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How to Squat


Photo courtesy of elitefts.com

How to Squat

Squats (along with deadlifts) are one of the best exercises (compound, ground-based movements) that you can include in your strength program. If done right, there are many benefits of performing squats.  Squats don’t only build leg mass, they develop real-world core strength and mental toughness.

Types of Squats

Back Squats

Front Squats

Zercher Squats

Powerlifting Squats

Box Squats

Goblet Squats

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

One Leg Squats

(courtesy benbruno.com)

Wall Squats

How to Load the Squat

A barbell can be loaded with:

– straight weight (barbell + olympic weights)
– chains
– elastic bands

Odd objects can also be used for squats:

– sandbags
– kegs
– kettlebells
– rocks

Odd objects can be held in different positions when you squat with them:

– shouldered
– bear hug
– overhead
– front racked
– zercher

Different Squat Bars

– standard barbell
– cambered squat bar
– giant cambered bar
– safety squat bar (SSB)
– spider bar (combination of SSB and giant cambered bar)

Squat Benefits:

– build strength and enhance power potential
– add massive lower body muscle
– develop core strength and rigidity
– injury prevention
– knee tracking, stability
– glute, quad, hamstring activation
– ankle mobility (full back squats)
– hip mobility (box squats)
– confidence and mental toughness

How to Squat:

High Bar Back Squats

1. Setup under the center of the bar with it resting on your upper traps
2. Place your hands wide on the bar, squeeze your back tight as you pull your hands toward the center as far as you can
3. Lock hands on bar with very tight grip
4. Rotate elbows down (facing the ground) and straighten the wrists
5. Take a deep belly breath and force your abdominals outwards while you brace your torso (while also engaging your lats)
6. Unrack bar and step backward, getting into your stance with as minimal steps as possible
7. Feet should be approximately shoulder width apart with toes pointed outward at a comfortable angle for your body type, typically any where from 10 – 45 degree angle
8. Let air out, and reset air pulling chest upward and ensuring elbows are facing down, head should remain forward to slightly up
9. With weight on the middle of your feet (not toes) shift hips backward
10. As the hips move backward, drop down into the hole maintaining an upright torso position tracking the knees over your toes (imagine there is a string attached to your chest keeping it up and facing forward)
11. Descend until you reach the bottom position (as far as you can go)
12. Still holding your air, drive upward out of the hole locking the hips forward at the peak with a powerful glute contraction.
Repeat steps 4-12.

Powerlifting Squats

1. Setup under the center of the bar with it resting on your lower traps
2. Place your hands wide on the bar, squeeze your back tight as you pull your hands toward the center as far as you can
3. Lock hands on bar with very tight grip
4. Rotate elbows down (facing the ground) and straighten the wrists
5. Take a deep belly breath and force your abdominals outwards while you brace your torso (while also engaging your lats)
6. Unrack bar and step backward, getting into your stance with as minimal steps as possible
7. Feet should be approximately 1 to 2 foot wider than shoulder width apart with toes pointed outward at a comfortable angle for your body type, typically any where from 10 – 45 degree angle
8. Let air out, and reset air pulling chest upward and ensuring elbows are facing down, head should remain forward to slightly up
9. With weight on the middle of your feet (not toes) shift hips backward
10. As the hips move backward, knees are forced outward, opening the hips with the feeling of “spreading the floor”.
11. Drop down into the hole maintaining an upright torso position tracking the knees over your toes and without the knees translating forward
12. Imagine there is a string attached to your chest keeping it up and facing forward
13. Descend until you reach a parallel or slightly below bottom position
14. Still holding your air, drive upward out of the hole locking the hips forward at the peak with a powerful glute contraction.
Repeat steps 5-14.

Simple Squat Progression

Unfortunately, even today with everything we know, there are still some coaches that program the right exercises at the wrong time. They still allow young athletes and novice lifters to enter their program and immediately start performing barbell squats, deadlifts and bench presses.

The correct protocol has to first start with an assessment and then a progressive approach must be employed to development the athlete’s strength foundation and movement proficiency. It is only after the athlete demonstrates control (stability) through the required mobility (range of motion) of the strength training movement pattern, can you begin to overload the exercise.

Today we will look at a time-tested squat progression to get you and your athletes performing good full-range squats.

The Simple Squat Progression

At Diesel, we never throw an athlete under the bar until I can see the following:

– They understand bracing
– They understand tension (see Tip #4)
– They can demonstrate a hip hinge pattern with a neutral posture (loaded and unloaded)
– They can perform a bodyweight wall squat with a neutral torso (hips, spine, head)

Once we get to this point, we can start thinking about where we want to go with the squat and how we’re going to get there. We will use a simple seven-step exercise progression which will allow us to:

7 Levels of Progression

Here is the easy-to-following exercise sequence for progressing to a full barbell squat.

