Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Squat - Brooks Kubik
The Squat: Form & Technique
by Brooks Kubik
Many trainers forego squatting entirely, often because they have hurt themselves by doing the exercise in an incorrect way. Or, they squat, but perform the movement in an ineffective and potentially dangerous manner because they do not know how to perform it properly.
This is hardly surprising, because most books and magazines that deal with exercise technique teach squatting variations that are dangerous, ineffective and nonproductive. As a result, most coaches, trainers, instructors and lifters have learned to do the squat in an improper manner. It is a sad but inescapable fact that the vast majority of weight trainees DO NOT KNOW HOW TO SQUAT. This is the reason why some people hurt themselves, aggravate previous injuries, or get little or no results from their squatting. It is not the squat that is to blame in such cases, but rather, the style of performance used by the lifter.
Proper squatting is not a difficult athletic feat. Almost anyone can learn how to squat productively and safely. (Those who cannot learn to squat are the rare individuals who have injuries or unusual body structures that make squatting impossible.) All that is required is patience, motivation and tenacity. Proper form WILL NOT come to you overnight. You cannot learn how to squat properly in a single workout. Not with any substantial weight. It doesn’t work that way. For many of you, particularly those who have been using improper form for a long time, it may take several months of careful, concentrated effort to learn squatting technique.
Let me give you an example of how a “long and lanky” trainee can learn to squat safely and effectively. Three years ago, a scrawny beanpole named Bruce Bullock joined the gym I then trained at, and after a couple of weeks asked me to teach him how to squat. Bruce was 6’3” and weighed around 195, with long arms and legs and a body that was as tight and inflexible as a telephone pole. He couldn’t squat with a broomstick because he was too tight in the lower back, the hamstrings and the Achilles tendons. I worked with him for 45 minutes or so, and told him he would have to train his flexibility for 6 weeks before he could begin to squat. I gave him some free copies of articles by Mike Thompson that stressed the importance of developing flexibility in order to learn how to squat.
Bruce devoured the information. The next time I met him he had practically memorized Thompson’s articles. He stretched diligently before and after every workout, and did more stretching at home. he gradually became looser and more limber, and was able to squat to parallel without leaning so far forward that his forehead touched the floor, and without having to elevate his heels to keep his balance.
At that point, we started Bruce on the squat as an exercise. He used 95 pounds for 3 sets of 6 reps and it almost killed him. He was so sore he could hardly walk the next day. But he came back, and stayed with it, and he added weight gradually. Today, three years later, he trains with me in my basement gym, weighs 260 and does a bottom position rack squat - with no wraps or power suit – with 420 pounds. His form is impeccable. His body position is perfect. He hits the exact power groove on every rep he does.
I have another training partner, Ted Solinger, who had the same sort of problems when he started squatting two years ago. Ted was so tight he could only do a quarter squat unless he put his heels on a board. We worked on his flexibility and his technique, and then, after those were in order, started to work on his poundage. I personally spotted him doing 95 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps that were painful to watch – the weight almost killed him. He begged me to let him wrap a towel around the bar or use a foam pad to keep the bar from cutting into his back. (I didn’t, and I’ll explain why later.) I doubted he’d ever try squats again. But, like Bruce, he came back for more punishment, and kept at it week after week and month after month. Two years later, Ted is doing a bottom position rack squat with 365 pounds – no wraps or suit – and his weight has gone from 145 at 6’ to 190.
Here’s the squatting system I taught to Bruce and Ted. It worked wonders for them, and it can work wonders for you. All it takes is time, patience, toil and sweat. And guts.
1.) Do Flexibility Work.
As described with reference to Bruce and Ted, many hard gainers have ectomorphic physiques that are tight and inflexible. It is impossible to squat properly if your lower back, hamstrings and heels are so tight that they pull you forward as you bend your legs. For many, the key to successful squatting lies in 6-12 weeks of concentrated flexibility work. STRETCHING, by Bob Anderson, is an excellent reference book. If you have trouble squatting and have never given flexibility work a try, start a stretching program today and keep at it religiously. Improved flexibility will do wonders for your squatting.
2.) Use a Rack With Safety Pins
Never squat without using a power rack and safety pins, or a sturdy set of safety-catch devices. You cannot rely on spotters, and you cannot rely on being able to get the bar back into the squat stands on your own. ALWAYS use a power rack of safety-catch devices. If you do not, sooner or later there will be a bad accident.
