This is a topic that seems to be a rather controversial issue in the fitness community: proper range of motion (ROM) and technique used when going for a one rep max on the “Big Three” lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. It is very important to understand the do's and dont's when attempting that big PR.
First off, I want to address an argument that MANY people try to use when this topic is discussed. I am a powerlifter. While the exact rules of powerlifting vary slightly from federation to federation, they all have the same core set of rules and regulations when it comes to the “Big Three”. The argument that people so frequently bring up is, “Well I’m not a powerlifter so I don’t have to lift that way.”
To this I say you are absolutely correct. You do not HAVE to. But there’s a reason why all powerlifting federations share the same core rules. It’s to prevent lifters from physically cheating when attempting a one rep max. The rules I am about to explain for a proper max attempt are not “dangerous” and they do not make the attempt unnecessarily difficult. They explain the correct method and technique for both powerlifters and the everyday lifter to carry out a safe, proper lift and truly call that max attempt a success. Yes, I’m looking at you partial squatters and belly-bouncing-butt-in-the-air bench pressers!
So before you go around boasting to everyone about how you got 350lbs on your bench press, take a moment to read what I have to say to know whether or not it really was a good lift.
In a traditional powerlifting meet, the first lift is the squat, followed by bench press, then deadlift. To give a quick insight, in a meet, each lift is watched by three judges, each with a different angle. Depending on what that judge thinks of the lift, they will either give it a red light or a white light. Two or more red lights equal a “no lift” and the attempt is considered a fail. Two or more white lights mean that the lift is good. Now that you know that, let’s get into the steps of a proper max attempt on squats.
When attempting a max attempt on a squat, one may have assistance in unracking the weight. But, they must be able to support the weight without assistance and the bar must be sitting above the bottom shoulder blades with both hands gripping the bar. This much should be pretty obvious.
When ready, one must squat down, bending primarily in the hip and knees while keeping both hands gripping the bar and both feet on the ground at all times. The squatter MUST squat until they have broken parallel for full range of motion (very important!). This is defined as when the bend in the squatter’s hip joint is just below the bend in the squatter’s knee joint. The diagram below shows this. An “ass to grass” squat is not necessary during a max attempt and an above parallel squat is a NO LIFT during a max attempt.
Upon breaking parallel, the squatter must push out of the bottom of the squat (the hole) while maintaining their grip on the bar and their feet on the ground. When the knees have locked out and the squatter is upright, the lift is complete. At no point during the attempt, can the squatter’s hands open or the bar slide up or down the back/shoulders. Both feet must remain planted on the ground until racking the weight. If a foot comes off the ground during the lift, it’s a failed attempt. If at any point after the squatter begins pushing up, and the bar begins to move back down then up again, the lift is a fail. This is called a double bounce and it often occurs when just pushing out of the hole.
The Bench Press
The bench press tends to be the biggest ego lift. Everyone has been asked the infamous question of “How much can ya bench?” and because of that, it seems like guys will do ANYTHING to have the biggest, heaviest bench. But, if you’re part of the Muscular Strength community, you know better than to let your ego control your lifts. So here is the correct way to go for that one rep max.
There are several different ways to set up for a bench press. Some lifters prefer a power arch, some go flat-back. both of these ways are correct so long as the lifters shoulder blades and buttocks stay in contact with the flat surface of the bench. Feet must remain flat on the ground. These points of contact must be maintained throughout the lift. The lifter may grip the bar any way they want so long as both hands stay gripped around the bar.
The presser may be given a lift off (someone may assist the lifter in unracking the weight) but that can be their only assistance. As soon as the bar is over the chest, the presser can begin lowering the bar until it makes contact with the chest. The bar must come all the way down for full range of motion. The bar MUST come to a complete stop before the lifter can press the weight. After the bar has come to a complete stop, the lifter cannot sink the bar before pressing. A sink is when a lifter pulls the bar into their chest or stomach in order to bounce the weight up like a slingshot.
Upon pressing the weight, at no point after the bar begins moving up can it move back down. One arm may “lag behind” the other arm during the press but the leading arm can never sink under the lagging arm. When the weight is fully locked out, the lifter can rack the weight with or without assistance. If at any point the lifter’s shoulders or buttocks came off the bench or the lifter’s feet move or come off the ground, it is a failed attempt as shown below.
For many powerlifters, including myself, the deadlift is the greatest and most exciting lift of the three. There’s something about its primal simplicity and contrasting multi-muscular engagement that makes it incredible. Yet in spite of its simplicity, lifters tend to cheat just as much on the deadlift as on any other lift.
When deadlifting a one rep max, the bar must be horizontal to the lifter’s feet with any stance they prefer whether it be conventional, sumo, or modified sumo. The lifter may grip the bar in any way they want. When ready, the lifter will push through their heels and pull the weight up until they are standing upright with their knees locked. When first breaking from the ground, the lifter cannot lift the weight from the ground, bounce it back onto the ground and use the momentum of the bounce to pull the weight up. At no point after the initial upward ascent can the bar descend.
Throughout the entire lift neither of the lifter's feet can come off the ground. The bar may press against the shins and thighs of the lifter, but at no point can the bar rest on the thighs. Two of the most common disqualifications for a max attempt are hitching and ramping. A hitch describes when a lifter leans back so that the bar is partially resting on their thighs then shrugs and bounces the weight up into a locked out position as shown in the picture below. A ramp is a similar move in which the lifter leans back so that they may support the bar on their thighs and drag it up them into a locked out position.
Upon locking out the weight, the lifter should lower the bar down with some control with both hands on the bar. This does not mean the lifter has to set it down gently. This just means don’t be a douche that slams their weights down or just drops them at the top. You are NOT completing the entire lift if you do this and therefore it’s a failed attempt.
Time To Lift
So there you have it, a detailed breakdown of proper technique and range of motion for a PR attempt on squat, bench, and deadlift. To clarify, this article did not go into much detail on proper form when attempting these lifts. If you are new to the community and don’t quite understand how to properly perform a squat, bench press, or deadlift, there is plenty of great content on the site that goes in depth about this. I hope everyone learned a thing or two about how to get a true PR. Now go hit the gym and smash a new max!
P.S. It is totally appropriate to roar, scream, and grunt when attempting a max lift ;)
If this article helped you and you'd like to learn more ways to maximize your results, SIGN-UP for the Platinum Membership today!
STOP Using "Tension" As An Excuse To CHEAT! Improve Sticking Points For MUSCLE & STRENGTH Gains!