Pro athletes are successful in the weight room because they focus on the little things. They do many of the same exercises as everyone else, but their precision approach allows them to become elite.
Tim DiFrancesco, head strength and conditioning coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and president of TD Athletes Edge, believes that proper execution of the fundamentals makes a huge impact on the results of an exercise and plays a critical role in keeping his athletes healthy.
Below, DiFrancesco breaks down three critical tips that will help you train like a pro. Although they may seem basic, even advanced lifters sometimes let them fall by the wayside. If you make sure you’re on point with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to taking your workouts to a pro level. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of each tip.
1. Learn to get your core into proper alignment
The pelvis is the hub of the core. All muscles considered part of the core connect to or cross through the pelvis in some way. If your pelvis is not in a neutral position while you perform heavy exercises, you could create a domino effect of issues. Extreme tilt of the pelvis anteriorly or posteriorly can corrupt even the best exercises.
The Trap Bar Deadlift is awesome for developing hip power and strength through the hip hinge pattern, but doing it without a neutral pelvis could leave you susceptible to low-back injury.
The Fix: Take a punch
Before you pick up a heavy load or bar, get into the right position and tighten your core as if you were about to take a punch to the gut. This will bring your navel toward your chin and bring your pelvis out of anterior tilt. Just be sure not to exaggerate it by rounding your lower back. Use a mirror and practice so you can see what it looks like if your low back is arched (anterior pelvic tilt) or rounded (posterior pelvic tilt) versus just right: neutral and flat.
2. Lock out your knees
Athletes are taught never to lock their knees out or be stiff in the knees. This is absolutely correct and critical with reference to jump landing mechanics. The problem occurs when avoidance of full or terminal knee extension is applied to a lower-body strength exercise such as the Squat, Deadlift or Lunge. Completion of these movements requires you to reach terminal knee extension at the top of the lift. Avoiding terminal knee extension makes it very difficult to achieve maximal glute activation. It also causes you to rock back into extension through your low back, while shooting your knees forward a bit instead of standing completely tall and packed at the top of the lift, like you should be.
The Fix: Practice the lockout
Practice a common rehab exercise called the the Terminal Knee Extension, or TKE. Seated on the floor or a table with one leg extended, place a small rolled towel between the back of your knee and the surface you are seated on. Push the back of your knee into the towel and maximally tighten your quads. This will reinforce full knee extension and, as a bonus, will strengthen your quads and properly align your kneecap.
When performing a lift, have a training partner place his or her hand behind your knees. At the top of the lift push the back of your knee into your partner’s hand. This will get you into a tall-knee position of power at the top of your lower-body lifts.
3. Tell your glutes it’s time to fire
When you lift something heavy with both feet on the ground, it’s important to make sure your entire glute musculature is ready for action. It is easy to overlook this and perform a great lift like a Barbell Rack-Pull without supporting it with all of these important muscles. The lateral glute muscles can get lazy and cause you to use compensatory methods, structures or muscles to get the weight off the ground. This can lead to aggravation or injury of the muscles that are being asked to pick up the slack.
The Fix: Tear the ground apart
Before you do a bilateral lower-body exercise, grip the floor with your feet and pull the floor apart between them—without moving your feet. Just dig in and hold as if you were pulling the floor apart between your feet. This will tell your lateral glute muscles that they’d better be ready to lift something heavy.
WATCH: Pre-Workout Glute Activation with Mike Boyle