Properly performing a barbell squat (or any squat for that matter) requires mobility at the hip and ankle as well as a good base of strength in the posterior chain and mid-line. The first things we want to make sure you nail down before progressing to more advanced squat variations are your mobility, stability, and muscle recruitment pattern in the body weight squat. Basically, insuring you've got the proper mobility at the hips and ankles and are utilizing the right muscle groups.
The below three tests must all be passed before being "green lighted" for a full barbell squats.
The Wall Squat Test
This is our first squat achievement level. In order to progress to squatting with weight, we require that you can perform ten (10) full-depth repetitions meeting the following requirements:
- Toes must be placed within the tape line and foot stance at slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Hands must be placed on your temples with vertical forearms directly in front of you and elbows pointed to the floor.
- You must be able to demonstrate proper mid-line control, not breaking into hyper extension or rounding the back at any level during the squat.
- We're looking for controlled descent during the entire squat without "crashing" into the bottom.
- Knees must be properly aligned over your feet with your femur angle matching your foot angle and not going beyond the plane of your toes.
- The bottom of your squat is defined by the crease of your hip being slightly below the top of your knee with a one (1) second pause.
- Your feet need to remain flat on the floor at all times without rolling inward or onto your toes.
The Lunge Test
In addition to the Wall Squat Test, you must also be able to perform ten (10) alternating repetitions of a full and proper bodyweight lunge before squatting with any weight. Drop lunge or forward lunges will be acceptable, but both must meet the following requirements.
- Hands will remain folded on the back of your head.
- You must demonstrate balance and control with your posture must remaining upright during the entire lunge set without tipping forward.
- The length of your stride should produce a knee angle that's as close to 90 degrees as possible. Not too far or too short.
- Your front toes must point forward and knees must remain over your foot with the femur matching the angle of your foot.
- Your back foot should be placed perpendicular to the floor with your toes pointed forward and heel directly toward the sky.
- Each repetition will begin and end with your feet together. Only one foot may move during the repetition.
The Weighted Wall Squat Test
This is our second squat achievement level and must be obtained prior to barbell squats. The standards for the Weighted Wall Squat test are all the same as it's unweighted counterpart with one exception, it must be performed using a crush-grip kettlebell. Men must be able to perform ten (10) repetitions with a 53lb kettlebell and women with a 35lb kettlebell.
Once you're passed all three of these test, then you can be "green lighted" to squat with a barbell.
The Bench Press
The bench press is one of our most powerful upper body strength builders when performed correctly. However, performing it incorrectly causes excess stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff muscles and leads to shoulder pain and injury.
The following two tests are in place to insure that you're able to demonstrate the required total body tension, shoulder blade stability, and mid-line control, to perform the bench press correctly as well as your ability to safely control the implement itself (dumbbell or barbell).
Both test must be passed before you'll be "green lighted" for the barbell bench press.
The Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press will be a valuable tool for building your strength for the pushup and the barbell bench press and is a safe way to master the pressing pattern. If you cannot yet pass your pushup test, these guys, in addition to practicing the pushup itself, will help you build the strength you need to perform the pushup. We're looking for you to be able to complete ten (10) tight, controlled repetitions using 45lb dumbbells for men and 25lb dumbbells for women before moving on to the barbell. Each repetition must meet the following requirements.
- You must be able to control the weight at all points of the movement including properly getting the bells into and out of the press position.
- Your feet must be firmly planted on the floor and stay planted the entire time. You should be driving your feet down through the floor the entire repetition.
- Your butt must be squeezed tightly and remain in firm contract with the bench at all times.
- Shoulder blades should be "packed" together and down toward your butt, remaining in contact with the bench at all times.
- You body should be arched as if you're trying to shorten the distance between your shoulders and butt on the bench.
- Your head must be in contact with the bench at all times.
- Elbows should remain tucked into your body with vertical forearms at all times.
- The entire press should be controlled and not wobble or "crash" down to the chest. Dumbbells should move in a straight path.
- The bottom of the press is marked by your knuckles breaking the plane of your chest and the top by full extension of the elbows. You shoulder blades should not relax and roll out.
