The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat - We Are The Mighty

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The low bar back squat is the ultimate exercise for overall muscular development, it recruits more muscle groups than any other exercise if performed correctly.

Barbell Back Squat 101

Back Squat — Setup

1. Grip bar and position

  • Set your bar on the squat rack at about nipple height. Facing the bar, grip it with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance–you want to get as close to shoulder distance as possible while still maintaining some level of comfort in the shoulder. The closer together your grip, the more of a shelf you will be able to develop for the bar to rest on your back.
  • Keeping your grip on the bar, duck under the bar and set it evenly on your upper back. The bar should be rested on your rear delts (the back of your shoulders)–not on the top of your shoulders, and not on your neck/cervical spine, which will feel terrible (this is a high bar squat which has different mechanics). Squeeze the shoulder blades together.

2. Unrack the bar

  • With your feet planted evenly under the bar, “squat” the bar up out of the rack.
  • Take 2-3 small direct steps backwards. The bar moves up and then back. Never diagonally.

3. Set feet

  • Heels about shoulder width apart.
  • Toes pointed at about 30 degrees. Think of your feet as “at attention,” but instead of heels touching they are at shoulder-width distance. Experiment with this to get the most comfortable stance that allows for the best depth. Wider legs and more pointed toes will tend to be better for those with big bellies, long legs, or both.

Back Squat — Execution

1. Breathe and Squat

  1. Inhale and brace with the abs. The pressure from the full lungs and tight core are what protects the spine. Spinal protection in the squat has NOTHING to do with vertical back angle. Keep the eyes fixed on a spot on the floor 5 feet in front of you.
  2. Squat with a straight bar path. Don’t let the bar come forward or backwards at all. Straight down and straight up. Stay in your ass, with a tight core (see breath above), and make the tailbone move straight up and down: the rest of the body will follow.
  3. Don’t let the knees collapse inward. Actively “twist” your knees apart so that they track over your toes. You’ll feel this engage the muscles in the side of your glutes, which may be an entirely novel sensation for you.

2. Finish and exhale at the top

  1. Knees and hips should lock out softly at the top. Don’t “snap” into position: be easy on your joints.
  2. Every rep finishes with an exhale at the top when you are finished with the movement. Don’t exhale on the way up, as this reduces intra-abdominal pressure and puts your spine in a compromised position.

Back Squat — Coaching Cues

  • Breathe at the top
  • Knees track out over toes for the entire movement
  • Vertical bar path, stay in your tailbone/ass
  • Balance is over the midfoot
  • Eyes look at the ground 5-10 feet in front of you

Back Squat — Adjustments

The bodyweight squat, the goblet squat, and machine assisted squats can all be less taxing alternatives to the barbell back squat if you are injured or need adjustment.

If you have issues reaching depth due to pain or lack of mobility in the ankles, try the reaching plate squat to learn how to use a counterbalance to keep your balance over your midfoot.

If you have pain in your knees, try warming up with 3 sets of 20 hip thrusts from the floor with a moderately heavy dumbbell. It’s been shown to reduce knee pain.

If you have undiagnosed nonspecific back pain, you need to embrace the process of progressive overload. Perform the movement with an empty or very light barbell. As soon as the weight starts to cause pain during or even after the exercise, stop or go lighter next time. Over the next few months, slowly progress in weight as you’re able. You will more likely than not find that once you learn how to move through the squat pattern comfortably, the pain will go away.

Many trainees experience “growing pains” in the beginning of their first real training plan. Learning to differentiate between your body adjusting to the new training and actual pain due to an issue is an invaluable skill that needs to be developed.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Back Squat — Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat


The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Deadlift

Here we go again! Deadlifts. The name comes from the fact that each and every rep should start at a complete dead stop, unlike the squat or the bench press where the stretch reflex is involved in the rep.

Deadlift 101

Deadlift — Setup

1. Bar over midfoot

  • When you approach the bar on the ground, step your feet under the bar, about hip distance apart. Stand close enough to the bar that it comes over your midfoot. This is about 1 inch away from the shins.
  • This is your balance point. Pulling vertically from this point will keep a straight bar path and make the lift as efficient as possible.
  • Stay locked in this position. All other steps should not move the barbell and mess up this step.

2. Take grip

  • Bend at your hips with soft knees and take your grip just outside of the legs.
  • The straighter your arms, the shorter distance you have to move the bar. This is the most efficient position.

3. Bring shins to bar

  • WITHOUT MOVING THE BARBELL, bend at your knees and bring your shins to the bar.
  • Your hips should not move: they are already in the most advantageous position for you to exhibit the most strength.

4. Press your chest up and lock your back into place

  • Try to “bring your belly to your ass.”
  • This will achieve both a locked and neutral spine and a presented chest.
  • The shoulders will be slightly in front of the barbell at this point.

Deadlift — Execution

1. Brace the core

  • Inhale and take the slack out of the bar by completely bracing the core muscles as you take a full breath in. Your arms should be straight, and you should hear the bar “click” as it touches the upper part of the weight’s sleeve.

