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How to Squat, Squat Training Workouts

How to Squat

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Squats (along with deadlifts) is one of the best exercises (compound, ground-based movements) that you can include in your strength program.  If done right, there are many benefits of the squats.

Types of Squats

  • Back Squat

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  • Box Squat

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  • Powerlifting Squat

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  • Zercher Squat

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  • Goblet Squat

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  • Overhead Squats

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How to Load the Squat

A barbell can be loaded with:

  • straight weight (barbell + olympic weights)
  • chains
  • elastic bands

Odd objects can also be used for squats:

  • sandbags
  • kegs
  • kettlebells
  • rocks

Odd objects can be held in different positions when you squat with them:

  • shouldered
  • bear hug
  • overhead
  • front racked
  • zercher

Squat Benefits:

  • build strength and enhance power potential
  • add massive lower body muscle
  • develop core strength and rigidity
  • injury prevention
  • knee tracking, stability
  • glute, quad, hamstring activation
  • ankle mobility (full back squats)
  • hip mobility (box squats)
  • confidence

How to Squat:

High Bar Back Squats

  1. Setup under the center of the bar with it resting on your upper traps
  2. Place your hands wide on the bar, squeeze your back tight as you pull your hands toward the center as far as you can
  3. Lock hands on bar with very tight grip
  4. Rotate elbows down (facing the ground) and straighten the wrists
  5. Take a deep breath, hold it
  6. Unrack bar and step backward, getting into your stance with as minimal steps as possible
  7. Feet should be approximately shoulder width apart with toes pointed outward at a comfortable angle for your body type, typically any where from 10 – 45 degree angle
  8. Let air out, and reset air pulling chest upward and ensuring elbows are facing down, head should remain forward to slightly up
  9. With weight on the middle of your feet (not toes) shift hips backward
  10. As the hips move backward, drop down into the hole maintaining an upright torso position tracking the knees over your toes (imagine there is a string attached to your chest keeping it up and facing forward)
  11. Descend until you reach the bottom position (as far as you can go)
  12. Still holding your air, drive upward out of the hole locking the hips forward at the peak with a powerful glute contraction.
  13. Repeat steps 4-12.

Powerlifting Squats

  1. Setup under the center of the bar with it resting on your lower traps
  2. Place your hands wide on the bar, squeeze your back tight as you pull your hands toward the center as far as you can
  3. Lock hands on bar with very tight grip
  4. Rotate elbows down (facing the ground) and straighten the wrists
  5. Take a deep breath, hold it
  6. Unrack bar and step backward, getting into your stance with as minimal steps as possible
  7. Feet should be approximately 1 to 2 foot wider than shoulder width apart with toes pointed outward at a comfortable angle for your body type, typically any where from 10 – 45 degree angle
  8. Let air out, and reset air pulling chest upward and ensuring elbows are facing down, head should remain forward to slightly up
  9. With weight on the middle of your feet (not toes) shift hips backward
  10. As the hips move backward, knees are forced outward, opening the hips with the feeling of “spreading the floor”.
  11. Drop down into the hole maintaining an upright torso position tracking the knees over your toes and without the knees translating forward
  12. Imagine there is a string attached to your chest keeping it up and facing forward
  13. Descend until you reach a parallel or slightly below bottom position
  14. Still holding your air, drive upward out of the hole locking the hips forward at the peak with a powerful glute contraction.
  15. Repeat steps 5-14.