When you use safety pins, set them an inch or two below your bottom position. Do not actually touch the pins on each rep. If you do, you probably will throw yourself out of the groove. You also run a risk of hurting a finger if you bounce off of the safety pins. Set the pins low enough that you do not actually touch them, but high enough that you only have to lower your body an inch or two to rest the bar on the pins if you get stuck at the bottom.
I always squat in a rack, with TWO sets of safety pins. I use two top sets so there is still protection if a top pin lets me down, as impossible as that may seem. My basement gym features a free-standing York power rack that has pins/rods with a self-locking mechanism. Always use something to lock your pins into position. Have a hole drilled through the end of the pin and run a nail through to keep each pin in place. Or use a regular barbell collar to hold the pin in position (attach the collar to the part of the pin that extends through the back or your rack). Don’t take chances on needless injury caused by short cuts in equipment, or by failing to take the 10-15 seconds that are required to secure your safety pins.
3.) Position the Bar Properly
Squat technique begins with the proper placement of the bar. Most trainees place the bar too high. Many place it on the seventh cervical vertebra, i.e., on the spot where the neck joins the top of the back. If you place a barbell directly on top of the seventh cervical vertebra, you are inviting orthopedic problems. You are also risking injury to the low back because you have positioned the bar too high, which changes the geometry of the movement in the bottom position.
Picture holding a barbell at arms’ length overhead and try to do a squat. Picture the overhead squat. Even an empty bar provides a challenge to the inexperienced. Why? Because the bar is much higher than a usual squat and the result is that you are fighting an extreme amount of leverage in the bottom position of the movement. If you position the bar on your seventh cervical vertebra, you increase the distance from the hips to the bar by two or more inches compared to a more proper bar placement. This significantly increases the leverage that works against you.
Some of you will think, “The harder an exercise is, the better, so I’ll position the bar too high on purpose and this will make things harder and I’ll get bigger and stronger as a result.” WRONG! What you’ll get is a chronic back problem.
Where do you position the bar? It varies from person to person and from squat style to style. The basic rule is that the bar should be an inch or two below the top of the shoulders (i.e. the highest point of the deltoid muscle – NOT the traps – when viewed from the front). The higher position is more suited to high-rep squats than the lower one.
There is a natural ridge of muscle that forms when you raise your arms, hold the squat bar and simultaneously FLEX the muscles of the upper back. The bar should rest on this ridge of muscle. It should not rest on the neck, the seventh cervical vertebra, or the scapula. We don’t want the bar laying on top of bone; we want it laying on top of a ridge of muscle. Remember, when you squat, EVERY muscle in your upper back is flexed hard and tight through the entire set. You cannot squat properly if your upper back is not tensed and tight for the entire set.
Skinny people will not have much muscle in the upper back, and they will complain that the bar cuts into their back. They are right. The bar DOES cut into their backs – at least for the first couple of training sessions before you get the bar placement right, your muscles toughen up, and the bar doesn’t feel like it’s cutting you in two. Just gut it out for a few sessions and the problem will go away. I have trained 115-pound women who learned to tolerate the discomfort o a bar on the upper back in about three training sessions.
Whatever you do, do NOT succumb to the urge to use some sort of padding to keep the bar from “cutting into” your upper back. Why? Because a padded bar cannot be positioned and held in the proper position. It will slide down as you try to squat. The only way to keep a padded bar from sliding down is to position the bar on the very top of the shoulders, i.e., right across the neck. This places the bar way too high, alters the geometry of the movement, and causes low back problems.
Here’s another tip – always wear a long sleeved shirt of sweatshirt when you squat, not a tank-top or sleeveless shirt. Why? Because the bar rests across the rear of your shoulders and your upper arms when you position it properly, and when you are sweating the bar gets slick and slides out of position. The sweatshirt will probably hold the bar better if you wear it inside out. The knurling bites into the cotton and the effect is sort of like Velcro.
That leads to a related point – always use a bar with knurling when you squat. A smooth bar will roll on you no matter what you do. In addition, chalk the bar in the center, and the part of your shirt where the bar will rest. This will help the bar stay in place.