2. Pull the bar up along the legs

With a flat back and straight, long arms, drag the barbell up your legs. The balance point (the point directly over midfoot) is directly along your legs for the entire movement.

  • Tight lats will keep the bar against your legs and prevent it from swinging forward and out of balance.

Squeeze your glutes at the top.

  • Finish with hip extension, NOT back extension.

Allow the bar to follow the exact same path back down to the starting position.


  • Don’t exhale at the top. Take a full breath when you have the bar back on the ground.

Deadlift — Coaching Cues

  • Eyes look at the ground 5-10 feet in front of you
  • Tight lats
  • Press the feet through the floor
  • Push knees into the elbows at the start position and keep them there
  • Tight is right. Comfort does not ensure proper form
  • Lifting is not comfortable and not painful. It’s in the middle, outside of the comfort zone but not in the danger zone. That’s where growth happens.
  • Each rep starts from a dead stop.

Deadlift — Adjustments

If you’re squatting your deadlifts, stop. Use a kettlebell or dumbbell to teach you how to actually hinge at your hips.

  • Take a kettlebell and hold it behind your back with both hands, like you’re being handcuffed.
  • Hinge at the hips by pushing the hips backward.
  • If you are doing this correctly you will feel the kettlebell “pushing” against your ass, opposing the backward movement.
  • If you are doing this incorrectly, you’ll feel the kettlebell hanging freely behind you because you are squatting straight down.

Low back pain is a sign that you are not neutral through your low back. Drop the weight and focus on a neutral spine. With load, it will feel hyperextended, even though it is just at neutral.

If your low back is in flexion at all, YOU’RE WRONG. Drop the weight and become more strict on your form. If your back is in flexion, it means you will have to finish the deadlift by bringing your spine in neutral. The spinal erectors are not designed to bring huge weights from flexion to extension, they are designed to contract isometrically.

Sometimes the hands hurt. This could mean you need more chalk or to trim your calluses. Remember: lifting is not comfortable. The deadlift will never feel like getting a back rub from your secret lover (unless, of course, she’s a dominatrix.)

Neck pain happens when you are cranking on your neck to “lead” the movement. Don’t do that. It won’t make you stronger. Choose a spot 5-10 feet in front of you on the ground and look there the entire time. This will keep your neck in neutral.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Deadlift — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Dumbbell Flys

Dumbbell flys are sometimes looked down on by serious strength athlete. The truth is that flys often help train the movement of the bench better than benching can. The act of squeezing the pecs together in the fly provides a very obvious muscular contraction. That same contraction is what should be felt in the bench press as well. If your press doesn’t feel like you’re squeezing your pecs together the fly movement will fix that issue very effectively.

DB Flys 101

Dumbbell Flys — Setup

1. Exercise selection

For the dumbbell fly, choose a light dumbbell that you can maintain perfect form with for the entirety of each set.

  • For the cable fly, choose a weight that you don’t need to cheat with on the final reps and that you don’t slam back into the stack like an egomaniac.

Dumbbell Flys — Execution

1. Tight back

Lay on your back in a similar set up to the bench press, scapulae drawn in together.

2. Starting position

Start with the weights at the top of the movement with arms perpendicular to the ground, shoulders externally rotated (fingers facing midline).

3. Eccentric portion

Open the arms to the side in a “fly” motion, in a slow and controlled movement that engages the muscles eccentrically.

  • Breathe in as the weights move down (the eccentric portion of the movement).

4. Concentric portion

When you feel the maximum stretch response at the bottom of the movement with soft elbows, begin the concentric portion of the movement by bringing the arms back to the starting position, up until just before perpendicular.

  • Breathe out as your contract your chest while the weights are traveling upwards (the concentric portion of the movement).

5. Constant Tension

Maintain tension throughout the entire set and don’t bounce in the bottom portion of the exercise.

Dumbbell Flys — Coaching Cues

  • The goal is constant tension throughout the entire movement.
  • Don’t rest at the top
  • Don’t rest out the bottom
  • Full range of motion is exactly where you feel the chest engaged.
  • Too far open allows you to rest
  • Perfectly perpendicular to the ground at the top is a rest (because the joints are stacked).
  • The arms don’t have to be perfectly straight.
  • Conduct the movement with soft elbows.

Dumbbell Flys — Adjustments

If you find flys particularly difficult, switch to the pec dec.

These are an ancillary exercise and can be switch out for any other chest exercise that you prefer more.

Remember the primary chest developer in this program is the bench press. If you don’t feel that this variation is making you better/stronger in the bench press, then choose another variation.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Dumbbell Flys — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Leg Press

The leg press gets a bad rep because it’s the exercise that chronic leg day skippers prefer when they finally do decide to lift legs. In reality, the leg press is an excellent addition to any training program in order to get more lower body work without loading the spine.

Leg Press 101

Leg Press — Setup

1. Foot placement

Place your feet on the top half of the platform.

