T Nation

Teaching Lifting Technique


I'm teaching a couple of weightlifting classes this semester, and I've come across a problem I'm hoping some of you may have some insight on.

Thus far I've taught them squats, deadlifts, and bent rows. Most of the girls in the classes are able to do all of these exercises with good form. (Ironically these are the same girls who don't want to lift big 'cause they'll look like men...but that's a whole other story!) I have a lot of guys, however, who can't seem to get an arch in their lower back. That is, they deadlift and row in a hunchback kind of way.

Arching my lower back is so natural to me now that I can't figure out how to explain it to them. So... does anyone here have any experience with being unable to arch their lower back while lifting, and/or advice on how to fix it? Any thoughts would be appreciated!


the weight is too heavy!


I'm by no means an instructor, but if you tell them to imagine a yardstick running from their waistband to the back of their head and keep their scapulae retracted when they lean over, it's almost impossible to round over and lose the arch. Have them practice bending over w/o any weight with this in mind and see if they get it. Also when bending over, tell them to push their butt back instead of simply bending over at the waist. Hope this helps.


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Teach them the Romanian deadlift to drill this position. They are forced to push their butt back and keep their chin forward, which leads to a natural lower back arch. After learning this it should be easy, especially for the rows, to get set in the correct position.

Technique must take precedence over load. Tell them to leave their egos at the door! Their lower backs will thank them for it.


I would definitely take a look at the weight being used and make sure it is in their capability ,this will add to their problem. One way i have encountered to help fix this problem is to first teach them how to stand up straight! Most people that are inactive or new to weight training often have posture issues. Try and stress the need to keep your shoulders back instead of hunched forward. The body likes to work as a unit, it starts with a tight core, shoulders back and the arch will follow.Try and teach the lift with out the bar first. Don't get to frustrated sometimes it just takes practice to nail it.


Hey, there! I taught at Texas A&M for 6 years, and I found that comedy helped me teach them every time. I would stand up on a table or bench in front of the class and start off by explaining that you only need to know 2 things about squatting, deadlifting, bent rows, etc. If you can just remember 2 things, that you will do it properly.

At that point, I would make everyone stand up and prepare them by saying, "I hope none of you are concerned about what other people think, because you are about to feel very silly. Just remember that everyone else around you is going to feel the same way. So, have fun with it.

Then, I would turn sideways and give them a profile view. I always loudly declared, "The first thing to remember is your BUTT!" I'd reach back and slap my glutes, and then I'd stick my butt WAY OUT by tilting my pelvis. At this point, believe me, everyone is starting to smile and a few are laughing. Then, still in this ridiculous pose, I would exclaim, "The next thing to remember is your CHEST!". I'd take my fist, slap by chest, and then stick my chest WAY OUT and UP. So, at this point, I'm still standing upright, profile view, with a SERIOUS arch in my back...butt out and chest high! Again, laughter would ensue, and I would relax.

From there, I would turn to face them and say that it was their turn. Most would smile and look around. Still on top of the table and facing them, I would yell "Butt OUT", slap the butt, and push the butt back. Everyone would do it, and then I would yell "Chest OUT", slap my chest, and stick it out. Everyone does it and looks hilarious. I'd tell them to take their hands and feel their lower back. I'd ask if everyone could feel the tension in those muscles. Of course, everyone can when you're in that position, and then I would let them relax.

(Sorry this is getting long)

From there, we would squat. I would ask them, "What are the two things to remember?" They responded "butt and chest". AS they would say that, I turned to profile view again. I would repeat "Butt first" and start pushing my hips back. Then I would say "chest up" and start descending into a squat. It worked every time. From that point, I would have them do about 5-10 and watch. I'm telling you...rarely would anyone of them do it wrong.

To elaborate on it, I would show the 2 most common mistakes. First, I would descend into a squat (profile view), with my knees way past the front of my toes. It looks ridiculous, and so I'd ask what was wrong and how to fix it. Usually, someone would say something about the butt, but if they didn't, I would just remind them, "what is the first thing to remember?" and they would answer "butt". As they would say it, I would stick my butt WAY back again and be in a great squat position. They would laugh, but they would UNDERSTAND. That is when I would also show the difference between the weight in the heels and the weight in the toes.

The second common mistake would be demonstrated by going down into a squat with my chest and head down. I would ask what the second thing to remember is, and they would say "chest". As they replied, I would lift my chest up. Worked every time.

So, with that in their brain, it was a snap to teach the deadlift. 1) "Bend over and touch the bar with your shins right next to it". 2) "Stick your butt out". 3) "Lift your chest up" BOOM! 95% of the time = Deadlift position...magic!