Step 1: Wall Squats

Wall squats are a great way to teach an upright squatting pattern while targeting strength mobility of the hips and core stability. This video provides some excellent progressions for the wall squat series.

Step 2: High Box Goblet Squats

After we develop the mobility, bracing and neutral posture for the squat pattern, we can begin to overload the pattern in a limited range of motion (ROM). This will also test the athlete’s core stability, bracing and breathing proficiency.

Step 3: Parallel (to Low) Goblet Squat

Now we start to increase the ROM by lowering the box. Increasing the ROM develops strength and mobility in this new range of the movement. The key coaching cues for the athlete are to not “crash the box”, but rather “touch and go”. The focus has to be on tension and stability.

Step 4: Goblet Squats

We started the squat pattern with the wall squats and now we cement the pattern with loaded goblet squats through a full range of motion.

Step 5: Double Kettlebell (KB) Squats

Full squatting with a barbell requires great tension in the upper back. We can simulate this anterior-loaded movement with two kettlebells in the racked position. This is a great anti-flexion (hips), anti-extension (lumbar spine) movement (Robertson, Complete Core, 2011) that forces the athlete to a greater level of tension, in preparation for barbell squats.

Step 6: High Box Squats

We’ve finally made it to the barbell with the introduction of high box squats. Box squats are a great progression tool for full squats (not to be confused with powerlifting box squats) because you can use the mats as indicators. We will start high (limited ROM) and slowly take away the mats (full ROM) as the athlete demonstrates proficiency at each level.

Step 7: Parallel (to Low) Box Squats

We lower the box height even further and still throw out the same cues; do not “crash the box” and “touch and go”. This will ensure tension and control throughout the exercise.

Time to Get Real

We’ve made it! Your athlete is finally ready to perform full squats. The question is, could they have full squatted before we reached this point in their development? Of course, this is only one progression and every athlete could require a different strategy. But this is a general progression we’ve used with all of our athletes with great success. It will provide you with a foundation, a good starting point to work from and allow you to insert other exercises to address individual weaknesses.

The Best How to Squat Page on the Net – CLICK HERE

For some great full squat video tutorials, here is a 5-video sequence:

How to Squat Properly Without Wrecking Your Knees

How to Squat Training Series

When you start looking at incorporating squats into your workout or into the programs for your athletes, you’ll quickly find that squats, like most compound movements, can be broken down into smaller “pieces”. In fact, that is exactly how you need to teach all lifts; especially compound lifts (those involving multiple muscle groups across multiple kinetic segments).

Progressively linking these individually “perfected segments” will allow you to not get overwhelmed. But rather easily move from segment to segment until the full execution of the lift is performed.

In this first installment of “How to Squat” we will talk about the position of the elbows.

How to Squat Video Series Summary

How to Squat – Squat Tip #1 – Elbows Down, Chest Up
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNGnxRxCWPo

How to Squat – Squat Tip #2 – Setting the Lats
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edmMGoVIBW8

How to Squat – Squat Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVNMMJnotnQ

How to Squat – Squat Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sm1OYuX0-sI

How to Squat – Squat Tip #5 – The Double Breath
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUka0l0BFf8

Tip #1 – Elbows Down / Chest Up


After you unrack the bar and before you even attempt to move into the squat, you must take care of your elbows and chest. You must drive the elbows down. Drive them down until they are facing the ground. As you drive the elbows down, you’ll notice something else; your chest rises. This is a good thing. In fact, you need to accentuate this thoracic extension.

Driving the elbows down will help you engage the lats for more stability and tension. The lats are an important part of the “core“. This, along with pulling your chest up, will keep your head up when you are in the bottom (hole) of the squat.

Because what will happen when your elbows drift up and back?

Your torso will fall forward and the hips will rise too early when you are drive upward. You see this with athletes who don’t have good torso strength or immobile ankles, hips and upper back. This might be ok when the weights are light, but will put a lot of stress on the lower back when the weights get heavier.

Remember “perfect practice makes perfect”, so keep drilling form.

Stay tuned for Tip#2 in the “How to Squat” series.

How to Squat – Tip #1 – Elbows Down / Chest Up Video


core-training-workouts-six-packs-abs-workouts

fast-bodybuilding-workouts-how-to-build-muscle

How to Squat – Tip #2 – Setting the Lats

How to Squat Training Series

In the next installment in the “How to Squat” video series we will look at the little known component of setting the lats. This is one of the most misunderstood and under utilized form corrections when a lifter or athlete engages in any type of squat.

But it is very important.

Let’s first look at the types of squats and then we’ll talk about how to engage the lats.