  • The lower your feet are on the platform the more knee flexion you will experience, which can cause knee pain for some people.

Leg Press — Execution

1. Safeties

Unload the platform by pressing it away slightly so that you can disengage the safeties.

2. Eccentric prep

Inhale and brace your core.

3. Eccentric portion

Let the weight down until your shins are parallel to the ground.

  • This is typically the same depth as proper squat depth, however we are all special little snowflakes so compare the feel to your squat and get deeper if you need to.
  • Shins parallel is minimum depth. If you don’t reach parallel you are cheating yourself out of gains.
  • Literally no one cares how much you can leg press. Trying to show off with a really heavy leg press is a waste of your time and will make your mother shake her head in disapproval.

4. Concentric portion

Press the weight away from you.

5. Breathing

Exhale when you are at the top of the movement. Inhale, brace, and repeat.

Leg Press — Coaching Cues

  • Stay out of your back.
  • When things get hard, people almost always decide to throw their low back into hyperextension.
  • Breathe and brace every repetition with a strong core and full lungs before every rep.This is how you are strongest.
  • Hyperextending through the back will never make you better at anything except cat/cow in yoga

Leg Press — Adjustments

Knee pain can be adjusted for by moving your feet higher on the platform or reducing the weight.

Low back pain is the result of a loose core during the exercise. Even though this is a safe exercise, you still need to properly brace every rep or you risk throwing your back into extension. It’s easy to tell with the leg press if you’re doing this. If there is any daylight between your back and the upright seatback, you need to tighten that shit down.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Front Squat

The front squat is much more quad dominant than the back squat due to the more closed knee angle and more open hip angle. There is less musculature involved here, therefore you will be weaker on the front squat than the back squat.

Front Squat 101

Front Squat — Setup

1. Grip

Start with the bar racked at nipple height. From this position, there are a number of different grips you can use.

  • Clean style is how you see olympic lifters come out of the bottom portion of the clean and jerk, with the palms facing forward, hands at shoulder distance. Two fingers on the bar will generally be more comfortable than all four fingers on the bar.
  • Bodybuilding style is with the forearms crossed over each other, and the palms facing downward.

Both methods require high elbows to develop a shelf with your chest and front delts for the bar to rest on.

2. Unracking

  • Just like with the back squat, unrack the bar vertically and then walk backwards to take your stance. No diagonal bar movement.

3. Stance

  • The stance for the front squat is typically more narrow than the back squat, but this is still a personal preference.
  • Choose the stance that allows you to reach depth without getting in the way of your elbows or belly.
  • Your balance point is the midfoot, so the torso angle in the front squat is more vertical than the back squat.
  • Because the bar is on our front, we need a more vertical torso to keep the bar over midfoot.

Front Squat — Execution

1. Inhale and squat

Remember: Full lungs and a tight core are what allow you to protect your spine.

  • Breathing is the same as the back squat.
  • Exhale at the end of the movement when you are back at the top of the rep.

Front Squat — Coaching Cues

Keep the elbows up. This will keep the upper back in slight extension, which will do 2 things:

  • Keep the shelf the bar rests on more comfortable
  • Keep the torso more upright

Look just below straight ahead.

  • DO NOT lead the movement with your eyes by looking up at the ceiling.
  • Cranking the neck (cervical spine) is a great way to ensure a future injury in any exercise. Lead the movement with the chest and elbows.

Keep your knees out.

  • Just like with the back squat and deadlift, the knees should be tracking out over the toes throughout the whole movement.

Front Squat — Adjustments

Mobility may prove to be an issue for some. The front squat requires more ankle mobility than the back squat. If you are lifting with flat shoes and can’t reach depth, put a 2.5 or 5 lb plate under each heel. Giving your heel a lift will remedy most issues.

Low back pain is a sign of a weak core. The point of these exercises is to point out weak points and imbalances in the body so that you can fix them. You may find that the limiting factor for many movements is a weak core. Take solace in the fact that this is super simple to fix and will have secondary benefits on other aspects of your life. The remedy is to lighten the load and embrace progressive overload. Put your ego away and lift the weight that is appropriate for you on this specific day. You’ll get to the big weights when it’s time. Enjoy the process.

Wrist issues can be adjusted for by trying the alternate grip or using wrist wraps as handles on the bar.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Front Squat — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat


The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Hip Thrust

Hip thrusts are for everyone, especially military professionals. If you have weak glutes, you suck at hiking. 5 reasons to hip thrust:

  1. To increase butt hypertrophy #assgains
  2. To improve deadlift lockout strength
  3. As a squat warm-up to get rid of hip pain
  4. Improved athleticism AKA hiking ability
  5. Increase sprint speed and explosiveness

Moral of the story: Don’t skip these just because you don’t want to be seen humping the air in the gym.

