Beginner-Friendly Guide To Squats and Deadlifts
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If you’ve spent any time in a gym, you’ve probably seen someone squatting or deadlifting. The guys that use these exercises are on the right track, and they know they are. Maybe you’re even one of them.
These guys know that there’s a lot to love about squats and deadlifts. They’re compound movements, meaning they pull multiple joints into the mix. In turn, you work more muscles, and that’s never a bad thing. It also doesn’t hurt that you regularly use both squats and deadlifts in daily life, whether you realize it or not.
The bummer about these movements, though, is that they’re not beginner-friendly. That’s especially true when they’re performed in their traditional form, with a barbell. Barbell squats and deadlifts are more advanced variations that require a passable (at the very least) knowledge of the basics.
That brings us back to the guys who you’ve probably seen squatting and deadlifting. They’re ahead of the game, but they’re also behind in that too many of them skip the basics. They end up butchering two of the most effective exercises out there, and that doesn’t do them any good. They not only lose a lot of the benefits due to poor technique, but they also risk injury. Nobody has time for that.
I’m here to let you know that you don’t have to travel that path. You have options other than traditional barbell squats and deadlifts, and they’re perfect for building a strong foundation. They’re no less effective, but they are easier for beginners to get comfortable with.
If you’ve been avoiding these exercises or you’ve tried them and they never felt right, now is the time to get started or start over.
Work through these six variations – three deadlifts and three squats – before picking up or going back to a barbell.
How To Do Deadlifts : 3 Variations For Beginners
Single Kettlebell Deadlift
I love introducing people to deadlifts with a kettlebell. It’s a great low-intimidation way to learn the hip hinge movement pattern that good deadlifting requires. And, unlike the barbell, it’s more similar to objects that you’re used to lifting in everyday life.
Start by setting your feet in a stance that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place the kettlebell on the floor, then line it up with the arch of one foot. When that’s done, slide it over so that it’s an even distance from both feet.
Let your arms hang straight down, right over your crotch. Now, hinge your hips back to lower your hands far enough to grab the kettlebell handle. A good hip hinge requires minimal knee movement and maximal hip movement.
Take a second to make sure your spine is neutral – there should be a straight line from shoulder to hip. Drive your heels into the floor and pull the kettlebell up in a straight line. Keep going until you’re standing tall, then lower it back to the floor.
Double Kettlebell Deadlift
This version of the kettlebell deadlift is just a touch more difficult than the previous one. The second kettlebell pushes you into a slightly wider stance, and having only one hand on each bell requires more control to keep them in the right spot.
Set up just like you did for the single kettlebell deadlift, but use a wider stance and place two kettlebells between your feet. Hinge at your hips and lower your hands down until you can grab one handle with each hand.
Double check that you’re in a strong position, then pull until you’re standing straight. Lower them back down, and that’s it.
Trap Bar Deadlift
Deadlift setup is tricky to nail down and most beginners find it awkward and uncomfortable. That’s where the trap bar comes in. It puts you in a more beginner-friendly and natural starting position.
Grab a trap bar, stand right in the middle, and set your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hinge your hips back just like you did with the kettlebell deadlifts, and keep going until your hands drop low enough to reach the handles.
Get a tight grip and double check that you’re still maintaining a neutral spine. From here, drive your heels down hard and pull the bar up until you’re standing tall. Slowly lower it back to the floor and go again.
How To Do Squats : 3 Variations For Beginners
The goblet squat follows the same logic as the kettlebell deadlift. It’s generally a less intimidating squat variation that’s not too different from movements you already do in everyday life. Plus, since you’re holding the weight in front of your body, it has the added benefit of forcing more core engagement to ensure you don’t fall over.
It’s typical to do the goblet squat with a kettlebell, but a dumbbell works just as well. Grab either of those, then pull it tight to your chest. Set your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and make sure you have a tight grip on the weight.
Now, push your hips back and bend your knees to squat towards the floor. Go as far as you can (try to form a 90-degree angle between your lower and upper legs) and don’t let the weight pull you too far forward.
When you hit the bottom, drive your feet into the floor, push your knees out, and straighten your legs until you’re back in a standing position. Again, make sure the weight doesn’t pull you forward as you rise.
Double Kettlebell Racked Squat
The racked squat is like the goblet squat in that the weight is still positioned on your front side, but it’s a nice upgrade because it allows you to use two kettlebells. Check out this video if you’ve never racked a kettlebell before.
Practice getting the kettlebells into the racked position a few times before you try squatting. Once you’re comfortable with that, grab two kettlebells, rack them, and set your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
You’re going to make the same movement that you did with the goblet squat. Push your butt back, bend your knees, and drop towards the floor. The weight of the kettlebells will try to pull you forward – actively fight that pull.
Try to get down to that 90-degree angle, then drive your feet against the floor and explode up until you’re back to the starting position.
Squat to Box
There are two major types of squats that use a box: box squats and squats to box. The first is an advanced variation that requires a full stop on the box. The second – and the one we’re talking about now – only uses the box to help you learn depth. Depth is one of the hardest parts of the squat to learn, and the sooner you hammer it down the better.
You can use a barbell for this one, but beginners might want to stick with a kettlebell or dumbbell for as long as possible. Start by finding a box or bench that’s the right height. Ideally, look for something that gets you down to a 90-degree angle, like I mentioned earlier.
Make sure the box is stable, then grab your chosen weight (or weights) and stand in front of it. You just need to be close enough for your butt to tap the box as you squat – play around until you find that spot.
At this point, it’s just another squat. Squat down until you feel your butt touch the box, then explode back up. If necessary, use a mirror to make sure that box is at the right height.
In a perfect world, I’d put guys through all six of these variations before giving them the green light for barbell squats and deadlifts. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, so it’s up to you how many you want to use. And eventually, all but the trap bar deadlift and the squat to box will become too easy for you.
They’re still great to come back to on active recovery days or off-weeks, but the end goal is to transition to using a barbell. Do this whenever you’re comfortable and not a second sooner. The fact that you’re now doing these two incredible movements is already commendable, so give yourself a pat on the back.
You’re not quite as unkempt as you were, and that’s something to be proud of.