Types of Squats

  • full back squats
  • powerlifting squats
  • box squats (front, back)
  • front squats
  • jump squats
  • goblet squats
  • zercher squats
  • overhead squats
  • pistol, i.e. one leg squats

Tip #2 – Setting the Lats

When the lifter prepares to squat, they must first create tension. This is especially true if the weight is a max or near maximal effort. In the first part of the how to squat series we learned about pulling our elbows down and our chest up. As we do this, the next step is to squeeze the bar very hard. Not only squeeze the bar hard, but engage the lats by pulling the bar into your upper back. This tension is so important for stabilizing the torso, protecting the spine, helping you to remain upright and increasing the amount of weight you can lift.

In fact, renowned back special Stuart Mcgill states that the simple act of engaging the lats during the squat can add 20-30lbs to your squat weight immediately.

Remember, more tension equals more strength.

Stay tuned for Tip#3 in the “How to Squat” series where we teach you what to do with the hips.

How to Squat – Tip #2 – Setting the Lats Video

how-to-warm-up-ultimate-warm-up-preparation fast-bodybuilding-workouts-how-to-build-muscle

Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back


How to Squat Training Series

In the next installment in the “How to Squat” video series we will look at setting the lower back. This, along with intra-abdominal pressure and bracing, is the final piece of stabilizing the torso.

Setting the lower back is as easy as slightly arching the lower back (into it’s natural curve) while taking a huge breath and isometrically contracting the abdominals simultaneously.

Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back


When you first watch the video it might look like Ryan is overarching his lower back. He is in fact, just setting it hard into its natural position and holding it. Most times when lifters unload the bar from the way they assume a posterior pelvic tilt under the weight. This position isn’t optimal especially when we talk about stabilizing the lower back and pelvis prior to squatting. He has to consciously move his pelvis back to neutral and “set it”. And like we stated, this is a dual effort with the bracing of the abdominals and his breathing pattern.

Coaching Cues

Remember, don’t just squat down. You will lose tension!!! Move the hips slightly back (loading the hamstrings and glutes and setting the back) and spread the knees. The act of spreading the knees will lower you (under tension) into the hole.

Stay tuned for Tip#4 in the “How to Squat” series where I tell you why it is so important to “save your CNS” for the work ahead.

How to Squat – Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back Video

how-to-warm-up-ultimate-warm-up-preparation fast-bodybuilding-workouts-how-to-build-muscle

Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible

How to Squat Training Series

In this fourth video, next to last in the series, we will talk about fewest steps possible.

Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible

This tip is so important for many reasons. Some of which include; safety, proficiency of movement, systematic and efficiency. The goal is to move from the rack, to your spot for squatting in two steps. This means your feet should be set in the proper width, at the right angle and ready to go.

Safety

When you are handling heavy weight on your back there is a potential for injury. This is a fact that you can’t get around. So it is logical to want to move slowly, confidently and minimally. There are potential balance issues, joint integrity issues and core stability issues.

Proficiency of Movement

This is another example of efficiency of movement and a lesson of perfect practice. If we practice taking the fewest steps possible when un-racking the bar with our sub-maximal squat training, it will become automatic with the maximal efforts. Proficiency of movement means executing the strength training movement pattern without variation or “leakage” of tension.

Systematic

As stated previously, when performing a complex movement it benefits the lifter if we can break it down into “smaller segments”. These smaller segments become the coaching cues (think mantra) that the lifter can repeat over and over in their head during the movement. For example:

1. Elbows down, chest up

2. Tension on the lats

3. Hips Back

4. Spread the knees

Now it is becoming very clear. All of these squat training tips are starting to link together and build our mantra.

Efficiency (Reserving Energy)

Instead of thinking of squatting as a bar on your back, think of it as tension on the body. This tension awakens the CNS (central nervous system) and engages a certain amount of motor units and muscle fibers; dependent upon the intensity (load) of the effort. If your walk out from the rack takes you upwards of 10-15 seconds of bobbling, re-stabilizing and setting up, you are wasting essential energy stores and fatiguing the CNS. This is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. You should get into your setup with the most amount of potential CNS excitability and available energy (ATP/CP) for the effort.

Coaching Cues

Remember, efficiency of movement and use these squat tips as your step-by-step guide as you perform the lift.

Stay tuned for Tip#5 (the final installment) in the “How to Squat” series. This one will finalize your setup for the squat.

How to Squat – Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible Video

how-to-warm-up-ultimate-warm-up-preparation fast-bodybuilding-workouts-how-to-build-muscle

Tip #5 – The Double Breath

How to Squat Training Series

In the fifth and final video in the “How to Squat” series, we will discuss the double breath technique. This is a very essential piece of the squat sequence because it works with the tension created in the hands and across the upper back to hit the perfect squat.

