Powerlifting Form Check with My Coach Dylan Smith

This is my 10th week being a part of the True Fitness & Nutrition family. My strength coach Dylan Smith is a fellow JMU alumni where he graduated with a BS in Kinesiology. Dylan is a well-known strength coach and powerlifting competitor in the Northern Virginia area holding many certifications. Dylan is a USAPL Club Coach and NPTI Certified Trainer in addition to being a former instructor for the National Personal Training Institute (NPTI).

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(Dylan making 600 lbs. look easy)

From my personal experience working with Dylan so far he has superior attention to detail, strong emphasis on achieving optimal form in all lifting movements and is very responsive and attentive to client questions.

I met up with Dylan at his awesome gym, True Fitness & Nutrition in McLean, Virginia, where we went over my fitness goals, nutrition, and proper form for all 3 powerlifting movements: bench, deadlift and squat. He was so helpful and helped me improve all of my lifts significantly with just a single two and a half hour session. Below I will be sharing some of the great advice I have gained about powerlifting technique and form from working with Dylan so far.

General Powerlifting Tips:

  • The lifts to use wrist wraps on are bench, squat and military press. There is no need to use wrist wraps on pull ups, rows or deadlifting.
  • We discussed breathing & bracing and how they are essential when performing basically any exercise. If you combine both every time it will help you maintain proper form and increase your powerlifting total.

Breathing & Bracing are two different things that you must do together:

  • Breath deep into your belly (360 degree expansion and pressurization of your core with air)
  • Brace (360 degree expansion of entire core with muscular contraction)

*A neutral spine allows for optimal function of the diaphragm leading to proper belly breathing

  • It is also important to be consistent on every single rep for every single lift. Habits are hard to break so let’s make sure we are making the correct form choices and forming the right habits.

Squatting:

*Before you lift make sure you are wearing Olympic lifting shoes if you can. (Like these http://www.reebok.com/us/lifter). Unless you are one of the few lifters that feels strongest in flats, Dylan recommends squat shoes for optimal squatting. Wrist wraps are very useful in the squat so make sure to wrap up tightly with wraps completely covering the wrist joint for best support. Additionally, a quality powerlifting belt will improve your ability to squat due to enhanced bracing especially on heavy lifts.

Focus on This when Squatting:

  • Set your grip evenly on the bar outside of shoulder width. Typically, the best grip for an individual is the most narrow grip possible that allows the lifter to retain a depressed and retracted shoulder position along with an extended upper back. Many lifters cannot take a narrow grip due to range of motion issues so use the grip you find allows for the strongest squatting positon.
  • Step under the barbell and “break the bar over your back”, the bar positon should be somewhere close to resting across the rear delts or top of shoulder blades although some lifters will feel stronger with a slightly higher or lower bar position. Again, find what works best for you.
  • Get both feet under the barbell and make sure that you are loaded directly over the middle of your feet with about a hip width stance. Un-rack the bar by locking knees and hips.
  • Use a 3 Step Walkout: One foot straight back approximately one foot-length, second foot step back and out to the side, first foot step to the side. This should allow for a repeatable and consistent walk-out which will set you up for long term squatting success.
  • One you are in a proper squat stance take a deep breath into the belly (maintain a proper brace throughout!)
  • To descend, simultaneously break at the hips and knees and squat until the crease of the hip is directly below the level of the knees.
  • Hit depth and then immediately come back up in a controlled manor while exhaling forcefully into the lockout.
  • Make sure to remain tight the entire lift

Video of Squat Form

Benching:

*Before you lift make sure you are wearing Olympic lifting shoes if you can. (Like these http://www.reebok.com/us/lifter). If desired, wear wrist wraps with them wrapped tightly and completely covering the wrist.

Focus on This when Benching:

  • Keeping shoulder blades pulled down and back together like you’re trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades.
  • Driving your feet through the floor to anchor your upper traps into the bench and reinforce good upper back position. (retracted and depressed shoulders)
  • Sustain a quality back arch while benching making sure to keep your feel fully on the ground and your shoulder blades down as previously stated.
  • Keep strong wrist (knuckles up).
  • When benching, keep elbows beneath the barbell throughout the movement. This will create a bar path that arcs down and forward onto the body and then up and back as you press.
  • Remember, if you can reset your upper back tightness at the top of the repetition, this means you lost it along the way during the previous rep. Strive to maintain position and tightness for optimal benching.