Many of you will find that a cambered bar is the tool of choice for your squats because it stays in position better than a regular bar. You also may find that it is easier on your shoulders because you don’t have to stretch backwards so far to get your arms into the proper position to hold the bar in place. This is particularly true for unusually large or thickly-muscled men.
4.) Learn the Proper Grip
If you position the bar 1-2” below the top of your deltoids, you must use a fairly wide grip. For many of you, a full collar-to-collar grip will be necessary. (At the bottom of the squat, be careful not to trap your fingers between the bar and the rack pins.) Some of you will be tempted to drape your arms over the bar. PLEASE don’t do that. Draping the arms over the bar is inevitably going to cause you to lose the bar some day, and if it slides down on you the most likely result will be a dislocated shoulder.
Some trainees say they need wrist wraps to help keep their wrists straight when they are handling heavy poundages in the squat. Throw your wrist wraps in the trash can and build your forearms and wrists with serious grip training.
If you use a cambered bar you will find it is easier on your wrists than a straight bar.
5.) Learn the Elbow Position
When the bar is positioned properly, you need to raise your elbows to help hold it in place correctly. Trainees who place the bar too high can keep their elbows low and the bar won’t move. When you position the bar properly, you need to raise your elbows and try to keep your forearms parallel to the floor. This also helps reduce wrist strain. A cambered bar makes it easier to maintain proper elbow position.
6.) Learn to Unrack the Bar
The only way to unrack a bar properly is to begin with the bar at the proper height. If the bar is too high, you have to position it too high on your upper back. If the bar is too low, you have to lean forward to unrack it. The bar should be positioned so that you get under the weight and straighten your legs 1-2” to unrack the bar. You should be able to unrack the bar by moving straight up with it. If you have to lean forward too much to unrack the bar, you are using low-back strength that could be put too much better use during the actual performance of the exercise.
Always face the weight saddles when you unrack the bar, and move backwards to get into starting position after unracking it. If you face away from the weight saddles when you unrack the bar, you will have to re-rack the bar by walking backwards when you are tired – which is a good way to hurt yourself. Also, you are more likely to pinch your fingers when you re-rack the bar while facing away from the saddles. That can be a painful injury at best, and a serious one at worst (think about lifting with a crushed finger).
After you unrack the bar, take only ONE step backwards. Move at a slow, controlled speed. SLIDE your feet, don’t lift them. Make it a “one-two” movement: unrack the bar, stand straight, slide the right foot back and into position (“one”), then slide the left foot back and into position (“two”). Keep your head up and look straight ahead. Do not look down at the floor or at your feet when you are stepping back into the starting position. Why? Because you round the upper back when you look down, and this means you have unflexed your upper back muscles. Thus you will no longer have a cushion of muscle on which to rest the bar.
You will probably need to practice many times before you can automatically place your feet in the right position to squat without having to fiddle around to get the positioning right. See the next section for precisely where you place your feet.
Be very careful to move slowly and deliberately when you step back with the bar. Too many people get under the bar and rip it up and out of the weight saddles, and simultaneously move backwards in one motion. This is dangerous because you can stumble and fall, or lose control of the bar. It also creates enough momentum to cause the bar to “whip” up and down, which means you have to stand and wait for it to stop moving before beginning your squat.
7.) Learn the Proper Stance
You can’t squat properly without a proper stance. A proper stance sets you up so that your legs, hips and back can work as an integrated unit to perform the exercise. An improper stance forces you to do the exercise in a manner that overstresses the lower back, places the knees at risk, or leads to chronic hip problems. The proper stance lets you handle the heaviest poundage you are capable of handling, and lets you do so in relative safety. An improper stance forces you to use less weight but places your joints at much greater risk.
A proper stance calls for the heels to be placed shoulder width apart, or even a bit wider. You cannot squat properly with your heels together, or closer than shoulder width apart. If your heels are too close together, you change the squat from a leg/hip/back exercise to one that isolates the front thighs. The lower leg and the knee will have to move forward EXCESSIVELY as you squat, to make up for the lack of horizontal rotation around the hip. As a result, the tendons and ligaments in the knee will be placed in an overstretched and dangerous position at the bottom of the movement. Do this movement often enough and you will ruin your knees. (In contrast, a proper stance allows the lower leg and the knee to move forward much less as you squat. This places far less strain on the tendons and ligaments of the knee.)