Squat Considerations:

  1. I am Falling Forward in the Hole
    1. Technique – Keep the elbows facing downward, the chest up and don’t let your air out
    2. Strength – incorporate more 45 degree back extensions, good mornings (with various bars), kb pullthroughs, pull-ups, bottoms up squats or chain suspended squats,
  2. I Get Stuck in the Hole
    1. Technique – Don’t let the weight shift, make sure it is centered in the middle of your foot, band resisted squats, pause squats, kb front squats
    2. Strength – incorporate more full range back squats, improve ankle mobility, lunge variations
  3. I Can’t Get Low Enough
    1. Technique – for back squats place with the foot position, slightly wider or narrower to find your particular groove, try different bar positions on your back as well
    2. Mobility – improve ankle, hip and upper back mobility

Footwear

Footwear is very dependent upon the type of squats you’re going to be doing.  When doing high bar back squats a great degree of ankle, knee and hip flexion is required.  Powerlifting squats are done to a box typically at parallel (where the lifter’s quads hit a spot where they are parallel to the floor or the hip to be lower than the knee).

Converse Shoes

Preferred for powerlifting box squats because the sole is flat and they provide slight stability to the ankle.

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Weightlifting Shoes

Due to the heel allowing a deeper squat (removing the “lack” of ankle mobility issue to hit depth), weightlifting shoes are preferred for high bar back squats.  Bowling shoes can also be substituted as a cheaper alternative.

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Grip Considerations

Lifters always miss the important part of grip during a squat.  In fact, most times they just let the bar “rest” in their hands due to flexibility issues (of the wrist, elbows, shoulder or upper back) or just bad technique.

You MUST squeeze the hell out of the bar, not only for safety reasons, when the weight gets heavy, but also it allows you to squat more weight.  Tension created in the hands carries across the arms to the shoulders into the upper back.  In fact, Stuart Mcgill has studied the fact that tension created in the upper back, specifically the lats during the squat, can provide a 30-50 lb carryover to the load.  Just by increasing your tension!  It all starts in the hands.

Bar Placement

Low Bar Placement

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Typically used for powerlifting squats.  The goal is to maximize your leverages, so the closer you can get the load to your own center of gravity (COG) and minimize the moment arm (distance from the bar to your hips (ie. the fulcrum), the more weight you can lift.

High Bar Placement

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Because of the up/down bar path and upright torso positioning of a typical high bar back squat a high bar position is preferred.  This not only allows the lifter to move their hands in and elbows down, tightening up the upper back (and creating more tension) but also keeps the torso more upright.  If the bar was lower, the lifter would have a great tendency to fall forward in the hole.

Supplemental Exercises

ABDuction Band Squats

Good Mornings

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Sample Lower Body Training Workouts

Sample Workout 1

Activation
Foam Marching
High Hurdles
Lunges

Warmup
Jump Rope
Pull-ups
Banded Good Mornings with Iron Cross

Workout
1) Back Squats, 4×8
2a) RDL’s, 3×12
2b) DB Military Press, 3×10
3a) Bulgarian Split Squats, 2×20
3b) Push-up Pluses

Rehab
Hip Mobility
Glute Activation

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Sample Workout 2

Soft-Tissue
Foam Roller
Lacrosse Ball

General Warm-up
Sled Drags – 200 yards forward, with chest presses
Sled Drags – 200 yards backward, with rows and external rotations
Kettlebell Combo – swing to squat to overhead press

Specific Warm-up
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises

Workout

Primary Movement
Yoke Bar Squats
Supersetted with Jump Stretch band tricep extensions

2a) One Leg Squats to Bench
2b) Power Wheel Lying Leg Curls

3a) Rope Climbs
3b) Hindu Push-ups

4) Shrugs-o-Death
Shrug for 10 seconds
Hold for 10 seconds
Shrug for 10 seconds
Hold for 10 seconds
Keep Repeating until death

5) Ab Roller – 3×10

Cool Down
Stretching
Foam Roller
Hip Stretches
Lacrosse Ball

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Cleaning Up Your Powerlifting Squat

“Now, you may have heard from some sissy wearing spandex that the box squat is dangerous. When someone talks about the dangers of box squatting, it’s apparent they simply don’t know how to perform the lift correctly.” Dave Tate

Barbell back squats are perhaps the best exercise for all around strength and size development. Like the deadlift, the back squat builds you from the ground up. Take a tip from the old timers who did nothing but squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses: these three lifts alone will make you a rampaging beast!

