Welcome to the blog we're going to do on squats, with tips and tricks and things that we look for when we're coaching people, ourselves and things that can help you improve your squatting to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.
One of the things that we've definitely been told a lot when new clients come to us is that they can't deep squat as they've been told by other people, trainers, physios or whoever that’s due to their anatomy. Whether it be they've got really deep hip sockets, bad ankles or whatever. What we find is that with 99% of people if they struggle to get into a deep squat its usually a structural balance issue holding them back and that can be addressed by making improvements in their body mechanics, movement patterns or addressing their lack of mobility and stability. We find that most of the times, within six to eight weeks of time of simple, structured training that they can get down to the deep squat and do a properly and do it well.
We find deep squats beneficial and obviously they’re one of the principle movements we should be able to perform. But it’s important to know that it’s not just a lower body exercise, if done right, they can train nearly the whole body. What we’re going to address right now is not only feet setup, but also how to impart tension in the upper body and core.
THE SET UP
First, we start off with pin height, which should be just below shoulder height, so when you get under the bar you have a slight knee bend that allows you to push up into the bar. What you really don’t want to do is be on your toes, as you're trying to rack it, or you don't want to be too low, if you're fatigued and you're doing a set of heavy squats, the last thing you want to do is really have to try and focus to put the bar on the rack. It should feel natural.
Second, we’re going to address footwear. In the video Ben’s got some dedicated lifters on which has got a really hard sole and that’s it's important as when we're squatting, what we're actually trying to do is put force into the ground. Having runners and softer sole shoes can sometimes impede that as those soles are there to absorb force, which is the opposite of what we want to do. The shoes also give Ben a heel raise which we’ll address later why that’s important.
Next, we have hand position, which is really important for creating tension in the upper back and ensuring there’s no breakdown of positioning through the upper body. Remember, the bar is attached to your shoulders, so to speak. You need a strong back to lift heavy weight, and squats are no exception.
Lastly, we have feet positioning. With this, everyone’s different and there many different variables to consider. But what I’ll try to do here is give you a few guidelines that will help you determine your ideal foot position in the squat.
What we don't want to have is your feet facing dead ahead and too narrow as it doesn't leave enough room for your pelvis to sit down in between your feet. When we're squatting, we really want to keep the bar over the centre point of our feet and centre of gravity. So having your feet a little bit wider than your hips allows us to do that, but be careful as we want don't want these feet to be too far turned out as it doesn't allow any torque through the hips and external rotation, which actually stabilises the hips and stabilises the squats. Now, whether we're doing low bar squatting or front squatting or things like that, they're always different variations, but we're just keeping it simple here at the moment. Now you’re ready to squat!
During the squat, we like to focus on three main things that will ensure maximal tension through the body and allow you to lift the most weight possible.
- Bracing – we want to try and use our diaphragm to ‘fill our belly’ creating more pressure through the core that allows us to transfer force effectively through to the weight of the bar from our legs and lift the weight.
- Maximal Tension – In the video I go over this more in depth, but we want to make sure that were maintaining a rigid position throughout the squat. By driving your knees out, screwing into the ground with your feet, bracing effectively and keeping good pressure on the bar with your hands into your back, you’re giving yourself the best chance to make sure you’re not losing any energy or force production to kinetic breakdowns.
- Go Slow; learn fast – going slower in the eccentric portion through tempo control, allows the body to give feedback itself that you can correct mid set or even mid squat, meaning you can learnt the movement quicker and more effectively. It also takes advantage of the strength difference between eccentric and concentric contractions (eccentric being stronger) and increases the TUT, a primary factor in muscle growth.
A common issue during the squat is to lean too far forward. If it’s not just a general motor pattern issue that can be fixed with coaching, what ends up happening there is either people's feet are too close together, or they don't have enough ankle flexion to allow their knees to come over their toes. The bar wants to stay over the mid-point of the foot but without the knees moving forward the femur actually pushes the hips back which leads to the torso leaning forward. A good combat for that is what Ben's got in the video: lifting shoes. What they do is elevate the heel, which reduces the need for as much dorsiflexion, which allows the knees to transfer forward and give the pelvis room to drop in.
Now, lifting shoes are a specific item and if you don't have those, some simple solutions are just some thin pieces of rubber, wood would work as well, basically anything that’s hard that you can sit underneath your heels. That allows a greater amount of plantar flexion to start with, which allows our knees to travel forward and our hips to sit down into our squat and to come up nice and strong. Now while that provides a temporary fix, you also want to be working on your ankle mobility with split squats, calf raises and stretches.
The other common one we see, especially in heavy squats, is that our knees can come in, or what we what we call ‘valgus collapse’. This hurts our squat as in a squat we’re trying to put as much force into the ground and as were working against gravity we want that force to be heading straight down. When our knees collapse in, you’re creating angles that stop that from happening.
We're trying to get the bones to line up as straight as possible. The much more efficient we can have that force transfer, the better we can squat. So the solution here is a two part effort, firstly, refer to the tips above about squatting, but most specifically, creating tension and torque through the legs and hips by screwing the feet into the ground and really trying to ‘spread the floor’. You should feel the lateral glutes engage and more tension through the legs overall. Secondly, we want to make sure its not just a muscular weakness in the stabilisers of the hips; glute medius. Squats with a band above the knees, single leg work, and direct work like clams all help train the glute medius to become stronger and more adept at stabilising the knees and keeping them in straight line.
If you’re having issues with your squats, the best thing I would prescribe is get a coach who can identify these dysfunctions quickly and knows how to address them. If that’s not possible, the second-best thing would be to film yourself, from multiple angles so you can use this blog and video as a guide to identify what’s going wrong.
It's not good enough just to identify an issue, and then you have to fix the problem!
Thanks for reading!
Written By Coach Cayne Schultz