Similar points apply to the “flare” of the feet. If the toes point forward when you squat, the knee is twisted into an unnatural position at the bottom of the movement. This leads to knee injuries.
The proper position calls for the feet to be flared at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. As you squat, the knee will move slightly forward, directly towards the big toe. The thigh will be in line with the knee and the big toe. The entire leg, from toe to hip, will “line up” in a neutral plane.
With the proper foot position, you do NOT need to put anything under the heels to maintain your balance as you squat. This is important, because you should NOT squat with your heels raised higher than the elevation of a regular athletic shoe. (Use a solid shoe, not one filled with air, gel or anything else soft. Squatting with raised heels changes the geometry of the movement and will cause lower-back problems sooner or later. Raising the heels also puts your knees at great risk, because there is much greater horizontal movement of the knees.
If you cannot keep your balance when you squat with flat feet, then you need to work on your flexibility. Don’t try to make up for a lack of flexibility by raising your heels on a two by four, or something similar. By raising your heels in this way you may THINK you have improved the situation, but all you have done is set the stage for chronic lower-back and knee problems.
Many bodybuilding “authorities” would have you believe you can affect different portions of the thigh by changing the angle of your feet when you squat. This sort of claptrap has been around for decades, and all it does is encourage people to do the exercise in a dangerous and unproductive manner. The angle of the feet has little or nothing to do with the muscles in the thighs when you squat. The angle of the feet does, however, spell the difference between squatting in a safe and productive manner, and doing it in a style that leads to chronic joint pain.
Most of the “vogue” exercises for the thighs place the knees at severe risk because they cannot be performed without gross horizontal displacement of the lower leg and the knee. Machine hack squats, barbell hacks with raised heels, sissy squats, front squats with raised heels and lunges all require the trainee to bend the knee and simultaneously push the lower leg and knee forward excessively. If anyone ever urges you to train on one of these movements (or to squat on raised heels) DON’T LISTEN TO HIM.
If you ever buy a magazine, book or training course that urges you to train your thighs with any movement requiring you to put a board under your heels. burn it, bury it or send it back to the publisher and request a refund. Training your thighs on raised heels is one of the biggest (but most common) mistakes you can make.
8.) The Proper Starting Position
The proper starting position in the squat requires the lifter to stand straight, tall and erect. Many trainees lean forward (usually bending from the hips) when they are in the starting position. Others round their backs. Both styles are incorrect. If you round your shoulders or lean forward, you move the bar forward horizontally, taking it out of line with the center of your heels. This will make it impossible to perform the lift properly. Set up and begin the lift with the shoulders and upper back tight, hips locked, waist and lower back tight, and torso straight. Keep the bar centered over the middle of your heels.
If you set yourself up with rounded shoulders or a forward lean, you will tend to exaggerate the forward movement of the bar the lower you go. In other words, if you start out by leaning forward, you will lean forward more and more as you descend into the squat. This is why it is critical to begin the lift with an upright torso.
To assure that you avoid rounding the shoulders, keep your head up. However, do NOT arch your neck backwards and look up at the ceiling. Look straight ahead, with your jaw parallel to the floor. Looking down is an error, so is looking up.
9.)The Correct Descent
The descent has two distinct movements. To begin the descent, you unlock your knees and bend your legs. This will lower you several inches WITHOUT any rotation around the hip joint.
The second movement involves the hip joint. As you continue to descend, unlock your hips and sit down and back – just as though you were sitting down on a chair.
If you start the squat by unlocking your hips, your torso will move forward and you will begin the lift by doing a partial good morning (i.e. a forward bend). This means you are bending forward before you even unlock your knees, and the result will be an excessive amount of forward bend throughout the entire lift.
As you descend, keep your bodyweight and the weight of the bar over your heels. If you shift forward so that your bodyweight and the weight of the bar are over your toes, you will exaggerate the forward lean as you descend. Keep the weight on your heels through the lift.
Keeping the weight on your heels makes it easier to keep your lower leg as close to vertical as possible. You always want to keep the lower leg as close to vertical as you can. If the lower leg moves forward excessively, you place enormous pressure on the tendons and ligaments surrounding your knees. Over time, this will lead to chronic knee problems.