Hip Thrust 101

Hip Thrust — Setup

1. Find your comfortable position

  • Find a bench that’s the right height. If you’re sitting on the ground with your back straight against the bench, you should be able to place the bottom of your scaps just above the bench.
  • You can stack aerobics steps, use a free weight bench, use a stationary bench, or if none of these are the perfect height, you can sit on a step or weight to get you to the right height.
  • Your second option is to use your arms to help you get into position once you have the weight on your hips. With this option, your glutes won’t touch the ground on the bottom of each rep, because you shimmied your way up the bench
  • Pad the barbell with whatever your gym has. A squat pad, yoga mat, airex pad, foam roller with a hole in it, or a hip thrust specific pad will work.
  • Pain is a detriment to muscle recruitment. If there is a searing pain, you will unconsciously be weaker due to neurological preprogramming. Don’t be tough, get more padding.
  • Place the barbell at the most comfortable position for you near the hip-crease.

2. Look straight ahead

  • Look yourself in the eye in the mirror or straight ahead at the wall. Don’t break eye contact.
  • Looking forward will prevent you from extending your low back. Low back extension is not a hip thrust and is wrong. It also prevents you from making eye contact with other humans…which may be perceived as harassment with this movement.

Hip Thrust — Execution

1. Vertical movement

Press into the heels and drive the hips up vertically while squeezing the glutes.

  • Full range of movement ends when you are in posterior pelvic tilt and your glutes are fully engaged.
  • If you think of your pelvis as a bowl, posterior pelvic tilt is when the front rim of the bowl is higher than the back rim (the bowl’s contents would spill out the back).
  • If you aren’t squeezing your glutes as hard as possible you’re wrong.
  • STAY OUT OF YOUR BACK. The hip thrust is all about extending your hips and engaging your glutes. The lift should not continue into the spine, causing a backbend.
  • Drive through your heels. That’s where you will find maximum glute recruitment.
  • You can keep your feet flat on the ground or lift your toes.
  • If breathing correctly, there should be little concern for any back issues with this exercise. The breathing cadence is simply good practice and allows you to keep the entire core engaged isometrically which is exactly how you should be used to contracting whenever you are moving something heavy. Just like with the other main lifts:
  1. Inhale and brace with your core
  2. Conduct a repetition
  3. Exhale at the bottom

Hip Thrust — Coaching Cues

  • Look forward
  • Stay out of the back
  • Drive through the heels
  • Pivot on the mid-back
  • Don’t push horizontally on the bench
  • Keep core engaged
  • Keep ribs down

Hip Thrust — Adjustments

Hip pain is inevitable if you don’t pad the weight. Don’t be a tough guy. Pad it up.

Neck pain is possible if you are leading the movement with your head. Keep your eyes facing forward and this won’t happen.

Knee pain is a result of trying to drive horizontally through the toes. Lift the toes and drive through the heels. Remember the hips are moving vertically, pivot on your back and use all of your force to drive your hips up by squeezing the glutes.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Hip Thrust — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat


4 tips to help you get into the hom​e workout groove

If working out from home is bumming you out, it’s time to suck it up and work hard anyway. This time in quarantine will separate the winners from the losers and the wheat from the dang chaff.

I get it, working out where you sleep and watch Netflix sucks. But no one knows how long this will last and if you want to have some level of fitness at the end, you’ll have to make the most of the situation.

If you’re finding it difficult to establish a workout routine at home, here are a few ideas to get back on track.

How to work out in 10 minutes

Make a plan and stick to it

Even though this is the simplest and most obvious idea on this list, you need to make a plan.

The main problem when you’re locked in your home is that it’s way too easy to convince yourself to sleep an extra hour or watch that next episode. If you’re alive and sentient at all, you know how easy it is to rationalize getting that workout in tomorrow instead of now.

If you want to come out of this pandemic in decent shape, make a plan to train daily and stick to it. Even 10 minutes of dedication each day will eventually lead to more.

As you would with gym workouts, make a plan that establishes the type of workout you’ll do, the body parts you’ll hit, and the end goals of each workout. With a plan, you’ll be less likely to skip out.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Or better yet get out of the house and go to an open and spacious space that you can train at.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale

Set up a workout area

Almost everyone knows that stepping into a gym means go time. You’ve invested time, money, and effort to be there. These factors make getting into the groove much easier.

But training where you live and sleep can be challenging.

If this describes your situation, set up a specific area for your training, and keep your equipment there.

By dedicating specific space to your workouts, you’ll no-doubt be able to create a different mindset once you step into that “gym” area. This mindset can help you challenge yourself and get the most out of your workouts.

Not to mention, walking past that gym area can help remind you of the importance of your fitness goals. This reminder will help motivate you and make it less likely that you’ll skip a workout.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

1000 squats… not my favorite challenge but definitely not the worst thing I’ve ever heard of.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Margaret Gale

Decide on new goals to pursue

If you had specific fitness goals before this mandatory lockdown, you probably feel a bit defeated, especially if you were making some serious progress.

But now, it’s time to stop sulking and decide on a new goal.

No one knows how long you’ll be without your standard equipment. Instead of sulking about your lost gains, pick something new and incredibly challenging to achieve.

