“There is never an absolute answer to everything, except of course that you have to do your squats.” – Mark Rippetoe
The one exercise that we all know and love is truly the foundation of any strength and fitness conditioning program. Today there is enough equipment and variations to have you perform a different set of squats every day for a year. Depending on your sport, your goals, and who you get your information from there is a lot of terrific and some questionable advice when it comes to squatting. Today let’s explore 5 ways you can boost your squat and stay strong and healthy in the process.
- Learn how to sit into the squat
Many individuals are familiar with the cue to “sit back” into a squat. This cue is problematic because it causes an anterior pelvic tilt that will cause the athlete to experience a rounding of the low back as they get deeper into a squat, commonly referred to as a butt wink. The goal should be to maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire squat.
Practice sitting into a squat by initiating the movement at the hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously. This allows you to keep an upright torso as you lower your body straight down into the squat. Put a stool, box, or medicine ball at a height close to the bottom depth of your squat. Practice lowering to this height and stay engaged with a neutral spine. Use a video camera or grab a friend to learn at what point in the squat your low back starts to round.
- The truth about “knees out”
The Vagus Knee fault is term used for a lifters knee’s tracking inside the foot, essentially “caving in” during a squat. This is generally due to weakness or an inability to activate the lateral hip rotators and abductors. To correct this fault practice your squat with a mini band wrapped around your knees so you have to actively drive your knees out against the tension of the band. Another correction would be to practice tempo or pause squats that allow your body to develop more muscle memory in these positions.
Keep in mind that just because you don’t want the knees to cave inside the feet doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to drive the knees far out past your feet either. For most individuals the knee and thigh should stay aligned with the foot throughout the movement. By driving the knees out too far in the bottom of a squat you will increase risk of injury as well.
There is some natural flexion of the knee when you squat, but we don’t want wide variance of the knee during a squat, it should be small. Large movements are a weakness that needs corrected.
- Amplify the signal
Learning how to breathe properly during a squat can provide a tremendous advantage to your strength and stability. Inhale fully into the stomach creating intra-abdominal pressure before initiating any heavy lift. This creates a solid wall of pressure around the internal organs, chest, and of course the spine allowing you to keep proper form under heavy loads where you may lose your position if not properly braced.
The other benefit of creating this pressure is that amplifies the signals from your brain telling your muscles to contract. This might just give you the little extra push you need to stand up that weight.
- Learn how to get under the bar
One of the biggest areas for rapid improvement in the squat come from approaching it as a full body exercise. The legs are the primary drivers of the squat movement, but by activating your your core and upper body properly you will be able to generate significantly more power.
One of the most common reasons for missing a rep in the squat is failing to keep a strong upright torso position. One way to prevent this is to step under the bar like you mean business. As you step under the weight and find the proper position across your traps stand up powerfully under the weight. Pull the bar against your body as if you were trying to wrap it around you like a blanket. This will help you activate your lats, a key factor in staying strong throughout the movement. Finally as you lower into the bottom of your squat squeeze the barbell as if you were trying to crush it in your hands.
- Power through your sticking point
At first thought you might think that the sticking point (the hardest part of the lift, slowest point of acceleration) would be in the very bottom of the squat but that is not actually the case. The sticking point of the movement is generally encountered as you try to stand up the weight but can’t seem to push through. That’s because your body is at a point where the muscles are at their lowest possible capacity to generate force. At the bottom of the squat the muscles are fully stretched and able to generate “elastic” energy. As you start to stand the stretch is released. The sticking point occurs because the muscles are not at an optimal stretch that generates passive energy but they have not fully returned to a position where they are able to generate enough active tension to overcome the load.
If you find yourself hitting a sticking point in your squats you can train your muscles to become stronger at this particular range of motion. Practice pause squats where you hold in this challenging position for a few seconds. If you still find yourself struggling with the sticking point focus on generating more speed out of the bottom of your squat. Often times this momentum can carry you through the sticking. Make sure the bar keeps moving.