Tip #5 – The Double Breath

There is a collaborative effort between your breathing patterns and the tension required to stabilize the torso during the squat movement pattern. It is very simple. You cannot use the breath you used to unrack the bar for your first squat repetition if you are walking out the weight. (side note: squatting on a monolift is a different story). Your breath must be reset, so why not work it into your squat as a priority in your technique cues.

This means it will become a separate cue that you will remember in your setup.

As your diaphragm contracts and your lungs expand, you pull in air into your lungs. When you hold this air and brace your torso, the collaborative tension when you engage all of your torso stabilizers (RA, IO/EO, TA, QL, Lats, Erectors) – especially the rectus abdominus whose lateral tendons (anti-rotator, stabilizer “buttress shear effectively in flexion” (McGill) and create “hoop stresses” (Chek)) work to create intra-abdominal pressure. This is your natural “lifting belt”.

So you can see resetting the breath is so important for the safety of the lift. Not only safety, but creating the potential for displaying maximal strength or power.

Coaching Cues

Remember, efficiency of movement and use these squat tips as your step-by-step guide as you perform the lift.

1. Tension on the bar

2. Take huge breath of air and brace your abs outward (1st breath)

3. Unrack bar from power cage

4. Step back with fewest steps possible, think “1”, “2”

5. Elbows down, chest up

6. Re-tension your grip on the bar, lats and upper back

7. Take huge breath of air and brace your abs outward (2nd breath)

8. Hips Back

9. Spread the knees

10. Hit the depth and drive out of the hole

11. Repeat steps 5-10 for desired reps

References

Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

How to Squat – Tip #5 – The Double Breath Video

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Squat Considerations:

  1. I am Falling Forward in the Hole
    1. Technique – Keep the elbows facing downward, the chest up and don’t let your air out. If the elbows rotate back, you’ll fall forward. Work on your hip mobility and brace the torso.
    2. Strength – incorporate more 45 degree back extensions, good mornings (with various bars), kb pullthroughs, pull-ups, bottoms up squats or chain suspended squats and rack pulls.
  2. I Get Stuck in the Hole
    1. Technique – You might be losing tension because of a hip mobility issue or just a technique issue. Brace hard and start the movement by shifting the hips backward slightly and push the knees outward as you descend into the hole. Do NOT relax in the hole, keep the tension and drive powerfully upward.
    2. Strength – You must incorporate more full range back squats and improve your ankle mobility. Work on wall squats to learn properly torso position and supplement with single leg variations.
  3. I Can’t Get Low Enough
    1. Technique – For back squats, experiment with different foot widths to accommodate your individual leverages. You need to find your particular groove for the squat movement. You can also try a lower bar placement to see if that might work to keep your torso in a better position.
    2. Mobility – To perform a full range squat, you’ll need appropriate ankle, hip and upper back mobility. Wall squats, goblet squats and incorporating a ton of warm-up / activation strategies will go a long way for improving the integrit of your squat movement.

Importance of a Good Warm-up

Make sure you before you even grab the bar to squat, you perform some type of foam rolling / lacrosse ball massage, a variety of full body dynamic mobility movements and get a “good sweat going”. Because the squat is so intensive and stressful to the body, you must prepare thoroughly before performing any type of squat. And don’t forget, the rigidity and fixed nature of most barbells require the lifter to hold certain upper body positions (under load) for the duration of the set; i.e., external rotation of the shoulders. This means a warm-up primarily focused on the lower body isn’t going to cut it. The warm-up should target the entire body and last upwards of 15 minutes.

Check out AMPED Warm-up, the best selling and most comprehensive warm-up system ever created!

best-selling-warm-up-system

Benefits of a Thorough Warm-up:

– CNS excitement
– muscle activation
– prepares joints, muscles and connective soft-tissues for activity
– negating poor posture and excessive short range of motion (ROM) movements of the day
– mental preparation
– improved performance
– reduce injury potential

Accommodating Resistance

Accommodating resistance, or resistance that matches the lifter’s natural strength curve, is an advanced method of training that powerlifters use to build insane strength and power. This technique, which typically incorporates elastic bands or chains, adds more weight to the lift at lockout (when leverage is better and the lifter is at a better advantage) and less weight near the bottom of the lift (i.e., in the “hole” when leverage is bad and the lifter is weakest). This is an advanced training method that should not be used by beginners. Beginners should focus on the basics and incorporate more volume. Elastic bands vary in length, width and strength and chains are typically 5/8″ linkage x 4′ (approx. 20lbs each).

Chain Squats

Band Squats

COMING SOON

Footwear

Footwear is very dependent upon the type of squats you’re going to be doing. When doing high bar back squats a great degree of ankle, knee and hip flexion is required. Powerlifting squats are done to a box typically at parallel (where the lifter’s quads hit a spot where they are parallel to the floor or the hip to be lower than the knee).