Maybe you’ve been slacking on your runs. Fortunately, exercise is considered “essential,” during this quarantine as long as you keep your distance from others. What if you decided on specific running and endurance goals?

What if instead, you set crazy goals like lunging a full mile or performing 1,000 bodyweight squats in less than an hour? Do you think you could?

Even though these goals might not have been what you envisioned, stuff happens, and times change. Suck it up and figure out a new way to be your best self.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

There’s no wrong way to get your family involved as long as you aren’t a dick. There’s no reason to make family life harder than it already is.

Photo by Graham Snodgrass

Get your family on board

Last but not least, if you have roommates or live with your family, try to get them on board with your workouts.

On top of promoting a healthy lifestyle and promoting quality family time, exercising with others can make the process much easier.

While not a guarantee, implementing an exercise routine that includes everyone is an excellent way to establish a workout routine. Plus, it can be fun if you’re not in drill instructor mode.

With any luck, you’ll come out of this quarantine with a new vision, strengthened family bonds, and new achievements on your belt. That’s a win-win-win.


The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Bench Press

The bench press is the ultimate bro workout staple, it also teaches ancient Celtic art of moving heavy stuff while grunting. If there is any aspect of your life in which you are expected to express horizontal force production the bench press should be your default.

Bench Press 101

Bench Press — Setup

1. Position on the bench

  • Lay under the bar on the bench. When you look straight up at the ceiling, you should be looking just in front of the bar, with the bar at your eyebrow level.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together. Set up your scaps as tight as possible in order to elevate your chest and lock your upper back into a position to generate the most power. If you reach up for the bar, you should be able to unrack it without losing this position for the back, so make sure your bar is racked at the appropriate height.

2. Feet engaged, back arched

  • The feet should be flat, wider than hip distance, and just behind the knee, firmly planted on the ground.
  • The bench press is a full body exercise. Everything from your toes to your head should be engaged. This helps generate power and tightness from the toes up. The feet help push the back into an arch to get the chest into a more advantageous position.

3. Grip

  • Grip the bar so that at the bottom of the movement, the forearms are vertical from both the front and the side.
  • Thumbs are around the bar, not tucked behind. This is for the safety of your face.
  • Bar rests on the heel of your hand so that it is directly stacked over your ulna and radius (forearm bones). This is the same concept as rifle marksmanship, bone stacking for stability.

4. Test your balance and touch points with an empty bar.

  • Your balance point is directly over your shoulder joint. When the bar is unracked, take it directly above the shoulder joint, look at the ceiling. This is your sight picture that you’ll bring the bar back to on every rep.
  • Lower the bar to your chest. Your touch point is 3-4 inches below your shoulder joint, on the sternum.
  • The bar path can’t be vertical in the bench press, even though that would be mechanically preferable. The bar must move forward slightly on the way down to spare the shoulder from grinding into impingement on every rep. Think of the bar path as a diagonal from sternum at the bottom to shoulders at the top.

Bench Press — Execution

1. Inhale, execute, exhale

  1. Unrack the bar with straight arms, and find your balance point above your shoulders. Inhale and brace everything tight, so you bleed no energy off and the chest can rise more.
  2. As fast as possible while still maintaining control, take the bar from the balance point to the touch point and back again–from above the shoulders, to touch the sternum.
  3. Touch the touch point. Don’t bounce off the touch point. When you press you are pressing up and back in order to get the bar back in line with the balance point as quickly as possible.
  4. Exhale and reset for rep two.

Bench Press — Coaching Cues

  • The ceiling stays in focus the entire time. Bring the bar into your sight picture, not vice versa.
  • Don’t let the elbows flare out in line with the shoulders, but there’s no need to hug them in either–ideal armpit angle is around 75 degrees when the elbows bend.
  • Engage from toes up.
  • Back arched and lats tight is best position for your shoulder health.
  • Press your back into the bench as hard as you press the bar away from your chest. The movement is 2 opposing forces.

Bench Press — Adjustments

Dumbbell variations are the easiest adjustments to make if you are feeling discomfort with the barbell.

If you have shoulder pain, ensure that your elbows are not in line with your shoulder. The armpit angle should be roughly 75 degrees when the elbows are bent. Remember: The bar path of the bench press is not perfectly vertical. A vertical bar path is a great way to guarantee shoulder pain. In order to alleviate persistent shoulder pain, perform only close grip presses for a couple of weeks, or use dumbbells in a way that does not aggravate the shoulder.

For elbow pain, ensure that your lats are tight and the elbows maintain a similar width for the entire movement, as this will prevent you from adding stress to the elbow. Try switching to a neutral grip dumbbell bench for a few weeks until pain subsides.

Wrist pain is common in those with a jacked-up grip. The bar should be resting on the bottom of you palm (heel of the hand) so that it is not causing the wrist to take the entire weight of the bar. Try to keep the wrists straight. Reread the grip section and get the barbell on your palm. Once the weight gets especially heavy, it is hard to avoid some wrist pressure, so at that point, you may invest in some wrist wraps.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Bench Press — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single leg RDL is one of the great equalizers in the gym. Very strong men can suck at these no matter what their max deadlift is. They also show any imbalances between the left and right side of the body.