*Make sure that when you un-rack the bar that you take bar out of rack by just locking out your elbows

*Keep your shoulders retracted (pulled back together like squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades) during the entire set, from un-racking to mid benching.

Video of Bench Form

Deadlifting:

*Before you lift make sure you are wearing completely flat shoes such as converse and are wearing a proper powerlifting belt

*A powerlifting belt should made of thick leather and be of one width and thickness all around in either prong or lever design. Good companies to purchase from are Inzer, Best Belts, and SBD which are all high quality as well as IPF Approved. Do yourself (and your spine!) a favor and get a quality lifting belt. The brands listed above will last a lifetime (Inzer “Forever” Belts even come with a lifetime warranty)

Dylan’s Tips on Proper Deadlift Form:

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  • Step to bar with mid-foot beneath barbell
  • Hinge to grab bar with arms locked in straightened position
  • Set back flat as you take the slack out of the bar (pull tightly against the bar by pressing your feet through the floor). *You can drive your hips up and back while doing this
  • Big air into belly after you have taken the slack out of the bar (you can feel and hear the “click” when using metal plates)
  • Pull chest up while keeping shoulder blades above barbell, and allow shins forward into the bar as you wedge into the start position
  • Pull!

*Shoulder blades must be aligned over the bar in order to initiate the lift off the floor. If you rock behind the bar when setting up you will “tip” forward until shoulder blades are above the bar.

Video of Conventional Deadlift Form

Video of Sumo Deadlift Form

Overall make sure to maintain proper form and be consistent on all your lifts. Make you have the proper gear when you’re lifting and that with every lift you are conscious of your body and how it is moving. In order to get the most out of your workouts, record your lifts and review your form with your coach or compare yourself to the videos I provided above.

(Inside True Fitness & Nutrition)

Make sure to check out True Fitness & Nutrition across all social media platforms and to consider any of their amazing certified strength coaches. Follow Dylan on IG @Dylan_C_Smith

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May your Faith be Louder than The Objections of Others

Never pass up an opportunity to learn and grow no matter how much pressure you get to stay a bystander. I was nervous to compete in my first powerlifting competition. I had many people try to put down my dream and tell me I was making a rash decision. They told me if I was serious about my training I would have paid a trainer to teach me or paid 150 dollars a month for some ritzy gym.

What they don’t know is I have been serious about weight lifting for over two years now. The objections, “you could really hurt yourself” or “wow you must emasculate so many guys” simply became background noise to me. Some oppositions even fueled my preparation and helped me train stronger and smarter because I wanted to prove them oh-so-wrong.

It also helps having spent years networking online building my online turned real life fitfam. These people have become a wealth of knowledge throughout my fitness journey. They have helped me find strength plans online or have given me weights, splits and reps to work with to meet my goals.

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My first meet was the Shenandoah Open Raw Bench Press-Deadlift Championship. Although I only competed on one lift and it was unsanctioned it was a great way to get the feel for a meet. I was shooting for a PR at the meet and I went in and did exactly what I was hoping for. I lost weight for the meet as I expected to do and competed at the 123 lb. weight class but ended up weighing in at 120 lbs. Even though I weighed a little less than I wanted to I was still able to pull 285 lbs. as my final attempt for a new deadlift PR!

The meet also allowed me to key in my training and really focus on improving my deadlift, form, grip and strength. At my next meet I plan to complete a full powerlifting meet competing on deadlift, squat and bench. My bench and squat need a lot of work but I know if I work hard and train properly I will be amazed at the results.

My Deadlift Warm-Up at the Meet:

  • 138 lbs. X 8
  • 155 lbs. X 5
  • 185 lbs. X 3
  • 205 lbs. X 1

Deadlift Final Attempts:

  • 1st attempt: 235 lbs. completed
  • 2nd attempt: 255 lbs. completed
  • 3rd attempt: 285 lbs. completed
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  • (Me powering through 285 lbs.)