Converse Shoes

Preferred for powerlifting box squats because the sole is flat and they provide slight stability to the ankle.

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Weightlifting Shoes

Due to the heel allowing a deeper squat (removing the “lack” of ankle mobility issue to hit depth), weightlifting shoes are preferred for high bar back squats. Bowling shoes can also be substituted as a cheaper alternative.

ironworkb

Grip Considerations

Lifters always miss the important part of grip during a squat. In fact, most times they just let the bar “rest” in their hands due to flexibility issues (of the wrist, elbows, shoulder or upper back) or just bad technique.

You MUST squeeze the hell out of the bar, not only for safety reasons, when the weight gets heavy, but also it allows you to squat more weight. Tension created in the hands carries across the arms to the shoulders into the upper back. In fact, Stuart Mcgill has studied the fact that tension created in the upper back, specifically the lats during the squat, can provide a 30-50 lb carryover to the load. Just by increasing your tension! It all starts in the hands.

Bar Placement

Low Bar Placement

how-to-squat-low-bar

Typically used for powerlifting squats. The goal is to maximize your leverages, so the closer you can get the load to your own center of gravity (COG) and minimize the moment arm (distance from the bar to your hips (ie. the fulcrum), the more weight you can lift.

High Bar Placement

how-to-squat-high-bar

Because of the up/down bar path and upright torso positioning of a typical high bar back squat a high bar position is preferred. This not only allows the lifter to move their hands in and elbows down, tightening up the upper back (and creating more tension) but also keeps the torso more upright. If the bar was lower, the lifter would have a great tendency to fall forward in the hole.

Scientific Studies On The Squat

A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat and box squat.
Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Keogh JW, Agouris I, Stewart AD.

Source

School of Health Sciences, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, United Kingdom; 2School of Social and Health Sciences, University of Abertay, Dundee, United Kingdom; 3Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand, School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.; 4Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia; 5Centre for Obesity Research and Epidemiology, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, United Kingdom.
Abstract

The purpose of this study was to compare the biomechanics of the traditional squat with two popular exercise variations commonly referred to as the powerlifting squat and box squat. Twelve male powerlifters performed the exercises with 30, 50 and 70% of their measured 1RM, with instruction to lift the loads as fast as possible. Inverse dynamics and spatial tracking of the external resistance were used to quantify biomechanical variables. A range of significant kinematic and kinetic differences (p<0.05) emerged between the exercises. The traditional squat was performed with a narrow stance, whereas the powerlifting squat and box squat were performed with similar wide stances (48.3 ± 3.8cm, 89.6 ± 4.9cm, 92.1 ± 5.1cm, respectively). During the eccentric phase of the traditional squat the knee travelled past the toes resulting in anterior displacement of the system center of mass (COM). In contrast, during the powerlifting squat and box squat a more vertical shin position was maintained, resulting in posterior displacements of the system COM. These differences in linear displacements had a significant effect (p<0.05) on a number of peak joint moments, with the greatest effects measured at the spine and ankle. For both joints the largest peak moment was produced during the traditional squat, followed by the powerlifting squat, then box squat. Significant differences (p<0.05) were also noted at the hip joint where the largest moment in all 3 planes were produced during the powerlifting squat. Coaches and athletes should be aware of the biomechanical differences between the squatting variations and select according to the kinematic and kinetic profile that best match the training goals. SOURCE: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22505136

Supplemental Exercises

Learning the Hip Hinge

Upper Back Mobility

Hip Mobility

Back Extensions / Back Raises

Band Resisted Hip Thrusts

Good Mornings

Heavy Prowler

____________________________________________________________

Sample Lower Body Training Workouts

Sample Workout 1

Activation
Foam Marching
High Hurdles
Lunges

Warmup
Jump Rope
Pull-ups
Banded Good Mornings with Iron Cross

Workout
1) Back Squats, 4×8
2a) RDL’s, 3×12
2b) DB Military Press, 3×10
3a) Bulgarian Split Squats, 2×20
3b) Push-up Pluses

Rehab
Hip Mobility
Glute Activation

_____________________________________________________________

Sample Workout 2

Soft-Tissue
Foam Roller
Lacrosse Ball

General Warm-up
Sled Drags – 200 yards forward, with chest presses
Sled Drags – 200 yards backward, with rows and external rotations
Kettlebell Combo – swing to squat to overhead press

Specific Warm-up
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises

Workout

Primary Movement
Yoke Bar Squats
Supersetted with Jump Stretch band tricep extensions

2a) One Leg Squats to Bench
2b) Power Wheel Lying Leg Curls

3a) Rope Climbs
3b) Hindu Push-ups

4) Shrugs-o-Death
Shrug for 10 seconds
Hold for 10 seconds
Shrug for 10 seconds
Hold for 10 seconds
Keep Repeating until death

