Weight Training Basics – The Big Four

Saaj talking

Back again after a prolonged absence with this insight into the basics of weight training.  Thanks to my fitness manager Phil Young, videographer and photographer extraordinaire, we got this video done where I explain the importance of the big four lifts.  This is the foundation of any weights programme and everything else is supplementary.  So let us get into them one by one:

Big Lift Number 1 – BENCH PRESS

Let a teenager loose in the weights area and they just look at the bench press not quite knowing what to do.  Still eager to pop that bench press cherry they will have a go or better still get one of their buddies to show them.  The actual move is quite simple but most people find a way to bench which they find comfortable within thier own mobility constraints.  Hence it is useful to know the optimum position for each and every limb.  I explain where the arms should be and what to focus on, namely the path of the elbows;

– At the bottom of the move the elbows are still pointing downwards.

– For this the forearms must remain vertical

– Therefore your starting hand position is not too narrow or too wide, so pinky roughly on that little marked line on the bar.

Powerlifters tend to widen the hand position in order to complete the move quickly but we want to enforce that limb-to-core-connection which my coach Scott Sonnon calls Shoulder Pack.  So the elbow is never in line with the shoulder but slightly lower.

BP wrongBP correct

The left shows the wide hand position and the right photo (not perfect to my liking) is where I try and emphasise the correct alignment.  The video is a lot clearer.

Big Lift 2 – Overhead Press (OHP)

A very underemphasised move but if we forget muscle groups and think big moves it makes perfect sense to perform an exercise that works the triceps, shoulders, upper-chest, even our core and back-stabilisers.  Of course this is when done properly.  Once again, elbows stab down with forearms vertical.  We limit any lean back and press right above our head.  This helps take the lats to full length and helps us avoid that typical bodybuilder look where the arms are suspended from a compressed shoulder-joint, elbows are permanently fixed a good 30 cm from the body and arms internally rotated.

OHP wrongOHP correct

So the left shows an incorrect lean back while on the right I press right above my head and hold a natural arch which only looks excessive because my lats are quite well-developed.

Big Lift 3 – Deadlift

There are so many versions of this, to the extent that top coaches differ on technique.  I see Poles and Czechs debating the subject.  I just work on technique that recruits the strongest parts of our body in the safest and most efficient manner possible.  There are of course common mistakes which I have been guilty of and there are often mobility constraints.  In fact, 80% of the men deadlifting shouldn’t be without raising the bar on to blocks if you follow the prinicples of leading back expert Stuart McGill because most of you have really bad flexibility.  Plenty of yoga then.  In a nutshell, back needs to be straight throughout.  Heels into the ground, head up to the sky as fast as possible whilst maintaining a straight back.  What’s your maximum? Who gives a shit as long as that form is correct. Ramble over and breath.

DL wrongDL correct

No need to explain the difference but notice that I even look down in order to maintain a straight line from crown-to-tail bone.  Every magazine and demo has head up.  It looks so uncool and constipated!!


The one that most of us hate but we have to do it.  It’s not the best leg-exercise in my opinion (for me it is the step-up) but it is by far the best weight-training move as it activates more muscles than any other weights exercise.  However, most people are reliant on their quadricep muscles and this is bad, bad, bad.  Think of abseiling; you have to lower yourself with control.  You’re now controlling the equivalent of your bodyweight so you have to use the extensors in your back and of course your upper hamstrings and glutes.  Likewise you have to get maximum power out of those two muscles in conjunction with the quads on the upward phase.  Distribtuting the weight around the body is the aim here in order to maintain the position of the squat as the ultimate move.

Squat wrongSquat correct

So this is a quick 101 on the big four.  We are always learning.  I myself am travelling to Dublin in 2013 for another workshop on the subject so look out for more on this subject.

So I’ll leave you with the full video



2 thoughts on “Weight Training Basics – The Big Four

  1. if step up is better why u recommending squat? and why would it be better anyway and better in what? very general assumption and self-opinionated reasons.

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