For the bent row, I would stand straight up holding the bar at the top of the deadlift positon. I'd show them a few times and then explain how to get into position. "What's the first thing to remember?" "The butt". I'd respond with "push your butt BACK". If I saw any of them doing it wrong, it was easy to fix. I'd say "no, you're bending FORWARD. I want you to push your BUTT BACKWARD." 9 times out of 10, that fixed it. Finally, I'd remind them to keep their chest up.

Oversimplified? Heck, yes. Does it work? Dang near EVERY time. For those that don't, they are probably a kinesthetic learner and need touched or placed into position. I've taught over 2000 students these lifts and can't recall someone that didn't finally "get it". :slight_smile:

Finally, I have only one more thing to say: this teaching technique will be even more effective and "memorable" coming from a female, for various and obvious reasons. Have fun with it!


you can tell at first when they are in standing position with their shins in touch with the bar and with the right stance of their feet, to retract their scapulae and to contract all the muscles around the spine, while keeping the scapulae in the right position, than bend over the bar, mantaining the shoulders over the bar, and the hips a little bit over the knee, grasping the bar with thier arms slightly touching the sides of their legs. at this moment, they should put their chest up and mantaining the scapular and muscolar position they achieved when they were standing. Tell them to look straight ahead or a little bit over, and then to lift the bar making a movement that is shared between legs and back..
this is for the deadlifts..tell them to push when they are in standing position their hips in a neutral position, don't push it more in front because it will create a lower vertebral compression.
i hope i explained well, and i am sorry for my not perfect english, but i am italian


Great advice from Nelmster.

Another cue that might help is to call the butt back, back arched position "The Happy Pornstar"

Most guys will know what that means.

It may also help to tell them that any torso lean should come by bending at the hip, not the spine.



Since you are working with women you can tell them it is sort of like a vertical doggystyle position. i know i will catch shit for this but it true.


Thanks for all of your replies!! I will definitely give some of them a try tomorrow. :slight_smile:


Yes, but the women seem to have mastered the form part of it okay. Will telling guys the same thing help them? :stuck_out_tongue:


Nelmster, thanks so much! THose are great ideas, and I think I will start class with the butt/chest thing on Wednesday. I appreciate the insight from someone who has done this before. :slight_smile:


Great replies. I would also consider emphasizing increasing flexibility in the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can cause the back to round over when doing any sort of squat-like motion since they are connected with the glutes/lower back. So advise them to stretch them out.


I tell them to stick their butt out the way they wouldn't in prison.

Then they say "what?" awkward laugh.

And I say "no really, stick your butt out as far as you can"

And demonstrate. Then they usually get it.

  1. Try a "waiters bow", holding a plate against their chest with the shoulder blades pinched together.

  2. Pelvic tilts on the swiss ball. This is one of the few things that they're good for. Most guys don't know how to move their spine from flexion to extension.

  3. Monster walks. Feet wide, knees bent, butt low, head & chest up, back straight, carry a kettlebell/dumbbell between the legs. Their ass will be so sore...........

Good luck. Post back as to what was successful and what wasn't.



So I tried Nelmster's method today and it seemed to work very well- I got a few guys who couldn't arch before to so it. Thanks for all the ideas!!


Can you email me at danjohn@jdchs.org ? I have just a couple of "handouts," really just simple reminders for the coaching staff with the language we use in the O lifts and variations and our squat progression.

You can't teach it once. You can't. Don't think you can. Men are usually awful at this, but women can do it, too: when in doubt...cave in the chest and pull everything close. It is the "Fetal Position" Training Mode. (FPTM, I guess).

You need to beat, "Spread the chest," "Big Chest," "Beach Chest," "Arch the back," and all the rest to death. If you teach it on Thursday...it is "all new" on Tuesday.

So, keep an eye on this...


BuckeyeGirl, I'm glad to hear it went well. I DO want to reiterate what Dan John said above: it will have to be repeated. It's nice to have the method available, so that it creates that first "I've got it" moment...but you WILL have to rinse, lather, and repeat.

Again, great job. Teaching the lifts are a blast, and it's absolutely wonderful to see some of your students' bodies change over the course of a semester. During the first week of class, I used to tell all of them that they have the chance of a lifetime that semester. Not just because they get to work with me (ha!), but because there isn't any reason that they couldn't drop 15-30 lbs of fat or gain 5-10 lbs of muscle over the next 15 weeks of the semester. A few will take the opportunity and do just that.

Make it fun for them, and it will hopefully be a lifetime endeavor!


i have found the same problem teaching core lifting to man...

the problem is (often) one: "macho"

i try to explain:
1) they try to use too much weight (for sure if a girl is in line of sight)

2) they can't put their hips/glutes in the correct position cause they feel "exposed"

3) usually men have a "rigid body".. they need to learn to "flex"

i usually start with no-weight "free body" excercize to improve the flexibility of the knees, hips and ankles.

also head position is important