5) Ab Roller – 3×10

Cool Down
Stretching
Foam Roller
Hip Stretches
Lacrosse Ball

_____________________________________________________________

Cleaning Up Your Powerlifting Squat

“Now, you may have heard from some sissy wearing spandex that the box squat is dangerous. When someone talks about the dangers of box squatting, it’s apparent they simply don’t know how to perform the lift correctly.” – Dave Tate

Barbell back squats are perhaps the best exercise for all around strength and size development. Like the deadlift, the back squat builds you from the ground up. Take a tip from the old timers who did nothing but squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses: these three lifts alone will make you a rampaging beast!

Unfortunately, the back squat is often met with bad press. Lifters complain of sore knees, bad backs, kinked necks, and even sore shoulders.

Squat Form

It all starts with your form. Here is my form with a close stance high bar squat.

My high bar squat.

Many people can handle this type of squatting without any knee trouble. Heck, look at all the successful Olympic lifters! If you can squat this way without pain, then by all means continue. However, if you are powerlifting it makes no sense to squat this way. It is specific to athletes and Olympic lifters.

Enter the powerlifting squat.

If you want a big total, you need to incorporate more of the muscles of the hips, glutes, hamstrings, and low back. Lets face it-the hips are a powerful ally in the squat war.

Cleaning up the squat

My first stop was www.elitefts.com where the big boys play. Dave Tate and Co. are some bad muthas when it comes to totaling big. They are the epitome of WIDE squatting. Elite Fitness has some of the very best articles on the net covering all aspects of strength. What I find to be particularly useful for my bruised ego are the squatting articles. I read and re-read them about 20 times. Each time I read them, I took a little more information and put it to work for me. I also tweaked some things along the way.

So what is good squat form? I think Quest Nutrition sponsors the greatest collection squat technicians in the WORLD. While scouring the net for squat pictures, I happened upon www.quest-nutrition.com. These guys are perfect squatters. As a matter of fact-that must be a criteria for getting Quest to sponsor you!

Not sure exactly who this is, but his form is impeccable. Straight back, wide stance, deep as hell, and a ton of weight.

Wade Hooper. Wade has won the IPF World’s, USAPL Nationals, and has a WPO title belt. Wade has done it all in IPF legal gear to boot. Wade knows SQUAT! Take a look at his feet-they are pointing almost completely forward.

Another man that needs no introduction, this is Mike Mastrean. A 198-pound Superman. Mike shows us perfect, ass-to-the-basement form each and every time he steps onto the platform. Mike has even been to my place of work for powerlifting meets.

As you can see, these fellas squat WIDE, but they don’t squat super wide. This is the happy medium that allows one to sink to USAPL depths and lift WPO weights. This, IMO, is the perfect squat stance.

Now that we know what it looks like, it is time to break it down into a step-by-step set of movements. You will need to practice it again and again. You will need to re-learn everything you know. And, if you are like me, you will need to take a few steps back in order to make a giant leap forward.

Part 1-Setting up to get down

(Authors Warning: You are about to see pictures of squat form. In order to emphasize proper form, I will have to wear my “John MacEnroe” shorts. If you have a weak stomach you may need a barf bag or some Pepto. You have been warned.)

First thing is first. Get under the damn bar! Get a bar position that is comfortable to you-most likely that will be somewhere between a high bar and a very low bar position. I tend to set mine just a tad lower then my traps. There is a little groove there that allows the bar to sit nicely.

My bar position. Sorry for the blurry picture!

After you get the bar set where you like it, it is time to position your hands. For people having trouble with their shoulders and biceps during a squat, I suggest you get used to having them out by the collars. This allows me to push against the collars and keep my upper back tight as seen in the above photo. I also eliminated the upper body compression by taking out my grip. With my bad shoulder, this has made squatting not as painful.

Set-up. Arching out and stepping back.

Once you are set under the bar, drive your head back into it, take a breath, and arch the bar out of the pins.

Sliding into position. Back is still tight, breath is held. This is a 2-3 step movement at best.

Don’t play around on the platform. Step back and set-up. The longer you fidget on the platform, the more it zaps your core strength. Practice the set-up until it becomes second nature and you don’t even need to look down for it.

Even while standing in the set-up, you should be driving out on your knees, which will cause tremendous pressure in your hips. You should also be spreading the floor apart with your feet and pushing out on the sides of your shoes, as seen above. Also, the back remains in a tight arch position. DO NOT get loose!

Once you are set-up, you are ready to start your descent into the hole. Take another deep breath of air into the belly and push it hard into your belt. Unlock the hips and sit BACK with the weight, keeping the back TIGHT. Again, you should be spreading the floor and pushing the knees out. Your weight should be more towards your heels as you lower.