Of course, you cannot keep your lower leg completely vertical when you squat. You should, however, strive to keep the lower leg as close to vertical as possible. It will be difficult and awkward at first. Stay with it, though, it will get easier with every workout.
Maintaining a close-to-vertical lower leg position is one reason why you should not squat on elevated heels. If you wear weightlifting shoes, the shoe will have an “interior” heel built into it. This is fine so long as it is not an unusually high heel. When I refer to “elevated heels” I am talking about putting a barbell plate or a 2x4 under your heels. Squatting on elevated heels makes it impossible to maintain the proper close-to-vertical lower leg position. The elevation of the heels causes the knees to move forward as you descend, and you end up with the lower leg bent forward to an excessive amount at the bottom of the lift.
I know that many people advocate squatting on raised heels, particularly for those who have tight ankles. This advice is WRONG. If your ankles are tight, work on your flexibility. Never use a board under your heels because your ankles are tight – or for any other reason.
Another factor involves lateral displacement of the lower legs. Never allow your knees to buckle in as you descend, or ascend, in the squat. If your knees move in, your stance is wrong, the flare of your feet is wrong, or something else is wrong. Allowing the knees to buckle in is one of the most dangerous things you can do when you squat. It is easy to damage a knee tendon or ligament if you bend your knees inward as you squat under a heavy weight. Even if you avoid acute injury from this form defect, over the long term you will set up a chronic knee problem. Take the time you need to do whatever is necessary to avoid this error, if it is one you are prone to doing.
One way to help avoid the problem of knees buckling is to concentrate on sitting BACK when you squat, and on moving straight up when you ascend. This helps to distribute the load over all of the muscles involved in the movement, and eliminates knee buckling that occurs as a result of having the knees take too much of the stress.
The proper descent in the squat involves the question of SPEED. Most trainees move too quickly when they descend into a squat. Descending too quickly into the bottom position of the squat is one of the most common, and most critical, of training errors. It dramatically reduces the benefits of your squatting. It is also dangerous and will lead to injuries if you keep on doing it.
The squat has you move from a relatively stable starting position to a relatively vulnerable bottom position – a position where your knees, hips and lower back are exposed to large forces. And you are doing this with much more weight on most, perhaps all, other movements.
When you squat, descend at a controlled speed. You do not need to “count the seconds” or adhere to some artificial speed. Simply control the descent. I cannot tell you precisely how long you should take, in seconds, to move from the start of the squat to the bottom position. If I watch you squat, however, I can tell in a flash if you are doing it right. You can determine this just as well as I. You KNOW when you are controlling the descent. You also know when you are dropping and bouncing. And you know if you are going too slow – the sensation is somewhat akin to feeling your way in a dark room. Personally, I take about 3 seconds to descend to parallel in the squat, though I never count the seconds. It just feels right for me.
When you descend at a proper speed, you feel the bar on your back the whole way down. If you descend too quickly, the weight of the bar diminishes during the descent because your body is moving slightly faster than the bar, and then the weight suddenly “catches up” at the bottom of the lift. This is one reason why you need to descend under control. If you do not, the weight will “hit” you at the bottom of the lift and inevitably drive you forward. Allowing a heavy barbell to drive you forward when you are in the bottom position of a squat is an open invitation to knee, hip and lower back problems. Moreover, it means that you are out of position to begin the ascent. What will happen is that you begin to ascend by raising your hips – which only compounds the problems caused by the forward lean.
For the sake of clarity, let me compare the result of a controlled descent to an uncontrolled descent. In the former, the lifter reaches the bottom of the movement in a rock-solid position. His body is positioned exactly where he wants it. His ascent will be perfect because he is starting from a perfect bottom position – i.e., with back flat, lower legs as close to vertical as possible, bodyweight and weight of the bar felt over the center of the heels, head up and jaw parallel to the floor.
In the uncontrolled descent, the lifter reaches the bottom position slightly in advance of the bar, and then the bar catches up with him and knocks him a bit forward. This causes his hips to be positioned a little above where they should be, his shoulders mover down and forward, his bodyweight goes out over his toes, the weight of the bar is felt over his toes, his back bends forward and rounds, his head goes down and he looks at the floor. It will be impossible for him to pull himself back into a proper position. His ascent will be uncontrolled, dangerous, out of the groove, painful and ugly.