Unfortunately, the back squat is often met with bad press. Lifters complain of sore knees, bad backs, kinked necks, and even sore shoulders.

Squat Form

It all starts with your form. Here is my form with a close stance high bar squat.

My high bar squat.

Many people can handle this type of squatting without any knee trouble. Heck, look at all the successful Olympic lifters! If you can squat this way without pain, then by all means continue. However, if you are powerlifting it makes no sense to squat this way.   It is specific to athletes and Olympic lifters.

Enter the powerlifting squat.

If you want a big total, you need to incorporate more of the muscles of the hips, glutes, hamstrings, and low back. Lets face it-the hips are a powerful ally in the squat war.

Cleaning up the squat

My first stop was www.elitefts.com where the big boys play. Dave Tate and Co. are some bad muthas when it comes to totaling big. They are the epitome of WIDE squatting. Elite Fitness has some of the very best articles on the net covering all aspects of strength. What I find to be particularly useful for my bruised ego are the squatting articles. I read and re-read them about 20 times. Each time I read them, I took a little more information and put it to work for me. I also tweaked some things along the way.

So what is good squat form? I think Quest Nutrition sponsors the greatest collection squat technicians in the WORLD. While scouring the net for squat pictures, I happened upon www.quest-nutrition.com. These guys are perfect squatters. As a matter of fact-that must be a criteria for getting Quest to sponsor you!

Not sure exactly who this is, but his form is impeccable. Straight back, wide stance, deep as hell, and a ton of weight.

Wade Hooper. Wade has won the IPF World’s, USAPL Nationals, and has a WPO title belt. Wade has done it all in IPF legal gear to boot. Wade knows SQUAT! Take a look at his feet-they are pointing almost completely forward.

Another man that needs no introduction, this is Mike Mastrean. A 198-pound Superman. Mike shows us perfect, ass-to-the-basement form each and every time he steps onto the platform. Mike has even been to my place of work for powerlifting meets.

As you can see, these fellas squat WIDE, but they don’t squat super wide. This is the happy medium that allows one to sink to USAPL depths and lift WPO weights. This, IMO, is the perfect squat stance.

Now that we know what it looks like, it is time to break it down into a step-by-step set of movements. You will need to practice it again and again. You will need to re-learn everything you know. And, if you are like me, you will need to take a few steps back in order to make a giant leap forward.

Part 1-Setting up to get down

(Authors Warning: You are about to see pictures of squat form. In order to emphasize proper form, I will have to wear my “John MacEnroe” shorts. If you have a weak stomach you may need a barf bag or some Pepto. You have been warned.)

First thing is first. Get under the damn bar! Get a bar position that is comfortable to you-most likely that will be somewhere between a high bar and a very low bar position. I tend to set mine just a tad lower then my traps. There is a little groove there that allows the bar to sit nicely.

My bar position. Sorry for the blurry picture!

After you get the bar set where you like it, it is time to position your hands. For people having trouble with their shoulders and biceps during a squat, I suggest you get used to having them out by the collars. This allows me to push against the collars and keep my upper back tight as seen in the above photo. I also eliminated the upper body compression by taking out my grip. With my bad shoulder, this has made squatting not as painful.

Set-up. Arching out and stepping back.

Once you are set under the bar, drive your head back into it, take a breath, and arch the bar out of the pins.

Sliding into position. Back is still tight, breath is held. This is a 2-3 step movement at best.

Don’t play around on the platform. Step back and set-up. The longer you fidget on the platform, the more it zaps your core strength. Practice the set-up until it becomes second nature and you don’t even need to look down for it.

Even while standing in the set-up, you should be driving out on your knees, which will cause tremendous pressure in your hips. You should also be spreading the floor apart with your feet and pushing out on the sides of your shoes, as seen above. Also, the back remains in a tight arch position. DO NOT get loose!