If you start with the strong side, you are allowing your weak side to become even weaker. The first side is always better, so start with the weak side to cure any imbalance you may have.

Like the deadlift, RDLs are a hip hinge, with one major difference: you start at the top of the movement. So really, they aren’t “dead” at all.

Single-Leg RDL 101

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Setup

1. Resistance selection

For this variation of the RDL, you will hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Execution

1. Weak side

Balance on your weak side leg by lifting your strong side leg behind you.

2. Eccentric portion

With a strong neutral spine, hinge at your weak side hip until you feel a stretch response in your weak side hamstring.

  • Allow the arms and the weights they are holding to be “dead weight”. As you hinge they can naturally swing out as they will want to.
  • This is contrary to the traditional barbell RDL and the deadlift where you are keeping the bar in contact with your legs the entire time.
  • The weight acts as a counter balance. You will find that this exercise is actually easier at a slightly heavier weight that can adequately counter the weight of your leg.
  • Keep a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.

3. Concentric portion

Squeeze your glute and hinge back up to the starting position.

4. Rep it out

Repeat on the weak side for the prescribed number of reps.

5. Switch

Switch to your strong side and repeat.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Coaching Cues

  • Stay locked in your back so that the entire hinge is in your hips.
  • Full ROM is when you feel the stretch response in your hamstring, not when the weights touch the floor
  • Keep the knee soft
  • Let the hands hang heavy
  • Allow the weights to act as a counter balance

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Adjustments

The single leg RDL is difficult for coordination reasons. If you have balance issues rest your non-working leg on the ground in between each rep. To further adjust, hold onto a pillar or wall with the non-working side arm to maintain balance.

The Single leg RDL is what I would call a corrective exercise as well as a ball-buster. If it is causing you issues, you are probably trying to load it too heavy. Lighten the load.

If there are any major issues with it, simply switch to the Dumbbell RDL with both legs on the ground.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Gain (or regain) warrior-status in just 8 weeks with this fitness plan

One of the most common reasons I’ve found that people don’t stick with a workout plan is that they go too hard too fast.

Imagine trying to qualify with the M4 at 500 yards the first day you put your hands on the weapon. That’s exactly what many people do when it comes to fitness.

We’re going to change that today.

Note: I’m going to recommend that you read through this introduction, but if you want to skip to the action and sign up right now, click here.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

You’ll never be proficient at 500 yards if you can’t hit the target at 30 yards.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell/released)

Before you discharge that weapon at distance, you need to drill how to load it, zero-in the sights, clean it, support it in the different firing positions, use your breath to help your accuracy, and a hundred other things that contribute to solid marksmanship.

Likewise, when it comes to fitness, you need to drill a solid foundation first. You have to learn:

  • What your 1 rep maxes are
  • What muscles respond to high volume vs high intensity training
  • How your endurance is affected by muscle gain
  • Proper form for the various lifts so you can maximize their benefits
  • The best time of the day for you to workout
  • Where the best equipment in your gym is located
  • How fast and efficiently you recover from certain workouts
  • How changes in your diet affect your performance
  • Muscle memory of movements

All of these things are individual to you, and they are constantly changing.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Biceps curls and the treadmill… classic sign of a foundationless approach.

High and Right

When you start hitting high and right on a target at 100 yards, it may only be off by an inch or two. But when you move out to 500 yards it is now off by feet and probably not even hitting the target.

If you try to jump into a hard-core program that has six 2-hour lifting sessions a week without establishing a baseline, your accuracy of the movements, ability to recover, and overall muscle/strength gain are going to be high and right. This potentially means injury, or more commonly translates to a level of muscle soreness that prevents you from making any actual gains.

That soreness, also called DOMS, is often enough to make you say “fugg it! The weight room isn’t for me,” or to decide that you’re meant to be flat-chested and have chicken legs forever.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Don’t let this happen to you in the gym by biting off more than you’re ready for.

I’ve seen the equivalent on civilian ranges countless times. Some ding-dong shows up with a weapon he’s never fired. He starts by trying to hit the target from the furthest distance available, fails to hit the target, gets frustrated, starts firing at a rapid pace (against range rules) like an obese Rambo, and gets kicked off the range for being a jackass.

Don’t be like that in the gym by doing too much too fast and quitting due to excessive soreness and a lack of fundamental understanding of what makes lifting weights a therapeutic art. Both lifting and marksmanship can be forms of meditation if done correctly–which is completely lost on your local bicep-curling gymrat and the average gun enthusiast who knows the nomenclature of every weapon in Call of Duty but consistently loads rounds in the clip backwards.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Let’s get you zeroed-in.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert B. Brown Jr.)

The Plan

So how do you make sure you aren’t the maniac Rambo-firing at the gym?

The MIGHTY FIT Plan is the first program at We Are The Mighty dedicated to this pursuit.

