pinky toe and heel, weight in the mid-foot, spreading the earth. Press the floor away and spread the earth. Your knees should track in line with your feet and your torso angle should remain as vertical as possible, without falling forward and dropping your chest. Continue to stand until hips are fully extended. Exhale upon standing.
  • Conventional Deadlift Technique
    • Stance: Roughly shoulder width apart, toes straight ahead, weight in the mid-foot.
    • Bar Positioning: The bar should begin overtop your shoe laces, close to your shins.
    • Hand Positioning: Hands gripping the bar, double overhand, outside the widest point of your lower body so as to not interfere with your legs.
    • Bracing: Always begin with a large inhale, like the back squat. Pull the bar tight to your shins and create systemic tension by eliminating any laxity throughout the body. Engage your lats by squeezing your armpits together and rotating the crease of your elbows forwards. The hips should be above the knees, to what extent depends on femur/tib/fib and torso length. Shoulders should be, in front of the bar, with the torso/chest down, not “up” or vertical. So long as the spine is in a neutral position and flat/stiff.
    • Ascent: Once tension and your setup has been achieved, focus on pressing the floor away as opposed to pulling the bar up. Continue to drive with the legs whilst maintaining the same hip angle you begin with (don’t allow your hips to pop up and your chest to drop on the initial pull, leveraging off of your low back). Once the bar has cleared the knees, focus on driving the hip forward and squeezing the glutes so as to achieve a fully extended vertical position at lockout.
    • Descent: Hinge the hips back, lower the torso and allow the bar to run along the front of the thighs, past the knees. Once cleared the knees, allow the knees to track forward and the hips/torso to lower.

After reading this, you get the idea that there are a lot of moving parts in both lifts, and these are just 1 variation of each.

Ensuring spinal neutrality is crucial to both lifts, don’t attempt to over extend/arch the back, and do not allow excessive flexion/rounding of the spinal column. Proper breathing/bracing is crucial. A large inhale at the top of the squat and prior to pulling a deadlift will fill up your lungs and diaphragm and act as a brace for your spine and torso.

Do not attempt to increase the load until mastery of the technique has been achieved. These two previous examples are just 2 variations of many squat and deadlift/hinge exercises. Beginning on a barbell is not advised, regressing to dumbbell/kettlebell/bodyweight variations is a good starting point.

Again, ensure that whoever is coaching you in these lifts has the training experience, anatomical and bio-mechanical knowledge and caching experience necessary to cue appropriately and make adjustments where necessary.

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