I think the squat and deadlift are two of the most important exercises to learn, but for me they can also be the most frustrating to teach. Here are a couple techniques I use to ingrain good technique in the gym and in the clinic.
The Hip Hinge
My remedial move for teaching the deadlift is first teaching the “hip hinge.” The hip hinge is essentially flexing the trunk toward the ground while keeping the spinal column locked in a neutral position. This is achieved by flexing at the hips instead of the lumbar spine. When teaching a client how to do this move, I will have them stand so their back is to the wall and their heels are about 12-18 inches from the wall. From here I cue the client to “touch” their butt to the wall. Some people will get it right off the bat, while others will fall back into the wall or round their whole back as the reach their hips back. If they are still not getting it, I will cue them to keep a big chest as they reach their butt back. I tell them they are looking to build tension in their hamstrings and when they feel that tightness it is a cue they are moving properly. Sometimes I find giving cues that are more visual like, “imagine I have a rope around your waist and I’m pulling you back to the wall” work better than just saying “hips back.” Once someone gets this move down, I’ll move to a RDL before a true deadlift since they will be starting from a standing position and performing the eccentric first.
The Wall Squat
My favorite way to teach the squat is to again use a wall. Except now, I’ll have the person face the wall with their toes a couple inches away (if you’re a true squatting stud, stand with your toes touching the wall). From here, I’ll set them up in good position with their feet and cue them to lower their body as far as they can without falling backward or into the wall. Some people will struggle with this exercise at first, but usually after a few reps they will start to get it without too much cueing as the wall will give all the feedback they need. Once someone can get to a good depth with the wall squat, I’ll progress to something like a goblet squat. A band around the lower legs is good to use in conjunction with this squat to avoid a “knee-in” position.
I like these exercises because all you need is a wall to teach them so a client or patient can go home right after a session and work on their technique.
Give them a shot and let me know what you think. If you have another way you like to start teaching squats and deadlifts, post it to the comments.