All too often, people try to make a lifestyle change or get ready for a new military school by firing from the 500 yard line while standing. This is a foundationless approach.

Build your foundation over the next 2 months with The MIGHTY FIT Plan.

This plan is for those who are ready to start taking control of their fitness with a proven method. Just like the rifle range, you need to set an accurate baseline by zeroing in your weapon, doing some dry fire drills, and firing test rounds at a close distance.

Your body is your weapon. This plan will zero in your body to become efficient and effective at all the lifts.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

There’s always a way to train once you decide to execute.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jonathan Wright)

This plan is designed to:

  • Introduce you to the main compound movements and their proper forms
  • Establish and progressively increase your ability to recover from workouts
  • Build a base level of muscle that will enable you to thrive in all your other athletic pursuits (including unit PT)
  • Allow you to figure out how to fit lifting sessions into your already busy schedule
  • Learn your body and how it responds to training

So, how do I get The MIGHTY FIT Plan?

Click here to get the MIGHTY FIT Plan + The Fat Shred Plug-in for FREE in the Composure Fit App.

The Exercises

Over the next eight weeks, you’re going to become familiar with the following exercises — save this link so that you can always come back and re-familiarize yourself:


The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Triceps Training

The triceps are pressing muscles (where the biceps are pulling muscles). You use the triceps in all pressing movements. The purpose of this training is to isolate the triceps by using them primarily to extend the elbow. Guidance for triceps training is very similar to biceps training. The movement is just opposite.

The Keys to Triceps Training

Triceps — First, Watch This:

Regardless of the triceps exercise you actually decide to perform these keys hold true. Fail to abide and your arm growth will suffer. Full article at: https…

Triceps — Setup

1. Exercise selection:

Choose the triceps variation you most enjoy or feel the most work from.

  • DON’T choose the exercise that allows you to use the most weight. The more difficult a movement is/ the weaker you feel the greater benefit you will get from the movement.
  • Bear in mind there is a huge difference between a movement that is difficult and one that is causing pain. If things cross over to painful then they are also non-productive and will set you back in your training rather than helping progression.

2. Consistency:

Choose an exercise and stick with it for at least 4 weeks in order to see some gains and improvements in movement efficiency. If you switch every week you won’t be able to accurately measure if you were able to do more work than last week.

Triceps — Some Options

See ‘Further Resources’ for links.
  • Skullcrusher
  • JM Press
  • Dips
  • Assisted Dips
  • DB Skullcrusher
  • Cable Tricep Pushdown
  • Cable Rope Pushdown
  • Bar Skull

Triceps — Execution

1. Range of motion:

Execute full range of motion. DON’T CHEAT.

  • Bragging rights go to those that make a workout harder with less weight. That means you are more meticulous and efficient with your movement.

2. Control

Maintain control. NO MOMENTUM.

  • Momentum means you aren’t using your muscle. It’s cheating as well.
  • If your elbow is causing your shoulder joint to move, you are probably cheating.

3. Breath

Exhale on the contraction (downward movement), inhale on the extension (upward movement).

  • If the weight is so heavy you need to brace with your core to prevent cheating, it’s too heavy for you to be using it.

4. Tightness

Keep lats and elbows tight.

  • Think lying Port Arms with the rifle in drill..

5. Elbow Isolation

Isolate the elbow.

  • The only joint opening and closing should be your elbow.

6. 3 Contractions

  1. Concentric: the downward portion when you are opening the elbow angle.
  2. Isometric: the very bottom of the movement where there is no movement. Straight elbow.
  3. Eccentric: the upward portion, where you are closing the elbow angle. Do this slowly, and focus. This is a huge part of every rep.

Triceps — Coaching Cues

  • Breathe with the rep
  • Don’t crank on your neck (it won’t help)
  • Eyes should remain stationary
  • Don’t drop weight (eccentric portion is just as important as the concentric)
  • Tight lats and elbows

Triceps — Adjustments

If your triceps hurt, don’t do additional triceps training. These are an ancillary exercise. You get all the triceps stimulation you need to live in the world from pressing movements like the bench press.

If your elbow is bothering you and you refuse to stop training triceps, try switching to a neutral or even pronated grip variation. Often over supination of the elbow is where the issue comes from.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Triceps — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat


The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Calf Raise

Calf exercises are to build size on the calves. The calves are used to carrying you for miles and miles, so they take a while to fatigue, and we can program them for higher repetitions.

Calf Raise 101

Calf Raise — Setup

1. Exercise selection

Choose your variation and ensure there is enough clearance for you to be able to move through the entire range of motion.

Some options:

  • Calf Machine
  • Stair Calves
  • Leg Press Calves
  • Smith Machine Calves

Calf Raise — Execution

1. Concentric portion

Press the weight away as your ankle goes into plantar flexion.

  • Exhale with plantar flexion

2. Isometric portion

Hold at the top of the movement for a split second.

3. Eccentric portion

Let the weight down slowly as your ankle enters dorsiflexion.