Once you are set-up, you are ready to start your descent into the hole. Take another deep breath of air into the belly and push it hard into your belt. Unlock the hips and sit BACK with the weight, keeping the back TIGHT. Again, you should be spreading the floor and pushing the knees out. Your weight should be more towards your heels as you lower.

Head up, hips back, knees out, spread the floor. Notice closely the belly full of air!


Side view of the same thing. Hips shooting back as I descend into the hole.


At this point there is a lot to concentrate on. Back is staying tight as you drive the knees out and spread the floor hard with the feet. Head is driven into the bar. Continue to sit back as far as you can before you unlock the knees to hit depth. You are still holding your breath. Get loose here, and you might as well kiss your squat good bye!

Continue to control yourself down into the hole. As you approach depth, you should feel like a compressed spring. Even with a light weight, I feel tremendous pressure building throughout my body.

In the hole and thinking one thing: EXPLODE BABY!

This is the bottom position. In order to get whites, I would need to go an inch or so lower. However, even with 225, I cannot reach depth. It takes a good 300 or more RAW to get my depth with this wide stance.

Study the form from the ground up. Feet are positioned well and you can tell I am pushing out on the sides of my feet and spreading the floor. Knees are opened and driving out. Belly is full of air and pushed into my belt (yes, there is a belt in there!). Back is tight and arched. Head is up and driving back into the bar. Eyes are to the sky. I am in the launch position awaiting the take off!

Let’s look at a quick comparison of me and Hooper:

NOT BAD!

From here, it all gets simple. Drive into the bar, blast out on the knees, spread the floor, and feel the hips, hams, and glutes drive you to lockout.

If you have a video camera-great. Use it to work on your form. If you don’t’ have a camera, get a competent and brutally honest spotter. They will help to dial in your form as you are actually squatting.

Driving to lockout. Reverse the descent, stay tight, and jam the gears!

As you can see, it is pretty damn simple. However, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Being the assistant coach of a powerlifting team, I get to see just about everything wrong you can do. For the sake of shortening this article, I will touch upon a few of the more prominent things that squatters do to shorten their careers.

The knock-kneed squatter

This is a common problem among squatters. The reason for this is the stronger quadriceps muscles take over for the weaker hips. The lifter’s hips are so weak that he/she cannot continue to force them out on the drive up, so the quads overcompensate.

Knock-kneed. The knees are coming in to take over for the weak hips.

Most times this knocking of the knees is harmless. However, if done too often and with too much weight, the lifter can begin to stress the ligaments of the knee and cause damage to the knee structure. Also, it eliminates how much weight you can handle, and it just looks bad!

The best way to defeat this is to swallow the pride, lower the weight, and concentrate on driving the knees out hard. Also, wrapping a mini band around the knees and concentrating on keeping it taut will help. Whatever method you choose, you need to beat this if you want to squat big weights!

The Hunch Back of Notre Dame squatter

We have all seen that squatter. Hell, I used to be that squatter! He descends with beauty into the hole, then loses his arch and shoots his hips up first. This leads to a bowing of the lower back and bar shooting out of the groove. Not only is this ugly and a biomechanics nightmare, it is very dangerous as well. In my last article about deadlifting I spoke about bowed back versus arched back lifting and the load distribution. It is the same on the squat. Bowed backs = injured backs.

Hips shooting up first, back bowed over, head down, and bar out of the groove.

This is something that I advise you fix immediately. I didn’t, and I eventually hurt my back to the point of it being painful down both legs. Cleaning up my form, strengthening my back, and going to the chiropractor saved my lifting.

To fix this, you need to focus on keeping a tight arch all the way through the movement. If you get loose at the bottom and lose it, then you need to drive back on the bar and get it back. I have seen lifters at the gym hunched over with 700. It is awful and it looks like they are going to split in 2 pieces. Squatting like this will ALWAYS lead to injury. Maybe not soon, but certainly later.

