By: Anthony Campo

When beginning to learn how to train, one of the most daunting tasks is learning the mechanics of the main lifts. Although we often look at compound movements such as the squat as just an exercise, we must also look at it as a skill. If we would like to optimize our training it is in our best interest to become as proficient as possible at the mechanics of the main lifts through motor skill learning. Whether you are trying to get as strong as possible in the gym, trying to prevent risk factors for both acute and chronic injury, and even rehabilitating from a spinal cord injury, the basic fundamentals for motor skill learning apply to us all. In this article I will address one tool that I use to help refine motor skills in the main lifts (Squats, Deadlifts, and Pressing.)
There are different stages of motor skill learning. Initially when you are trying to learn a new skill you need plenty of frequency in regards to practice. However, one thing I have observed in the gym is when someone is performing a new exercise they often do not view the activity as practice, and instead try to just rush through the exercise to get it over with. You will have a hard time improving your skill in that manner. It is important that you focus on each repetition, making corrections as you go along.
A trick you can use to help focus on doing just this is to create a mental checklist. Before every repetition take a few breathes and go through the checklist to make sure you are focusing on all the areas you need to. As you become more proficient at the skill, some of the items on your checklist will become more automatic, and your list can shorten as you start to focus on more specific areas of need.
*Important Note – Even when thinking of all the steps of a compound movement never lose picture of the visual of the finished product. If you are just thinking of just individual steps and not the whole picture you will have a difficult time continuing to progress your training of the movement.
Example: The Squat Checklist
1 – Take a big breath, get tight, and stay back on heels
2 – Stay flat footed and don’t let ankles roll in
3 – Spread floor with feet to open up hips on the way down
4 – Keep core and back braced in proper posture
5 – Keep shoulder blades and lats tight and engaged
6 – Impact chin and keep the head up
7 – Remain tight throughout whole body and use total body tightness to control the load
8 – As soon as you hit your depth, drive and explode up !
9 – Finish by driving knees out and firing hips
10 – Take a few breathes and repeat