  • Inhale with dorsiflexion

Calf Raise — Coaching Cues

  • Don’t bounce the reps.
  • Pause at top and pause at bottom to prevent bounce
  • You’re stronger at this than you think
  • This is one of the few exercises I advocate starting heavier than you initially think appropriate.
  • Execute full range of motion.
  • There is no benefit to shortened ranges of motion, unless you are already doing another variation of a movement at full ROM and are using a partial range to strengthen a weak spot. This is what bodybuilders do. Not you.

Calf Raise — Adjustments

Lighter weight will alleviate most issues.

If you roll your ankle running or playing drunken chicken with shopping carts in a parking lot, this is a great exercise to restore range of motion and to help keep blood flow to the area constant.

Abstain from calf raises if the pain is unbearable, as they are an ancillary exercise.

Point your toes in different directions to hit the muscle differently. Try duck footed, pigeon footed, and parallel stances

Calf cramps are common on these, so be prepared for that potentiality.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Calf Raise — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Ground based Pull-up guide

Life is hard, pull-ups are harder.

I received a less than polite email from a reader that effectively said: “You suck! This free pull-up guide sucks! I can’t even do one pull-up, and that’s your fault!”

Cool. I have some family members that would love to start a Michael Sucks club with you.

So, in this article I’m going to lay out a plan for you to use to get that first pull-up. That plan involves 4 exercises and a way to implement the plan into your current training plan.

  1. RKC Plank
  2. Push-ups
  3. Hollow Body Hold
  4. Hanging

More importantly though, the plan teaches three skills. Those skills are what this article is structured around.

Total Body Tension

Three of the exercises on this plan train total body tension, if you do them correctly. The RKC plank, hollow body holds, and hanging all rely on your keeping total tension in your body for the whole time you are performing the exercise.

I talked about this concept in This lifting cue has all the life advice you’d find in a Clint Eastwood movie when it comes to bar path for barbell based exercises. The same rules apply for your body when doing bodyweight exercises; the less extra movement you have in your body the better you’ll be at a movement.

When it comes to pull-ups, it does feel like it’s easier to perform a few reps when you are swinging wildly on the bar. I’m not talking about intentional kipping, I’m talking about just being loose and letting the momentum of your swinging body help you. This sensation is a lie though, don’t listen to it.

Instead, learn how to properly hold tension in your body so that you are ONLY moving up and down during a pull-up. Loose legs cause energy bleed-off, a loose neck does the same, and is a cervical spine injury waiting to happen.

When you perform the exercises above you’re teaching your body that you’re in charge of the path of movement it takes and will not tolerate any extra movement for any reason.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Click the image to get the guide in pdf form.

Comfort on the bar

If you want to be able to do pull-ups you need to feel comfortable on the bar. So, yeah, I guess the ground-based pull-up guide is a lie. I’m okay with that. My primary goal is to get you doing pull-ups, not to be truthful to a title.

Marksmanship is probably the most salient example here. How good can you be at firing a weapon if it feels foreign to even hold it? The answer there is, not very good. The same holds true for pull-ups if you want to get a bunch of reps you need to know what to do when you get on the bar. Not only mentally, but you need to have the muscle memory to engage the proper total body tension as soon as you start hanging.

In order to put all three of these together, you need to do all three in unison.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The original plan that got me in trouble with you guys. It’s still great. I stand by it.

Putting it all together

Now that you are training your essential pull-up skills, you just have to ensure one other variable is in place and then you’ll be ready.

You need to pull: horizontal rows, vertical rows, lat pull downs, barbell rows, etc. Your training plan should include these types of pulling exercises to ensure your back is getting stronger. As long as that’s happening you’ll be golden once you start getting on the bar properly.

You’re getting strong and you’re training your pull-up form as you start to get better on the bar it’s time to start swapping in some of the exercises that are in the double your max pull-up PR plan: eccentric pull-ups, horizontal rows where you start to elevate your feet, and most importantly scap pull-ups.

Scap pull-ups get you into the position you need to be in order to start pulling with your full back’s potential. Swap these in first. In your first set of hanging perform a set of five scap pull-ups. After that point, just start swapping in more and more sets and reps.

[instagram expand=1]Michael Gregory on Instagram: “I think that this was more than 20 but the last few were ugly so we won’t count those. . Sometimes I deviate from the plan. . I had just…”

I know it seems simple…because it actually is. You just need to train this stuff consistently. Not once a week either. Minimum is two times a week that you should be going through all these exercises with the intent that you’re doing them to get better at pull-ups. The full circuit may take 15 minutes max. Do it like this:

  1. 2-3 sets of MAX hold RKC plank
  2. 2-3 sets of 75% of your max number of perfect push-ups
  3. 2-3 sets MAX hold hollow body hold
  4. 2-3 sets MAX hold hanging

That’s it.

Get the First Pull-Up Plan here.

Get the Double your Pull-Up Max Plan here.

Send your pull-ups gripes and concerns to

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