A very simple way of explaining the proper speed of movement on the descent is to say, “Use a controlled speed that allows you to stay in the groove at all times without artificially reducing your speed of movement.” Remember, the “groove” is of critical importance in any exercise you do, and is particularly important in a compound, multi-joint exercise performed with a heavy poundage, such as the squat. Always stay in the groove!
10.) The Proper Bottom Position
How low should you squat? There is a very simple rule, but to implement it you will need a careful observer watching you from the side – or use a video camera placed at the side to film your squatting.
The rule is as follows: Squat until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor or until your lower back begins to bend – whichever comes first.
You often read articles where lifters are told to squat to parallel, i.e., to the point where the tops of your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. For many of you, this is excellent advice. For some, however, the parallel position is actually too low for safety. Why ? Because your body structure is such that your lower back rounds forward if you go down to the point where the tops of the thighs are parallel to the floor. If your lower back starts to round at an inch or two above parallel, then stop the movement at that point. You simply cannot go lower without putting your lower back at severe risk of serious injury. This assumes, of course, that you are using the correct stance, bar position, etc. If your form is in a mess, then that alone can account for your lower back rounding before you reach parallel.
Are you “cheating” if you only go to two inches above parallel? No, not at all. You are simply dealing with the individual quirks of your physical structure in a rational and sensible manner. Of course, I am speaking to those of you who cannot go to parallel without rounding the lower back. For the rest of you – those who CAN go to parallel without putting their back at risk – they you ARE cheating if you cut your reps short.
When I talk about “rounding the lower back” I do not mean “leaning forward.” Everyone leans forward when performing a squat. The only way to maintain a vertical torso is to do the squat on your toes, which turns the exercise into a silly isolation movement that will destroy your knees. But leaning forward is different from rounding the back. A moderate forward lean is a necessity AS LONG AS THE SPINE IS STRAIGHT. If there is a straight line from shoulder to hip, things are fine. However, if there is a curve from shoulder to hip, then there is a problem. When I speak of “rounding the back” I am talking about a curve in the spine.
Some individuals can go BELOW parallel without rounding their lower backs. However, I would urge even these lifters to go no further than parallel. If you stop at parallel you are allowing a margin of error. If you go lower, you lose the margin. If you lose the groove with a heavy weight on your shoulders, and your thighs are below the parallel position, the results are not going to be pretty. Always stop at parallel even if you can go lower without rounding the back.
Parallel is actually quite low compared to the depth to which most people squat. the majority of those who squat do a one-third movement. They usually stop at the point where there begins to be a significant degree of rotation around the hip joint. This is usually the result of placing the bar too high on the shoulders, raising the heels, or looking down during the descent. If you do any (or all) of these things, then you transfer the weight of the bar from over your heels to your toes, and consequently, lean forward excessively as you descend. The people who always cut their squats short usually do so because errors in their technique have caused them to tip forward and they are afraid they will fall forward if they go lower.
Many coaches allow lifters to do partial squats because they don’t know how to teach the exercise and are concerned that the lifter will “pull something” if he squats to parallel. This is the other side of the problem detailed in the preceding paragraph. It all goes back to improper technique. If the coaches in question knew how to squat, and how to teach others to squat, they wouldn’t tolerate the one-third reps for a minute!
As already noted, you need to have someone watch you and tell you if your lower back is rounding as you approach the parallel position. You also need to have someone watch your thighs to tell you if you have reached parallel. You cannot judge these things for yourself, nor can you judge them by squatting in front of a mirror. Depth and back rounding can only be judged from the side. Have someone else do it for you. Alternatively, use a video camera to film your squats from the side. Set the camera so that it is at the same height as your thighs when you reach parallel. If the camera is positioned too high or too low, the picture will be distorted. The same holds true of the observer who watches from the side. The observer’s head should be at the same level as the tops of your thighs at the parallel position, with his jaw parallel to the floor.
Some lifters squat while straddling a bench or box, so they know when they reach the bottom position. Don’t copy them. If you do bench squats and hit the bench hard, you will hurt your lower back because you have jammed it between a heavy moving weight and a rigid object. While that problem is removed if a cardboard box is used, that type of box can cause other problems. Trainees tend to “feel” backwards with their butts as they are about to touch the cardboard box. This causes excessive forward lean and throws the squatter out of position. Learn to hit the proper depth without any aids. All it requires is practice and patience.