Head up, hips back, knees out, spread the floor. Notice closely the belly full of air!


Side view of the same thing. Hips shooting back as I descend into the hole.


At this point there is a lot to concentrate on. Back is staying tight as you drive the knees out and spread the floor hard with the feet. Head is driven into the bar. Continue to sit back as far as you can before you unlock the knees to hit depth. You are still holding your breath. Get loose here, and you might as well kiss your squat good bye!

Continue to control yourself down into the hole. As you approach depth, you should feel like a compressed spring. Even with a light weight, I feel tremendous pressure building throughout my body.

In the hole and thinking one thing: EXPLODE BABY!

This is the bottom position. In order to get whites, I would need to go an inch or so lower. However, even with 225, I cannot reach depth. It takes a good 300 or more RAW to get my depth with this wide stance.

Study the form from the ground up. Feet are positioned well and you can tell I am pushing out on the sides of my feet and spreading the floor. Knees are opened and driving out. Belly is full of air and pushed into my belt (yes, there is a belt in there!). Back is tight and arched. Head is up and driving back into the bar. Eyes are to the sky. I am in the launch position awaiting the take off!

Let’s look at a quick comparison of me and Hooper:

NOT BAD!

From here, it all gets simple. Drive into the bar, blast out on the knees, spread the floor, and feel the hips, hams, and glutes drive you to lockout.

If you have a video camera-great. Use it to work on your form. If you don’t’ have a camera, get a competent and brutally honest spotter. They will help to dial in your form as you are actually squatting.

Driving to lockout. Reverse the descent, stay tight, and jam the gears!

As you can see, it is pretty damn simple. However, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Being the assistant coach of a powerlifting team, I get to see just about everything wrong you can do. For the sake of shortening this article, I will touch upon a few of the more prominent things that squatters do to shorten their careers.

The knock-kneed squatter

This is a common problem among squatters. The reason for this is the stronger quadriceps muscles take over for the weaker hips. The lifter’s hips are so weak that he/she cannot continue to force them out on the drive up, so the quads overcompensate.

Knock-kneed. The knees are coming in to take over for the weak hips.

Most times this knocking of the knees is harmless. However, if done too often and with too much weight, the lifter can begin to stress the ligaments of the knee and cause damage to the knee structure. Also, it eliminates how much weight you can handle, and it just looks bad!

The best way to defeat this is to swallow the pride, lower the weight, and concentrate on driving the knees out hard. Also, wrapping a mini band around the knees and concentrating on keeping it taut will help. Whatever method you choose, you need to beat this if you want to squat big weights!

The Hunch Back of Notre Dame squatter

We have all seen that squatter. Hell, I used to be that squatter! He descends with beauty into the hole, then loses his arch and shoots his hips up first. This leads to a bowing of the lower back and bar shooting out of the groove. Not only is this ugly and a biomechanics nightmare, it is very dangerous as well. In my last article about deadlifting I spoke about bowed back versus arched back lifting and the load distribution. It is the same on the squat. Bowed backs = injured backs.

Hips shooting up first, back bowed over, head down, and bar out of the groove.

This is something that I advise you fix immediately. I didn’t, and I eventually hurt my back to the point of it being painful down both legs. Cleaning up my form, strengthening my back, and going to the chiropractor saved my lifting.

To fix this, you need to focus on keeping a tight arch all the way through the movement. If you get loose at the bottom and lose it, then you need to drive back on the bar and get it back. I have seen lifters at the gym hunched over with 700. It is awful and it looks like they are going to split in 2 pieces. Squatting like this will ALWAYS lead to injury. Maybe not soon, but certainly later.

Strengthen the back through arched back good mornings and reverse hypers. Lower the squat weight until you can maintain an arch all the way through the movement.

Knees forward squatter

This is the guy that seems like he is going to descend nicely. He sits back well, has a good arch, and stays tight. However, as he nears the hole, he fears sitting back and shoots forward. This takes the bar out of the groove, puts a lot of pressure on the knees, and screws the ascent with the weight.

Good intentions gone bad.

A good way to fix this is to put the lifter on a box with a light weight. Assure them through proper form and good spotting that they wont fall backwards. If necessary, put them in a slightly heeled boot or shoe for some time, allowing them to sit back more comfortably. Once they get it down, switch back to the flat shoe.

Another way is to have them hold onto the cage as they lower themselves. This lets them get a feel for the groove of the squat.

Box Squats

What squatting article would be complete without a discussion about box squats. Personally, I love them. Everyone in the gym does them and we have had 0 injuries form them. The head coach has had them box squatting now for 7 years with no injuries. Can you get injured from box squatting? Sure. You can get injured from anything if you do it negligently.

