On March 1, 2021, strongman Laurence “Big Loz” Shahlaei got in the gym with his coach, Coach H, to share how to properly warm-up before a heavy deadlift or squat session. Their warm-up method focuses on three points of action:
- Activate the glutes
- Activate the core
- Mobilize the hips and knees
Check out the full video below from Shalaei’s YouTube channel, where they walk through each movement. As they demonstrate each action, the duo shares how to do them and why they are important before lifting heavy.
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Activate the Glutes
Your glutes are main players in the squat and deadlift, so you need to ensure they’re firing on all cylinders for maximal power output. Here are the three glute activation moves Loz and Coach H suggest.
The first thing Shahlaei does is place a mini-band around his legs — just above his knees — and lays in a semi-supine position. He then performs glute bridges for 15 reps to activate each of the three glute muscles — gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
Coach H notes that while doing glute bridges, it is key to only raise the hips until the glutes are fully engaged. That point may vary per person, but it’s usually when the shoulders are fully aligned with the knees.
If [the lifter] starts going too far up, [the lifter] is going to start over-extending at the lower back.
There are two major reasons why activating the glutes is important — maximal power output and safety. “Every time you finish off that squat or that deadlift, your glutes should be extending your hips,” says Coach H. If you don’t, you may not be able to lift as heavy as possible and could lose balance.
Once the glute bridges are complete, the next step in activating the glutes is to maintain a glute bridge while externally rotating the knees (away from each other). This external rotation targets the hip abductors and should feel somewhat strenuous.
The main goal of activating the hip abductors before squatting is to prevent the knees from caving inward. This is known as knee valgus, and it can lead to missed reps or even injury in some cases.
The third move to activate the adductors is, again, glute bridges, but this time with the soles of the feet placed against each other. This position will force the femurs to stay externally rotated, placing more stress on the glute. In addition to being a solid warm-up, it is a reminder before squatting that that external rotation should take place during the lift.
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Activate the Core
Here are the three exercises that Big Loz uses to warm-up his core.
The first move to wake up the core is a hollow rock with a slight tweak. Rather than performing a normal hollow rock with both arms and both legs extended, Shahlaei crosses his arms over his chest (each hand touching the opposite shoulder) and only extends one leg whilst the other remains bent. He does 10 reps and then switches legs and does 10 more.
Following the hollow rocks, Shahlaei goes right into dead bugs — engaging the core while laying supine with the legs bent at 90 degrees, then extending each leg straight (one at a time). He does five reps on each side with the focus on breathing and bracing the core.
If this move is too difficult, Coach H recommends keeping the knees bent and lowering each heel to the floor (but not resting it), and returning to the start position. You’ll know that standard dead bugs are an issue for you if your lower back starts to lose contact with the floor. That means that your core is no longer engaged well enough to stabilize you, and your lower back has to kick in to compensate.
The last move for proper core activation is a series of planks — both standard and side planks. The plank is analogous to the finishing positioning of a squat or deadlift. During the lockout, a lifter’s quads and glutes should be activated and locked and their core engaged — this is the same for a plank.
When performing the plank, the stress should be felt in the abdominals, not the lower back. If you start to feel tension or stress in the lower back, that means the glutes, the quads, or both are not engaged properly.
Shahlaei shifts into a side plank to engage the obliques, but the intention is the same as the regular plank — the quads and the glutes are activated to maintain a hollow position with the stress placed on the obliques.
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Mobilize the Hips and Knees
The final step to complete the warm-up is to mobilize the hips and knees. Shahlaei demonstrates this by clasping his fingers around a leg of a squat rack — it can be any pole or beam, it is just to help maintain balance — and lowering into a squat position. His knees track over his toes and are at or just below 90 degrees, his chest is high, and his back is straight. From this position, Big Loz internally and externally rotates one knee in and out for eight reps, switches sides, and then does both knees together.
It almost looks as though he is wiggling his knees, but the goal is mobility. Moving the knees like this allows the hips to open up more so the lifter and sink lower into the squat without compensating their posture. Shahlaei recommends holding that lowered squat position for 30 seconds to two minutes after completing the knee movement.
Once all three sections of the warm-up are complete, the final thing to do is put them all together by actually squatting and deadlifting with lighter weights. For the squat, Coach H recommends 10 reps of a goblet squat using a light dumbbell. For the deadlift, use the same dumbbell and perform 10 to 12 reps of a hip hinge, remembering to keep the glutes activated, the core tight, and the knees externally rotated.
Employing this warm-up routine will hopefully help you squat and deadlift heavier, safer, and more effectively.
Featured image: @biglozwsm on Instagram