Squatting is controversial. All Barbell movements are debated, but the squat tops the list. People either hate it or love it. To some, it's the king of exercises. To others, it makes you slow and hurt. There is no in-between.
No matter where you stand, squatting is complex. Here are several factors that go into a squat: head position, stance width, depth, breathing, the purpose of squatting, injury risk, and the impact on performance. Some people think everyone should squat. Others think nobody should. Like most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Whether you like it or not, you need to learn to squat. You squat hundreds of times every day, so it's important to do it right.
Squatting is important. But setting rules for the squat doesn't help anyone. Everyone is unique, and every squat looks different. A different squat is not wrong, trying to fit everyone in the same technical box is. That's how people get hurt. And that's one reason the squat gets blamed for everything.
Rules aren't bad, but you have to use your brain. If you think everyone should squat the same, you're wrong. The 6'10" basketball player's squat is not going to look like the 5'1" softball player's squat. And it shouldn't. They're different people, and their movement will be different.
You can, however, follow guidelines. You need things to think about to squat well. Winging it under the Barbell is a bad idea. You can sure try it, but it won't work for long. Squat with purpose.
Here is how you should squat, from head-to-toe. These are tips, not laws.
Keep your eyes somewhere in the middle. Look forward, slightly up, or slightly down. Keep your head back into the Barbell. This is important later.
Use a lower-bar position, putting the Barbell right under the spine of the scapula. Most people aren't built for the high-bar squat. The high-bar squat is taught by default in every weight room. Don't force square pegs in round holes just because you saw it on the internet or some guy at the gym told you to do it. Watch people move. Think for yourself.
Grip the Barbell with your hands as close together as possible. You can put your thumbs over the bar. This stabilizes your upper back and secures the Barbell. You do not want an un-stable upper back under heavy weight. You'll round forward and the Barbell will pancake you against the floor.
Center the Barbell on the middle of your back. Take your time and get this right.
Keep your elbows down and pull the bar into your back. The Barbell should not move.
Push your butt out to slightly arch your back. An extended spine is stronger than a flexed one. You don't want 400 pounds on top of a rounded spine. That is a recipe for disaster. You might get away with it a few times, but it's better not to risk it.
Take a breath in, starting through your nose and finishing through your mouth. Breath in so your stomach goes out. Especially the lower part. Hold it. Your breath stabilizes your torso.
Un-rack the Barbell with both feet. Do not step under the bar with a staggered stance. That is lazy and dangerous. Lazy habits get you hurt. Un-racking the Barbell is your first rep.
Take two steps back. Squat close to the rack. The more steps you take, the more energy you waste and danger you bring into play. You will have heavy weight on the bar, so don't go for a stroll before you squat. Set up and go.
To start squatting, push your butt back. Pretend like you're sitting on a chair. You don't sit straight down on a chair; you sit back and down to it. Squatting is not an up and down movement. It's a back and out movement. Your hips should hinge back and through. Your knees should go out, tracking over your small toes. Always squat back.
As you squat, keep your chest up and out. You don't want a vertical chest. You want a stable torso–one that doesn't flex or extend during the rep. Keeping your chest up and out stabilizes your torso.
Push your knees out as you squat. This engages the hip and uses the optimal muscles. And your knees stay back so you can sit into the squat. Your knees can go forward, but that's not optimal. Forward knees wear them out. It's better to squat with them close to vertical.
Keep your weight on the outside of your feet. Knees out, weight out. The pressure should be in the middle and back of your feet. Don't let your weight shift towards your toes.
Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Depth is highly debated. But you know good and bad depth when you see it. Walk into your local gym and you'll see plenty of bad depth.
At the bottom, your back should look the same as it did at the top-slightly extended and stable. Your chest will lean forward, and that's okay. Your hips should not tuck under or "wink." This is a dangerous energy leak. Remember, an extended spine is more stable than a flexed one. You do not want your back changing positions as you squat. No flexing, extending, or winking allowed.
To stand, push your tail bone up without letting your chest fall. This is where keeping your chest up and out is crucial. The last thing you want is your hips rising and chest falling, or vice versa.
If your program calls for it, reset, take a breath, and squat again. Don't rush through your reps. Every single rep is important. Do them right.
When you finish your set, rack the Barbell with both feet. Put the Barbell back in the rack like you took it out. Do not lean forward or use a staggered stance. That is lazy. Use both feet.
These are a few things to think about, and I'm sure there are more.
As you can see, squatting is not simple. It is important, but not easy. Walk into your neighborhood globo-gym and you'll see awful squatting. Don't follow that example.
Learn to squat well. Think about how many times you squat every day. It's important to get it right.
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