July 6, 2009

Ten Weeks to Fitness: Bench Press, Pullup, Squat, and Lunge

This summer I've been working on losing all the weight I gain at Mount Allison my first year and getting back in shape. I've been eating right and exercising at home since the beginning of the summer but it wasn't enough. With plenty of encouragement from a friend (something along the lines of "Don't be lazy, join a gym") I decided to start really working out. I first went to the gym on June 24th to get used to the equipment but didn't really start working out seriously until the following week...but just for the sake of having a nice round number let's start from June 25th (the first picture day) and count ten weeks until September 3rd (two days before I leave). Assuming I look presentable by the end of this I may be posting the changes of the next nine weeks in September.

I was given pretty good advice on what I should do in order, but needed a bit more guidance on how to do things safely...and then I found Vic Magary's GymJunkies.com. I don't normally endorse anything on here...but gymjukies had exactly what I needed. How to do simple strength training exercises safely and effectively. I've decided on focusing on the Bench Press, Pullup, Squat, and Lunge and they were clearly explained, photographed, and recorded for display on gymjunkies.com:

Bench Press:

Proper Bench Press Form

To perform the Bench Press...
  • Lay on the bench and make sure the bar is at proper height. A bar that is too high above the bench will make it hard to rack which is very unsafe and could lead to serious injury.
  • Put your back on the bench and feet on the ground. Start with your arms about 25 inches apart or so. The hand placement will vary, just find something that is comfortable. Make sure to grip the bar with your thumb around the bar. Don't use a thumbless grip.

how to bench press

  • Bring the bar out and slowly lower it to your chest at about nipple height.

how to bench press image

  • Once it touches your chest, push back up making sure to keep your butt on the bench and your feet on the floor. Lock your arms all the way out at the top.

how to bench press

Common Bench Press Mistakes

  • Bringing your feet off the floor - Your feet should stay on the floor at all times when bench pressing. This is usually a common mistake when you are lifting a weight that is very heavy for you.
  • Bringing your butt off the bench - This is a major trap that many people fall into when benching. When you arch your back, your butt comes off the bench and you are putting a lot of excess stress on your body that can lead to injury.
  • Short range of motion - Make sure you are going all the way down to your chest and pushing the bar all the way up. Shorting the range of motion is keeping you from getting the full benefit of the lift!

How to do the Pull Up from gymjunkies.com on Vimeo.

Proper pullup form

  • Grip the bar with a palms facing out grip, or a palms facing you grip. Either one works...

How to do a pull up image

Pull up grips

  • Extend your arms all the way, and hang from the bar

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  • Pull your body up, and make sure your chin goes above the bar

How to do a pull up image

  • Slowly drop back down to a hanging position with your arms fully extended (don't cheat!)

Common Pull Up Mistakes

  • Full range of motion - This is the most common problem people have with the pullup. Make sure you go all the way down, and all the way up when you do a pullup. Don't short the range of motion at the bottom and hold yourself part of the way up. If you do, you're only cheating yourself of the full benefits of the exercise.
Muscles used when doing Pull Ups
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Teres major
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
How to make a pull up harder
  • If a pull up is relatively easy for you and you can do 12 or more in one try, it's worth it to increase the difficulty of your pullups to increase your strength gains. There are a few ways to increase the difficulty of your pullup...
  • Wear a weighted vest (or bookbag) - A weighted vest is a great choice, as you can switch the weights in and out very easily. The only downside to this is weighted vests are slightly expensive (usually $100+). A good substitute is to use a good book bag and add weight plates to it.
  • Wear a weight belt and hang weights - Some gyms will supply these belts. If they do, they will come with a chain hanging from them. Just attach weight plates to the chain as needed.
  • Add resistance with bands - Attaching a band to the squat rack, and putting it behind your neck is a great way to add resistance to your pull ups.


How to do the Squat from gymjunkies.com on Vimeo.

Proper Squat Form

  • Get underneath the bar and place the bar across the top of your posterior deltoids. Your arms should be out and gripping the bar about 5-7 inches outside your shoulder. The bar should be trapped between your hands and your delts. Your wrists should not be underneath the bar supporting the weight.
  • Unrack the bar from the power rack and take a step back (always unrack and step backward, never unrack the bar and walk forward). Some readers have noted that they think our picture is telling people to unrack the bar and then spin their body 180 degrees. This is not what we are recommending. Its very dangerous to try and spin with a bar on your shoulder (our pics are setup like this to provide the best pics for you)

how to squat properly

  • Start with your feet about shoulder width apart and angled out about 30-45 degrees

how to squat picture

  • Your butt should be slightly out, your eyes should be facing forward. Squat down, making sure to not round your back or bend over too far at the waist. For a full squat your hip crease (where your legs attach to your hip) should drop below the top of your knees.
  • Make sure your knees track your toes. This means your knees should be on the same path as the toes (not bending in, or bending way outside)

how to squat deep correctly image

  • When you get to the bottom, you're going to want to drive back up with your hips. This is very important! The hip drive is where all of your power will come from. A great tip I picked up from Mark Rippetoe is to think of someone pushing on the lower part of your spine. When someone is pushing on this part, your goal should be to push that hand up by driving your hips upward.
  • Continue to drive up and return to the standing position with your body fully erect.

Common Barbell Squat Mistakes

  • Knees not tracking the toes - Make sure that your knees follow the same alignment that your toes are positioned in. Don't bend your knees to the inside.
  • Leaning over at the waist - Many people perform their squats like a "Good Morning". Do not bend over at the waist and allow your back to absorb all the weight. This is very dangerous and can lead to a serious injury. Keep your back tight and straight with your chest out and shoulders back.
  • Putting your weight on your toes - The squat should be performed with most of your weight balanced and towards the heels. Putting weight on your toes, will put added stress on your knees which can lead to injury.


How to do the Lunge from gymjunkies.com on Vimeo.

How to properly perform the lunge

To perform the lunge, start with a barbell on your shoulders with your feet about hip width apart. Your shoulders should be back, your chest should be out and your eyes should be looking directly ahead of you.

How to do a lunge picture

  • Take a large step with your left leg to start, and make sure your left shin is almost perpendicular to the ground.

How to do a lunge picture

  • The trail leg (right leg) should stretch out and your knee should barely touch the ground.
  • Return to the standing position by driving through the heel of your lead foot (left foot) and pushing yourself back to a standing position with your feet hip width.

Common Lunge Mistakes

  • Bending over at the waist - Your upperbody should stay straight throughout the whole movement. The most common mistake with this is bending over at the waist and rounding the back. Keep your back straight and your eyes forward. This is prevented by sticking the chest out and throwing the shoulders back.
  • Taking a short step - A short step places a lot of added pressure on the knee, and does not fully work your butt like a full step lunge does.
  • Full range of motion - Make sure you are stepping all the way forward and that your trailing knee is touching the ground or almost touching the ground.
Muscles worked when doing a Lunge
  • Glutes (butt)
  • Quads


  1. Your Squat position doesn't tell you how far down to go.

  2. Oooh, you’re such an inspiration. I love this blog!