The Pushup (Test)
Pushups are a critical tool for anyone who's trying to improve their health, fitness, or strength. We are using the pushup here to show show improvement in upper body strength and total body control and stability. If you're lacking upper body strength or mid-line stability, the pushup will be broken.
We're looking for men to complete at least fifteen (15) full, chest-to-ground repetitions and for women to complete at least five (5) full, chest-to-ground repetitions before getting the green light to barbell bench press. Each repetition must meet all of the following requirements:
- Your hands are placed in a position that will align your thumbs directly underneath your armpits and fingers to point straight ahead.
- Shoulder blades should be active and "packed" down toward your butt and back together during the entire repetition.
- Your elbows should remain pulled into your body at about a 45 degree angle and not flare out to the side during any portion of the repetition.
- Your mid-line should be tight and aligned so that there's not low back "sag" and your butt does not shoot up in the air. We should be able to draw a straight line through your shoulders, ribs, hips, knees, and ankles. You must maintain this position during the entire repetition and not break.
- Each rep begins and ends with your arms fully extended at the top, shoulder blades remaining "packed." The bottom of the repetition is marked by your chest fully contacting the floor on each rep. Your hips and pelvis should not touch the floor, but come close.
The deadlift is arguably the king of all barbell movements. There's nothing more primal than simply picking up something really heavy off the floor. It's a powerful strength builder when done correctly, however the mechanics of the movement itself are often oversimplified.
A critical component of a good deadlift is the hip hinge. The hinge is you ability to bend at the hips while keeping your spine aligned and knees relatively fixed. If you cannot hinge properly, then the deadlift cannot be performed correctly or safely.
If you're looking to deadlift with a barbell (or trap bar), you'll need to pass both of the following tests.
Hip Hinge Test
This test follows a very simple concept; we want you to be able to disconnect your hips and your spine and bend over by only moving at the hip joint. You'll need to be able to do this in order to keep your spine safe during movements that require the hinge (deadlifts and swings) and to be sure the right muscles are used as primary movers.
You'll be asked to perform five (5) repetitions meeting the following performance points.
- Feet are flat on the floor and shins remain vertical during the entire movement.
- The PVC pipe will be held by your coach on your back. You must keep your head, shoulder blades, and butt in contact with the pipe during the entire hinge.
- You'll be holding a second pvc pipe mimicking a barball. You need to keep your arms locked straight and the pvc in contact with your legs during the entire movement. The pipe should "slide" down your legs.
- Your knees must remain fixed in space with vertical shins. You butt and hips will travel backwards as you bend at the hip joint.
The kettlebell swing is an awesome strength and power builder for the posterior chain. Being able to perform a proper kettlebell swing demonstrates complete control over your mid-line and your ability to recruit your legs to develop power instead of your back. A key sign that your swing needs improvements is extreme back fatigue or tightness while swinging.
You'll need to be able to perform a proper swing before you'll be able to deadlift with a barbell or trap bar. Men with a 53lb bell and women with a 35lb bell. Here are the performance points we're looking for.
- Feet stay flat and planted on the floor at all times. At no point during the swing should your heels leave the floor, even for an instant.
- You shins must remain vertical during the entire swing so as not to "squat the swing."
- We need to see a crisp hip and knee "pop" to an erect position. Slow legs often means you're pulling with your back rather than driving with the legs.
- The kettlebell should be hiked back under your butt, tight to your underwear and at no point should travel below the plane of your knees during the swing.
- You need to be able to maintain your spinal alignment during the entire swing and not round your back.
- You'll be required to demonstrate a controlled mount and dismount of the swing - picking it from the floor and returning it to the floor safely before and after your set.
- The kettlebell should swing to up to the height of your chest.
For our overhead movements we simply want to insure that you have a complete range of motion in your shoulder joint. If you cannot pass our overhead test, that means you're lacking end range of motion in the overhead position and will be placing your shoulders and lower back in jeopardy during overhead movements. We'll need to make sure you're consistently working on your mobility to improve this!