11.) The Proper Ascent
As you DESCEND in the squat you should keep your bodyweight and the weight of the bar on the center of the heels. Why? Because this is where the weight must be felt to be centered as you ASCEND. If you keep the weight on your toes on the way down, you will have to rock backwards to get the weight over the center of your heels as you go up – an almost impossible task, a waste of energy and an excellent way to hurt yourself.
When you reach the correct bottom position of the squat, drive up HARD immediately. Do not pause at the bottom position. Hit the bottom position and start right back up without any hesitation or delay.
Drive UP rather than forward. If you watch a good squatter from the side, you will see that the bar moves straight up. A poor lifter will tilt forward during the ascent, causing the bar to move horizontally as well as vertically.
Never start the ascent by raising your hips. If you begin by raising your hips, you will exaggerate your forward bend. You will reach the midpoint of the lift with your legs almost straight and your back bent far forward, and will either miss the lift or have to do an ugly (and potentially dangerous) good morning to finish the movement.
Driving from your heels makes it much more difficult to ascend by raising your hips. In contrast, if the weight of the bar is felt over your toes and you drive through your toes, then it is almost impossible NOT to ascend by raising your hips. Driving through the heels keeps your entire body in position and helps to use the coordinated strength of all of the muscle groups involved in the squat. Driving through the toes takes you out of the groove and turns the exercise into one that stresses the lower back.
As you reach the top third of the movement, drive your hips forward. This pulls you up and into the proper finishing position – back straight and bar over your heels. If you miss the hip drive, you end up leaning forward at the end of the lift.
12.) Learn to be Aggressive!
Poor squatters are timid and tentative. A good squatter attacks the bar when he squats. I don’t mean that he moves quickly, that he bounces up and down, or that he loses control when he lifts. A good squatter lifts with ferocious, white-hot concentration, a total absence of fear, tremendous intensity, and a burning determination to complete every rep that he is scheduled to perform.
Some readers complain that they feel they are being “crushed” as they squat. As a result, they either squat with light poundages, switch to inferior exercises, or cut their range of movement way down. This is a mistake.
I will let you in on a big secret. A heavy squat makes ANYONE feel like he is being crushed. A 500-lb. squatter feels just the same – “Wow, that’s heavy!” – as does the novice struggling under the 90-lb. bar or the intermediate who can’t get over the 250 mark because the bar “feels too heavy.”
The difference between a good squatter and a poor one is two-fold. First, the good lifter uses proper technique. This allows him to control the weight and stay in the groove at all times. When you are properly positioned, it is much easier to fight to fight a heavy weight than when it has pushed you out of the groove. In fact, many lifters cannot squat heavy solely because poor technique causes them to lean forward as they descend, and as a result, they naturally feel that they are being “crushed.”
The second difference between a good squatter and a bad squatter has to do with mental attitude. The good squatter is TOUGH. He knows that the lift will feel heavy, he knows it will hurt, he knows the bar will feel like it is crushing him – but he doesn’t care. He is not going to let a minor thing like discomfort keep him from doing what he desires to do. In contrast, the poor squatter feels the bar on his back, panics, and convinces himself he cannot lift it. The good squatter uses to his advantage the sense of being “crushed.” He reacts by driving upward as hard and forcefully as possible. The poor squatter lets the feeling overwhelm him.
I have a personal theory that the sense of being “crushed” by a heavy weight is a GOOD thing – a good thing when you squat, a good thing when you bench, and a good thing in any other heavy exercise. I believe that the fear of being crushed will trigger a harder muscular contraction solely as a result of your body’s reaction to what is perceived as a dangerous situation. Remember, the mind, body and emotions are linked in ways that science can barely begin to unravel. If the bar feels heavy when you squat, WELCOME that feeling and use it to tap into some extra power. Use your emotions to help you, not hold you back.
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- Hepburn Speaks - Ray Beck (1954)
- The Russian Pressing Style - Bob Hoffman
- High Rep Training - Dick Conner & Dave Wedding
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- The Back, Part Four - Dominic Juliano
- The Back, Part Three - Ron Lacy
- The Back, Part Two - John Grimek
- The Back, Part One - Samuel Homola
- Hermann Goerner - Charles A. Smith
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- Should You Train Heavy - John C. Grimek
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