Ok guys, I know I promised that I would cover the squat again, so now I am. This time I will go over the set up of a squat with some and give you some corrective exercises to make the squat as simple as possible. Remember that you cannot spell legendary without leg day….seriously.
First off I am nowhere even close to being the world’s greatest squatter. With my long legs and weak ankles, I have had trouble figuring out the proper form. However, with work in my later years in college with some smart coaching and after college, I feel pretty confident about my ability to squat. With the same work and determination, you can mold the squat into you main tool to gain strength, power, and mass, tone etc.
Your set-up is the most important aspect of the whole entire lift. What is determined here paves the path for either success or failure. If your set-up is shit, your squat is going to suck, period. So let me give you this pre-flight checklist to improve your squat set up:
1) Balanced bar
This should go without saying but you would be surprised at how many people I’ve seen rack the bar and are exclusively to one side or another. Most weight lifting bars have texture on either one side of the bar or another so it’s not hard to find the balance middle so finding the middle shouldn’t be too difficult. However, this is still a problem. Just make sure you rest the middle of the bar comfortably on your back.
2) Bring the hands in
While the squat is a lower body lift, the upper body plays a big role; and it all starts with the hands. Not only does bring your hands in help give you a nice shelf to rest the bar on, but it activates the synergists in the upper back, creating an extension force that helps keep you more upright and your chest from “caving in”. Caving in is when the shoulders roll forward causing a rounded back. When this happens, not only have you lost midline strength, you also put yourself at risk for a lower back injury. If you are having the problem of your chest falling forward during the squat, try bringing the hands in and tightening up the back.
If your upper back isn’t very developed, you’d be well-served to put some beef on this area. Exercises to help develop your upper back include any Olympic pull variation, cable rows, resistant band face pulls, and prone/behind the back shrugs. Also wrist and shoulder flexibility are important as well.
3) Tight Midline
Speaking of midline strength….a strong and sturdy midline, or core, is very important to the set-up of the squat. The name of the game when squatting is transferring energy. While your legs and hips provide the strength, your core has to transfer that strength upwards to the bar. If it’s not rock solid, your squat is going to suffer.
If you are still having a hard time maintaining a strong core, work on gaining core strength before putting more weight on the bar. Planks, side planks, ab rollout, and any other core exercise helps in getting a stronger. Also Box Squats. IMHO (in my honest opinion) box squats are a fairly underused exercise to help increase glut and hamstring strength and power. Furthermore, creating a focus on the core during the relaxation phase of the box squats helps in strengthen the midline. I would recommend adding in some box squats into your program if there not already.
4) Feet and Toes
Once you’ve un-racked the weight and are getting set-up, you want to set your feet with a comfortable stance. In a “normal” squat stance, your feet should be shoulder width apart with your toes pointed slightly outwards. With the toes pointed outward, this creates external rotation within the hips to position the knee to track outwards, not in. This is vital for reasons I’ll explain later. There are different kinds of stances that are beneficial to different training goals; however, I’m just going to focus on the normal, everyday squat.
5) Chest Up Eyes Up
Ok guys, eyes up, chest up. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror. This includes you Grant and Landon. This is important to lower back health because you maintain the natural lumbar curve. If you look down, you roll your shoulders forward which changes your back curve.
Dudes, having your’ chest up will also correct posture. I like to refer to this as the “Johnny Bravo” effect. Imagine this, a beautiful member of the opposite sex walked past you would you rather have a hunched over, lazy build to you, or this glorious, amazing, chiseled, that just oozes of astonishingly high levels of self-confidence that would even make the Greek Gods jealous….right?
A way to easily combat a caving chest is to find a spot high on the wall. Focus on that spot and don’t deviate from you. If your eyes keep wondering you lose your’ shoulders during the lift. If you are focusing on a spot and keeping your chest up is still hard, take some weight off and focus on strengthening the core. See the Tight Midline section for some core suggestions.
Let us continue from earlier about the toes and knees pointed out. We can talk biomechanics until we are sick about it but I am just going to summarize and say that knee placement is critical in the transfer of energy from the floor to the bar. If any part of the body is off in the connection, then the transfer of energy is greatly diminished. The knees are a pretty important area when it comes to this. Keeping your’ knees in a slight external rotation tracking out over the toes transfers the energy to the feet and floor during the “down” or concentric phase of the squat and back to the bar during the “up” or eccentric phase during the squat. If the knee connection is lost, power and strength are greatly reduced. So by putting yourself in a position to perform the movement without worrying about it is critical. That’s why your knees should be pointed out. Also you put yourself at a greater risk for ACL, MCL and meniscus injury if your knees cave in; especially you girls.
If you are not sure about your own knee action during the squat, the best thing is to have someone watch you squat and ask them you alert you if your knees cave in. If no one is around you, watch yourself in the mirror. I bet you have some sort of internal knee rotation during the squat, I still do.
To work on this, grab a resistance band and do banded, or monster, walks. This puts a focus on your knees by trying to pull them in. But you have to keep them pointed out. If you’re still having trouble, squat with the band around your knees.
Squat has never been, and never will be, an easy lift. In fact, they may be the hardest lift you’ll ever perform. But in that same breath, taking your squat to newfound heights may be one of, if not the most, rewarding things you can do in the gym. Take the time to critically analyze your own squat, and then focus one taking the steps necessary to correct any issues. Whether your goal is to add slabs of muscle, tone and firm up or to simply squat more, you won’t be disappointed with the results with a correct squat. Tuesday I will discuss something for the ladies, training for lean muscle. Thursday will be my first guest post by the macro guru himself, Kevin Van Voris.