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Deadlifting & Squatting Cues That Prevent Pain & Injury

By: Stanley Dutton

October 04, 2016

Deadlifts Are for Your Back, Squats Are Good for Your Knees, and Santa is Real.


Only one of those things is a lie.

But depending on your experience, you might think any, or all, of them are true or a lie.

The person who hasn’t learned to brace their abs and pack their lats may think that the deadlift is “great for making my lower back sore.”

The person who has flat feet might think that squats are bad, and cause lots of hip/knee pain.

And well, we all know who thinks Santa is real ...



Although lifting isn’t always comfortable - your legs burn while you’re doing squats and your biceps feel like they’re going to pop out of your shirt after a few sets of pullups - there is a certain level of comfort that must be achieved during your workouts.

Maybe the best way to describe that is:

Your workouts shouldn’t be comfortable or painful.

If they’re TOO comfortable (i.e. you don’t have to focus and could have a full conversation mid workout), you probably aren’t doing much.

If they’re painful, you’re probably either about to injure yourself or you already have.

How do you get squats and deadlifts to stop hurting, then?

Considering squats and deadlifts are 2 or the 3 Best Bang for Your Buck Exercises, I wish there was one magical thing that I could say or do that would completely transform your experience with each lift.

But because mom was right and you really are a special snowflake, everyone needs a little something different.

Although everyone is different, there are a few VERY common things that pop up when it comes to mastering each lift.

Let’s start with deadlifts. First, what kind of deadlift are you doing? Conventional and Sumo deadlifts are very different. BUT, some of the cues do carry over.

Here are the top 3 universal issues to consider when deadlifting

  1. Breathing 

  2. Packing the lats  

  3. Tension in feet/spreading the floor 

For sumo:

  1. Sumo - Don't Squat Your Deadlift

  2. Sumo - Thinking of the Hinge

For conventional:

How to Squat without knee pain

This is going to sound weird, but I need you to think about your feet for a second. What the arch of your foot does can tell us a ton about how everything above the foot (aka, everything else) is going to move.

The best way to describe the importance of looking at the feet would be to think of a foundation.

What will happen if the foundation of a skyscraper is misaligned when construction begins?

As the building grows taller and taller, it’d become less stable and the small misalignment at the bottom would result in a massive problem at the top.

Similarly,  a small misalignment/lack of stability in your feet and ankles can result in a massive amount of discomfort in the joints above.

Before we jump into the best way to squat with your special snowflake feet ...

Here are 3 of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re squatting

  1. Breathing 

  2. Packing the lats  

  3. Tension in feet/spreading the floor

Yes, they’re the same as the deadlift cues, but the application for squats is much, much different.

If you have flat feet:

  1. Short foot  

If you have high arches:

  1. Heels raised  

Practice Really Does Make Perfect

The thing about this advice is that only reading the blog isn’t enough to make your squats and deadlifts look and feel better.

Whether you’re an experienced powerlifter trying to take your numbers to the next level, or you’re just trying to figure out this strength training thing, it’s extremely important that you take the things in this article and practice them.

Maybe this is my shameless pitch, but to be quite honest, I think you’ll agree when I say that the only thing better than practicing it on your own, is practicing it with a professional.

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Topics: Fitness

Stanley Dutton

Stanley Dutton

Born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, he found fitness at an early age and worked his way up to a 2nd Degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. A TFW Level 2 coach, and a graduate of the American Academy of Personal Training.

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