So how does one do the box squat? Well, the box squat is done exactly like the regular back squat. The form stays exactly the same! The only difference is you stop and pause on a box, breaking up the eccentric/concentric chain. The box squat allows you to relax, then re-flex the hips. This builds tremendous strength in the hips that benefits both the squat and the deadlift.

Reasons for injuries on the box are numerous. Getting loose on the box, that is, losing your arch, can cause an injury. The old style of box squats had the lifter rocking. This is a big no-no as it cause you to lose your arch and enforces bad form. Do you rock when you do back squats? NO! So why rock when you do a box squat???

Slamming onto the box will cause compression injuries. Use a weight you can handle, and control it throughout the movement. Don’t sit so far back that you lose it and plop onto the box. If you cannot control it on a deep box, then start high and work your way down.

Preparing to box squat. Same form, same style. Just another day at the office.


Lowering down to the box. Tight back, sitting back, driving out.


On the box. Back is tight, form is on. Everything remains the same. From the poor picture quality it looks like my head is down-I can assure you it isn’t. Keep the head driving into the bar!


Driving up off the box. Head back into the bar, strong tight back. Notice I am pushing out on my shoes and spreading the floor.

Now let’s look at the side view of the same:

Looking that sexy is not a requirement!

Gear

For the sake of a shorter article, I will only talk about the basics. Get a good powerlifting belt. A nice leather one will last forever if you treat it right. Whether you have a lever or a pronged buckle is up to you. I prefer the buckle. The belt will allow you to push air into your belly and drive into the belt. This will keep you tight. If haven’t tried squatting this way-try it! It makes your mid section like an oak tree.

Shoes. Now, I know every great squatter out there talks about a certain shoe as being the best. Perhaps the best advice about squat shoes came from Louie Simmons: “Don’t have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.”

Of course, there are those people out there who make a living off of selling their brand of equipment. They will tell you that they sell the best squat shoe on the market. Unless you are handling 1000-pounds on a regular basis, I would not get concerned about spending $100 on a pair of shoes. You can spend that money on something else that will help your total far better then a pair of shoes! I find I like Chuck Taylors. They are cheap, and they last a long time. I also have a nice cheap pair of Nikes I got at a Finish Line. They have a flat sole and are a little stiffer then the Chucks. Experiment and find out what works for you.

I will say this. I used a pair of Safe SST Pro Series ($160) for my squat workout a few weeks back. The head coach had a pair, so I tried them. My hips and glutes did not get half the workout they get in the flat-soled shoes. Call me crazy, but a $30 pair of Chucks works just fine.

Conclusion

I hope you have learned something in this long-winded article!

Everything I have talked about works. Incorporating it just might lead you to the promise land of BIG SQUATS! Good luck and good lifting.

Until next time: LIVESTRONG!

Rick Walker, CSCS

By on September 5th, 2011

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Comments (14)

  1. Posted by - Woody on September 5, 2011

    Epic n’ awesome!

  2. Posted by - Shannon on September 8, 2011

    Awesome stuff! I’ve been reading articles and watching squat videos for weeks now but this one was the most helpful. Keep up the good work!

  3. Posted by - Steven on September 8, 2011

    Awesome article!! I loved it! Keep up the good work!

  4. Posted by - Matt Carlin on September 9, 2011

    Sweet! The most comprehensive post I’ve ever seen on the squat. If you can’t nail the squat after reading that, go back to school!
    Well done diesel crew!!

  5. Posted by - John on September 9, 2011

    Smitty, The bench, squat and deadlift articles are AWESOME! I love that you added the Rick Walker stuff in too(I think that is his name LOL). I remember that was a bonus from a long time ago! Keep up the good work, you are doing an amazing job educating people! Excited for POWER, see you soon Smitty!

    -Coach Gaglione

  6. Posted by - Chris on September 12, 2011

    Wow mate! Great article. A fantastic reference I can’t believe you took the time to put all that together! Brilliant!

  7. Posted by - Eric Martin on September 13, 2011

    As usual you guys have outdone yourselves, in a good way! Amazing detail on this post, you are truly benefiting the Strength and Conditioning community with these posts. Keep’em coming!

  8. Posted by - sam on September 21, 2011

    thank you very much for providing all this information free, i cannot wait to put it to the test

  9. Posted by - Tim on September 22, 2011

    Great stuff. This really helps out. You don’t realize everything that goes into doing a squat the right way till you rack your back.

    Thanks
    Tim

  10. Posted by - Carlos on June 3, 2012

    Great info!! Thanks alot!!… can’t wait to put it to the test!

  11. Posted by - trainer on December 29, 2013

    ‘The’ best resource on squats on the internet…Thanks a lot for making it available for everyone to read and learn

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