Simplifying Your Squat, Bench & Deadlift

Over the years I’ve learned hundreds of coaching cues. It helps to have an arsenal so you can use the one that best connects with you or your clients.

These cues can be learned by anyone, it’s a matter of knowing which one to deliver and how to deliver it.

When the right cue connects, a relatively complex movement can be executed seamlessly.

On the other hand, I’ve seen clients bombarded by so many coaching cues, they looked like an inflatable air dancer at a car dealership just trying to unrack an empty squat bar.

I often find, “less is more” when coaching.

Simplify and find cues that enable your clients to perform movements efficiently. If they don’t get it at first, don’t start throwing every trick in the book at them.

Slow things down, make them comfortable and look for one that hits home with them.

Whether you’re just starting out or  you are trying to squat a new max, you don’t want to be bombarded by a million different cues.

You want to walk up to the bar confidently, have the movement feel natural and focus on moving that bar as fast as humanly possible.

Keep things simple, over-thinking and over-coaching kills speed.

The purpose of this article is to teach you how to perform the Big 3 (squat, bench, and deadlift) properly.

Next, how simplifying your squat, bench and deadlift will make them more explosive, efficient and add pounds to them!

Use a Checklist

Use a checklist that will help you setup properly so you can execute the movement efficiently.

As you gain experience, simplify this checklist. Again, the fewer things you have to think about, the easier it will be to focus on being explosive.

The setup for your lifts is crucial. Often when you breakdown during a lift, it’s because you had a leak somewhere in your setup. If your setup is on point you’re giving yourself the opportunity to optimally execute the lift.

The “How To” is a simple list of actions to setup and perform the movement. The “Checklist” is essentially a simplified version of the “How To”. Ingrain the “Checklist” and learn to simplify it overtime. An example of this would be the cue, “Tight!”. When I squat this means, brace –> glutes flexed, ribs down, take my air, and abs flexed.

“My Checklist” is a meaningful phrase or two that I use to help me perform as efficiently as possible.

How To: Squat

  • Grab the bar and pull yourself under.
  • Get your back tight. Pinch your shoulder blades together and place the bar on the “shelf” of your back. High or low bar position is up to you.
  • Keep a proud chest. Pull your elbows into your lats like you are holding the top of a pull-up.
  • Breathe & Brace. Squeeze your glutes and point your belt buckle to your face, ribs down and maintain a neutral spine. Take a deep breath into your lower back filling up your entire torso and flex your abs hard. (Glutes, ribs, air, abs, tall)
  • Get tight to the bar. Pull your chin, traps and shoulders into the bar. Always think about pushing yourself up into the bar, whether you’re descending or coming up.
  • Take a 3-step walkout.
  • Re-breathe and get tight.
  • Squat. Hips back, hips down like you’re sitting to a toilet seat.
  • Spread and push the floor, keep your knees out and drive explosively to come up.

Now we know how to squat. Here is how to simplify the process.

Simplified Checklist

  1. Breathe & brace.
  2. Tight to the bar.
  3. Sit back
  4. Spread the floor.

Use simple cues that direct you to a proper squat. Pick short phrases, maybe a single word that has meaning to you. It’s important to pick something that you really need to work on.

For instance, if keeping your chest up is your biggest problem, use that as your cue. This short list should be unique to your weaknesses.

My own checklist has changed over the years depending on my current weakness. This is the list I go through to squat.

My Personal Checklist

  • Tight & Fast!

How To: Bench Press

  • Eyes under the bar and squeeze the bar as tight as possible. Keep your hands, wrists and elbows aligned throughout the movement.
  • Plant your feet on the ground in a moderate to wide stance, heels under or behind your knees.
  • Arch your lower and upper back to the ceiling.
  • Pull your lats into your back pockets and keep your traps pinned to the bench.
  • Drive your heels to the wall in front of you and try to push the floor towards the wall. Your body should be wanting to travel towards the spotter. You won’t actually move, instead you will get tight to the bench. Keep your glutes flexed and knees out.
  • Big breath and hold your air.
  • Unrack the bar and bring it over to the point on your chest you will touch.
  • Pull the bar to your chest like you are performing a row. Build tension with your lats as you bring the bar down
  • Meet the bar as you lower it, via arching your back towards the ceiling and pulling your chest up to the bar.
  • Press the bar off your chest as fast as possible.

Simplified Checklist

  1. SQUEEZE the bar.
  2. Get tight, set your arch and your lats.
  3. Pull your chest to the bar and row the bar into you.
  4. Press!

