Welcome to the fourth and final installment of the Big 4 Lift series, which has been composed of four major lifts that when done properly, are extremely efficient at building strength, power, confidence, and an impressive physique. These exercises can be performed anytime a barbell is present and are the backbone of many great workout programs, such as Jim Wendlers’ extremely successful 5/3/1 Program. So far, the deadlift has been covered here , the bench press here, the overhead press here.
The last installment will cover the squat, which is a phenomenal indicator of a trainees overall movement quality and strength. Performing an ideal squat requires significant muscle activation in the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, low back errectors, and stabilization of upper and mid back muscles. Mobility in the ankle, thoracic spine, and hips are also needed to perform the squat. This required combination of mobility and strength make the squat an extremely effective exercise as it delivers a huge array of benefits ranging from strength and power to flexibility and challenging the metabolic systems.
Squats, as much as any other exercise, require hard work, mental toughness, and discipline to perform them correctly. For these reasons many trainees avoid squats and opt for doing countless reps on the leg press, leg extension, and leg curl machines. Some common excuses I hear for those avoiding squats are:
1.) I heard those are bad for my knees
2.) Squats are dangerous for my back
Sorry pal, those are not valid excuses at all. The reason you have aches and pains are from your poor mechanics and sitting in front of your computer all day, very few exercises are inherently dangerous. Check out the mechanics and form we are born with in the picture below:
As you see, perfect mechanics! It’s not that the squat is dangerous, it’s that all the other $hit it we do that screws everyone’s mobility and creates pain in the knees, low back, and hips!
Performing the squat with good form takes a lot of hard work, as poor mobility in the thoracic spine, ankle, hips, and lack of core stability are often reasons for faulty movement patterns and sub-standard squatting mechanics. I am not going into specific drills and means for improvement in this article, but some great mobility drills can be found here from Tony Gentilcore!
With the mobility talk and all that mumbo-jumbo out the way here is the way to squat properly
- Set the rack so the bar sits at sternum level, or slightly higher between the clavicle and mid chest.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades down and back to form a base on your traps to place the bar upon.
- Move the hands as close together as comfortably possible. This will keep your upper back tight during the lift.
- Set the feet up slightly wider than shoulder width with the toes pointed out (10-20 degrees) and directly under the bar. Squat the bar out of the rack.
- Step back ONE TIME with each foot, and set the feet equally apart slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Keep your head neutral, not looking up or down with the eyes focused. Pick a spot to look at in front of you; it could be a spot on mirror. Just move your eyes around!
- Keep your low back arched and move the hips back first (pop the butt out), then at the knees to descend. This puts more stress on the glutes and hamstrings and less on your knees as it allows you to sink down into a full squat without your heels coming up.
- Spread the floor with your feet. Imagine pulling the floor apart with your feet, as this will help the knees track over the toes as you descend.
- Squat to parallel or below, as long as your mechanics allow it. Half squats do not create nearly the same muscle activation and will contribute to a loss of movement function in other lifts. The crease of the hips should be at, or below the knee!
- Pull the bar down. Pull the bar down and try to bend it over your back, as this will engage the lats to keep the core tight and further promote stability.
- Move your hips and knees at the same time; this promotes holding core stability and a proper back angle. Too often a squat becomes a good morning as a lifter rises with the hips before the shoulders.
- Keep your knees out by pulling the floor apart.
- Push out of your heels to remain stable. This is important to maintain balance and stability throughout the squat.
- Buy squat shoes or Chuck Taylors, they provide a flat sole to push from evenly. Shocks are especially terrible for squatters as are most cross training shoes.
- Use multiple warm up sets of lower with perfect form. Using multiple sets to warm up will help you practice these tips to master your squat. Rather than 1 or 2 sets of 10 perform 4 sets or 5 reps to warm up.
Squats are a great exercise that should be a cornerstone of most workout programs. They build strength, power, muscle, toughness, and flexibility while being extremely metabolically taxing and wonderful for losing weight. If you see someone at the gym with awesome technique don’t be afraid to ask them to check your technique, you might learn of a thing or two to improve on.
I hope you were able to pick up a tip or two. Leave thoughts and comments below!
Squat Baby. Photograph. Bootcamp Fitness. Crossfit. Web. 21 Apr. 2012..
Copyright 2012 by Eric R Bach. All rights reserved. This material may not be duplicated or distributed without written consent from the author.