How to Coach Proper Setup and Execution of the Squat, Bench and Deadlift

How to Coach Proper Setup and Execution of the Squat, Bench and Deadlift

The following list was originally written by Matt Gary, USAPL coach of the year, USA team coach and overall one of the most well respected minds in drug free powerlifting. It was then modified and expanded upon by Dr. Mike Zourdos, Assistant Professor at Florida Atlantic University, currently researching Daily Undulating Periodization, the RPE scale and a lot more. Again, one of the greatest minds we have in the sport today. Then I got my hands on it. Hopefully I didn’t totally ruin it, but I added my $0.02 and modified it for the coach and athlete alike. It should give some perspective behind some of the following cues and techniques.


Proper Set-Up

  1. Develop a routine, approach the bar the same way each and every time

    JB: Show your routine. For ex: set the hands first, pull the bar very low on the back and settle it into the position described in step 3.

  2. Grip Bar: Hands as close together as possible

    JB: Within reason. Stop before it causes pain.

  3. As you get under bar expand chest and pull shoulder blades together as tight as possible.  Place bar on shelf created by pulling your shoulder blades together (just beneath rear deltoids)
  4. To un-rack bar have your feet just narrower than shoulder-width
  5. While un-racking have your chest up and look straight out in front
  6. Take a big breathe, un-rack bar, and LET WEIGHT SETTLE!!!

    JB: Teach the SSPT walk out, Three steps, adjust.

  8. Set stance, about hip width, toes pointed slightly outward

    JB: Width will be highly dependent on the individual. Don’t instruct width until you see the natural tendencies, and tweak it until you find a stance both parties agree with. Generally, it will be about hip width.

  10. Stare out in front of you, tighten every muscle (clench butt, hips forward), point elbows down, and take a big breathe

    JB: Emphasize tightness. If the lifter is wearing a belt, show them how to push against it. BIG breath first, then tighten.

  11. SQUAT


  1. Arch back and push hips and glutes back rather than bending the knees first.  Almost like you are sitting between your legs (like sitting in a chair)

    JB: The arching should tighten the back and make it neutral, meaning flat without curvature.

  2. Descend fast, but controlled on the eccentric
  3. Hit depth below parallel (if your not going below parallel you are not squatting)
  4. Stay as tight as possible
  6. Stay tight, pop your hips through, and keep your chest up
  7. Continue to hold your breathe until the squat is completed
  8. If doing reps do not ‘blend’ your reps. Reset each time, and treat each rep independent of the previous one


Proper Set-Up

  1. Develop a routine, approach the bar the same way each and every time

    JB: Show your routine as an example. Emphasize that everybody’s routine is different.

  2. Lie down on the bench
  3. Get underneath the bar so that the bar is in line with your chest
  4. Grab the bar and use it to propel you into an arch
  5. As you arch pinch your shoulder blades together as hard as you can and drive them into the bench

    JB: Weight on the traps

  6. Pull your butt and hips towards your shoulder blades

    JB: Walk the butt back with your feet.

  7. Set your feet underneath you as much as possible to get maximum leg drive (Feet Must Be Flat)

    JB: Try narrow foot placement and wide foot placement. Both should have knees pointed outwards.

  8. Grip the bar (about pinky on the ‘rings’)

    JB: Again, totally dependent on the lifter. See what is comfortable and nudge it until you find a grip both parties agree with.

  9. Take a big breathe

    JB: Again, if the lifter is wearing a belt show them how to brace against it, and how to find extra arch.

  10. **If lifting off yourself, do not ‘lift’ the bar out.  If you do this you will lose your tightness.  Rather, ‘pull’ the bar out of the rack
  11. Let the weight settle
  12. Start


  1. Squeeze the bar as tight as you can and try to “Pull The Bar Apart”

    JB: Elbows pointing toward the plates at the start.

  2. Squeeze your pinkies tight to tuck your elbows in as you descend

    JB: Elbows pointing toward the feet at the bottom.

  3. Hit the bar just on your xiphoid process (pause when necessary)

    JB: Or highest part of the arch.

  4. As you drive bar up…
  6. Put all weight on your upper back
  7. Drive into the bench
  8. Squeeze glutes
  9. Use leg drive.  Drive feet into the floor.
  10. Push elbows out on the way up


Proper Set-Up

  1. Develop a routine, approach the bar the same way each and every time

    JB: Again, show your own routine as an example.

  2. Stance – Mimic a vertical jump and place feet just inside of that width

    JB: This should be comfortable for everybody.

  3. Place the bar in the middle of your foot (usually this is just on top of the knot of your shoelace)
  4. Point toes slightly outward
  5. Now, grip the bar just outside of your feet, DO NOT LOWER YOUR HIPS
  6. Touch your shins to the bar

    JB: Lower hips until the shins touch the bar. This is where your hips will be when the weight breaks the ground.

  7. At the same time: Take a big breathe, pull the slack out of the bar, expand your chest, and arch your back.

    JB: Coaches generally have different ideas about how to pull the slack out of the bar. Show the method you like.

    JB: Again, back should end up neutral.

  8. Stare at a spot out in front of you

***If you have done this you will ensure that 3 points are in a straight line (see figure on page 4): 1. The middle of the bar, 2. The middle of your foot, and 3. Your scapula.  If you line up these three points the bar will move in the most vertical path possible…you should notice a decidedly shorter pull.


  1. Drive your heels through the floor
  2. Stay tight
  3. Arms straight (your arms are just hooks)
  4. Keep the bar as close to your shins (even touching) as possible
  5. When the bar is just below knee level squeeze your glutes as hard as possible.  This action will bring your hips forward to meet the bar and reduce the distance of the deadlift.  Following all of these instructions correctly will allow the bar to move in the shortest and most vertical path possible.  Stay tight the entire lift.

Enjoy the list. Hopefully you will find value in referencing this when thinking about set-up and execution, or before coaching the same to another lifter. Feel free to add anything you think might contribute to the list in the comments below.

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