My Own Checklist

  • Meet the bar
  • Press!

How To: Deadlift

  • Stand close to the bar. Shins about 1” away from the bar. In the bottom position shins will actually touch the bar.
  • Push your butt back to the wall behind you.
  • Keep your chest up and grab the bar with your hands outside your hips.
  • Use the bar to pull your chest up, and slightly lower your hips.
  • Take the tension out of the bar, and pull your chest up. The logo on your shirt should be visible to everyone in front of you.
  • In the bottom position of your pull, find tension in your hamstrings.
  • Weight back on your heels.
  • Deep breath into your lower back. Fill your entire torso with air and flex your abs as hard as you can. Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Push the floor away from you. Drive your heels into the ground as hard as possible. Melt imprints of your heels to the floor.
  • Keep the bar close to you and skim your body with the bar.
  • As you are locking out, squeeze your glutes together and hump the bar. Avoid hyperextending your lower back to finish the lift.

Simplified Checklist

  • Breath and brace
  • Find tension in your hamstrings
  • Push the floor away

My Own Checklist

  • Tight
  • Speed!

My checklist is always short. I use one or two cues.

I focus on a cue to keep tight and move fast.

If you’re not tight, you’re going to have a chink in your armor and have form breakdown. If you’re not fast, you’re not developing enough power to move maximal loads optimally.

Now you need to practice these movements and learn those checklists.

Your Takeaway: Use only a few meaningful cues. Keep it simple. Focus on addressing your weak point and execute the lift as efficiently as possible.

Do a lot of Volume with Submaximal Weights

Training submaximally will allow you to handle lighter loads and get stronger doing so.

Throughout the year I generally train with weights between 55 – 85%. Closer to a meet I will handle heavier loads, but never reaching a true max.

If you’d like to see how to peak for a meet, sign up for my free newsletter and receive the 12-week peaking program I used to hit my first 700lb deadlift.

You will be able to develop your technique with the lighter loads. Mastering your form with heavier weight is far more challenging and riskier.

Train with submaximal weights and ingrain the technique while building strength and your work capacity. Lots of volume means lots of repetitions and lots of opportunities to perfect your setup and technique.

This is the time to make that checklist become second nature. Once the technique is down packed you can train confidently with heavier weights.

Treat every weight like it’s your max.

Whether it’s your max or your first warm up, focus on every rep of each set.

It’s easy to take warm up sets for granted and just blow through the motions. This is where you are ingraining your technique. Always practice good habits and that’s what you’ll learn.

Master your technique and being explosive on all your attempts, not just your top sets. It will get you in the habit of setting up properly for and moving fast, all the time.

If you consistently practice these habits they will become automatic.

One step at a time.

Knowing what to do, and executing what you know are different.

Once you have a basic understanding of the lifts, work on mastering one skill at a time.

For instance, the bench press has a lot of cues to remember. It can be difficult to set your lats properly, pull the bar in, drive your chest up, use leg drive, and a number other things.

Again, use your checklist to master your setup. Then focus you attention on one of those things that really needs work during your training session.

Practice until it’s ingrained in your technique and becomes a mindless procedure. If you’re focusing on 10 different cues at once, it can be a struggle in master any one of them and generally nothing is learned.

Whether you have been lifting for 10 days or 10 years, you will always have to work on something.

Be Confident

Missing weights isn’t physically beneficial, it probably isn’t the worst thing in the world either. It is however psychologically harmful for many lifters.

Don’t cast doubt on your training by missing weights.

One of the many benefits of training submaximally is it allows you to gain confidence through repetition. You’re mastering your technique and taking the guess work out of it. You’re building confidence through consistently hitting your weights and using good form.

No more missed attempts creeping into your head when you go for a heavy weights.

Consistently hit your weights and ride the wave of confidence you build into your heavy attempts — it will be business as usual.

You know your form is on point and your only job is to remain tight and be explosive.


Lifting weights isn’t complicated and there’s no reason to make it so. Don’t over-think simple movements.

Master the movement, keep it simple, stay tight and be aggressive.

Looking to get a stronger Squat, Bench & Deadlift? Shoot me an email at: with “BIG 3” in the subject line.

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11 thoughts on “Simplifying Your Squat, Bench & Deadlift

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  2. Shane McLean

    Great advice Adam. I often use only two cues for when I lift and when my clients lift also. Keeping it simple is the best policy.

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