Strengthen the back through arched back good mornings and reverse hypers. Lower the squat weight until you can maintain an arch all the way through the movement.

Knees forward squatter

This is the guy that seems like he is going to descend nicely. He sits back well, has a good arch, and stays tight. However, as he nears the hole, he fears sitting back and shoots forward. This takes the bar out of the groove, puts a lot of pressure on the knees, and screws the ascent with the weight.

Good intentions gone bad.

A good way to fix this is to put the lifter on a box with a light weight. Assure them through proper form and good spotting that they wont fall backwards. If necessary, put them in a slightly heeled boot or shoe for some time, allowing them to sit back more comfortably. Once they get it down, switch back to the flat shoe.

Another way is to have them hold onto the cage as they lower themselves. This lets them get a feel for the groove of the squat.

Box Squats

What squatting article would be complete without a discussion about box squats. Personally, I love them. Everyone in the gym does them and we have had 0 injuries form them. The head coach has had them box squatting now for 7 years with no injuries. Can you get injured from box squatting? Sure. You can get injured from anything if you do it negligently.

So how does one do the box squat? Well, the box squat is done exactly like the regular back squat. The form stays exactly the same! The only difference is you stop and pause on a box, breaking up the eccentric/concentric chain. The box squat allows you to relax, then re-flex the hips. This builds tremendous strength in the hips that benefits both the squat and the deadlift.

Reasons for injuries on the box are numerous. Getting loose on the box, that is, losing your arch, can cause an injury. The old style of box squats had the lifter rocking. This is a big no-no as it cause you to lose your arch and enforces bad form. Do you rock when you do back squats? NO! So why rock when you do a box squat???

Slamming onto the box will cause compression injuries. Use a weight you can handle, and control it throughout the movement. Don’t sit so far back that you lose it and plop onto the box. If you cannot control it on a deep box, then start high and work your way down.

Preparing to box squat. Same form, same style. Just another day at the office.


Lowering down to the box. Tight back, sitting back, driving out.


On the box. Back is tight, form is on. Everything remains the same. From the poor picture quality it looks like my head is down-I can assure you it isn’t. Keep the head driving into the bar!


Driving up off the box. Head back into the bar, strong tight back. Notice I am pushing out on my shoes and spreading the floor.

Now let’s look at the side view of the same:

Looking that sexy is not a requirement!

Gear

For the sake of a shorter article, I will only talk about the basics. Get a good powerlifting belt. A nice leather one will last forever if you treat it right. Whether you have a lever or a pronged buckle is up to you. I prefer the buckle. The belt will allow you to push air into your belly and drive into the belt. This will keep you tight. If haven’t tried squatting this way-try it! It makes your mid section like an oak tree.

Shoes. Now, I know every great squatter out there talks about a certain shoe as being the best. Perhaps the best advice about squat shoes came from Louie Simmons: “Don’t have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.”

Of course, there are those people out there who make a living off of selling their brand of equipment. They will tell you that they sell the best squat shoe on the market. Unless you are handling 1000-pounds on a regular basis, I would not get concerned about spending $100 on a pair of shoes. You can spend that money on something else that will help your total far better then a pair of shoes! I find I like Chuck Taylors. They are cheap, and they last a long time. I also have a nice cheap pair of Nikes I got at a Finish Line. They have a flat sole and are a little stiffer then the Chucks. Experiment and find out what works for you.

I will say this. I used a pair of Safe SST Pro Series ($160) for my squat workout a few weeks back. The head coach had a pair, so I tried them. My hips and glutes did not get half the workout they get in the flat-soled shoes. Call me crazy, but a $30 pair of Chucks works just fine.

Conclusion

I hope you have learned something in this long-winded article!

Everything I have talked about works. Incorporating it just might lead you to the promise land of BIG SQUATS! Good luck and good lifting.

Until next time: LIVESTRONG!

Rick Walker, CSCS