Fixing technique in real time; Susan Chiu

Note: All recommendations were specifically for Susan. Each one had a reason, and might not be applicable to others.  I ONLY addressed anything she needed to work on, NOT every possible tip for technique. All pics are Left>before Right>after. Big thanks to Susan for allowing me to post this. 

Name: Susan Chiu

Age: 20

Height: 5’6

Weight: 115-120

Date: 7/15/15

Background (in her own words): “Felt stuck the last few months due to SI joint restrictions/form breaking, all this leads to no motivation and discouragement with the way my body looks and feel. Form is definitely lacking and need a coach that has an understanding of injury.”

Squat Help: 


Coming straight down, rather than shifting the hips back and leaning forward to star the movement. Susan had excellent ankle mobility, and no mobility issues really at all, but her assumption about squatting was causing her back/hips to be stressed, which resulted in SI pain. Here you can see how she stays taller, and comes straight down, loading the legs and keeping the ass under her.

In your squat, the main thing to remember is to not to arch your bum out and emphasize the heels. Stay centered in your feet,  hips under you.

In your setup, here are your cues:

– Back tall, belly in.

– Load up the mid-to-front of the foot and pull yourself down using the quads and inner thighs, not by shifting the hips back aggressively.  Drive the knees forward bringing the bum close to the heels as you come down. Weight stays forward on the feet.

– Stay tall in the back.

– To come up, squeeze the thighs together (knees in) and stand straight up.

Assistance exercises:

– Monster Band walks – Forward and Lateral

– Split Squats (start with the isometric, till you don’t wobble anymore)

– Bodyweight isometric squat hold – to get used to activating your leg muscles and not lose tension in the legs.


Deadlift Help: 


She is over-curling her wrists a bit in the second one, but no longer sending weight DOWN into the bar, which was the main point for her to get first. Her deadlifts were pretty good, just a few tweaks to make them solid and not cause her pain.

– Take time for your setup.

– Get your feet closer together then they were, right underneath you. Keep the knees slightly soft and find your balance. The feet are firm. You should feel pressure down through the middle of your feet.

– The bar should cut your foot in half. You will have about an inch between your shins and the bar.

– To setup before you grab the bar; stand tall with the back, hands flat and elbows facing out. You should not lock your elbows! Keep the tension in your armpits.

– Bend the knees, grab the bar, knuckles down, not changing your back position or tension at all. No force is going DOWN into the bar. You stay tight, grab on, and stand.

– Push the floor away to stand.

– Pull the back tall at the top of the lift.

If you keep your setup properly, the bar should not travel away from your thighs.

Don’t concern yourself with worrying about squeezing particular muscles.


Learning how to load the legs and stay centered to hit the hamstrings. I took these pics seconds apart as SHE self-corrected. A bit “too” locked in the knees still, but she was “finding her middle”. Can you see the dramatic difference in where her body is in space? This can make a big difference in everything. In the second her hips can now MOVE back and she could get tension in the hamstrings rather than the lowback/upper ass.

Assistance Exercise Recommendations: 

– Pelvic Floor and belly breathing, for understanding proper abdominal tension and breathing mechanics. Then practice that tension in a hinge position.

3-5 minutes, slow belly breathing, with gentle pelvic floor contraction on the exhale. GENTLE.

The key focus is: coordination of the inhale > expand and exhale > contraction of the pelvic floor muscles with exhale. TVA + pelvic floor

– Stiff Legged Deadlifts – keep the abdominals PROPERLY braced (so just like you practice in breathing) and reach hands straight down, keeping the weight forward in the foot to feel the stretch the back of the legs. Armpits stay “tight” to keep the lats engaged.

– Isometric and eccentric hamstring curls (so, either hold the resistance manageable weight, or just do the “stretch” portion of the exercise slow. Use a ham machine for this one).

– Exercise Ball hamstring curls

Ab Work Recommendations: 

– Core work is needed, useful and imperative. Especially as you get the breathing component down, and appreciate it.

– Review these exercises and set up a little routine for yourself. 2 exercises, high reps, aiming for quality reps and a burn in the muscle.

1.) Breathing Pullovers

2.) Bent knee hanging leg raises (start easy, build up)

3.) Back Extensions (keeping the abs tight to not feel a kink in the low back, a burn is ok)

4.) Decline situps. Keep the back tall, don’t round hard.

5.) Stir the Pots or X-ball rollout pulses from plank position

6.) Forwards and Backwards crawling

7.) Crocodile and belly breathing, with/without eggbeaters (the roll your hips one) and deadbugs

General Coaching Ideas: 

– When in doubt, find your balance without locking out your joints hard.

– When in doubt, relax the body first, exhale. Retry. ESPECIALLY if you are aiming to create muscular tension.

– Hands and feet! Keep your feet firm, and tight HANDS, not locked elbows. Especially when holding onto a barbell or kettlebell.

– No aggressive locking of joints. If it feels easier (in this context), you’re probably getting it right.

– When in REAL doubt, send me a video.

– Mastery is ease, not excessive effort.


You can learn more about my coaching services here and also check out testimonials from other clients.


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  1. Brilliant! Of course, I am one of the “fortunates” who is being fixed by you, Obi-wan, so I can attest to the form improvement (and the pain of the assistance exercises personally :)! .. V

  2. Being a newer trainer, I love how practical this article is. Joy I realize every human is unique in a sense, but in the Squat when a client is, unlike Susan, simply unable to stay tall in the spine and the chest caves forward, thoracic rounds a bit, and the hip flexors look like they are being smashed into oblivion, what are the first things you’re looking for as the cause? Tightness in the upper back muscles I suppose is a general answer I would get here, but are these muscles really just the victims of other perpetually tight muscles or stiff joints? The pecs in men seem to be a place to start, core function and ankle ROM I suppose. I don’t know, I guess I’m just looking for some insight, perhaps more than I’ve been able to find from random splices through Google search, that could possibly help me start to lift the cloud that continually hangs over the heads of inexperienced trainers like myself. I wrote you because I like your style, spirit, and enthusiasm towards learning and becoming the best trainer/coach you can be. Whenever you find time, can you give me some feedback on my questions, and possibly some exercises/general themes you like to use in this matter? I don’t mind paying you for your thoughts/time at all if that will help in generating a more legitimate response. No worries if you’re already stretched too thin.


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