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Tip #1: The set-up.
Tip #1: The set-up.
The set-up for the squat is really important. First of all, you want to make sure you're in a nice, stable position because the squat is all about stability.
(I like to keep this the same with whatever type of squat I'm doing, even though there's a huge amount of variants)
Then, you want to have your hands placed in the same spot on the bar and get a full grip on that barbell, since I'm not really a big fan of a finger grip or a false grip.
Keep the bar nice and high and from there, make sure you're pulling down on that bar and get yourself under it, putting the barbell on your traps and pointing your elbows down to have a nice, solid stance.
From there, we'll be stepping out of the rack, placing both feet under the bar since this is a lot more stable and you get into a good pattern of how to do it.
So pick up the barbell, take two steps back, and place your feet at shoulder width or slightly above shoulder width while slightly turning them outwards.
Tip #2: The eccentric phase.
Once we've got our stance right and we've taken the bar out of the rack, we're ready to squat.
First of all, we're going to break down the eccentric phase, which is the part in which we bring the bar down into the bottom of the squat, and then the concentric phase, where we're firing back into the standing position.
To start with the eccentric phase, you want to follow a couple of simple cues to start your squat in the right way:
- Push your knees out.
- From there, you must have your feet in the normal stance we mentioned earlier, take a nice deep breath, push that air down into your belly and push out against the belt if you're using one (if not, just hold your core nice & tight).
- Pull the bar as hard as you can onto your back as if you were trying to bend the bar over your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointing back towards your back pockets to make sure your forearm angle matches that of your torso as you're coming out of the squat.
- Then, we're looking to hip hinge, pushing the hips back and then straight away forcing the knees out. This is incredibly important if you want to descend to the bottom, otherwise, you'll end up in a "forward" squat position which is something very common amongst novice lifters.
- Since we're using a high bar, we have to work extra hard in maintaining that upright posture, which is why we're keeping our chest up, our lats nice & tight, and pushing our knees out all the way down to the descend.
Tip #3: The concentric phase.
Alright, so we're halfway there! We're down at the bottom of the squat now, we've built a lot of tension up by going nice and tight, and we're ready to explode up.
From here, it's all about maintaining that tightness again, holding the same upright position we had in the eccentric phase.
One of the big cues I like to use here is "shoulders first", in order to make you think about moving them upwards and back and prevent your hips from shooting forward. Also, we want to keep forcing those knees out so we don't get them drifting in too much.
It seems like a very simple movement, but what you do not want is falling into that squat you see a lot of people do, where their hips will shoot first and then their shoulders will follow.
Also, a good little tip here if you're struggling with this movement, is trying to do some "pause squats". This means taking a lighter weight, staying nice & tight in that position at the bottom of the squat, holding for 3-5 seconds, and then firing back up.
This helps you slow down the movement a lot and makes the loads more manageable, which means you can focus on your form going up and down.
Tip #4: Depth.
A common question I get with squats is "How deep should I go?".
There's a lot of misinformation out there, but with my guys, I'll get them squatting to a depth they're comfortable with. Obviously, you want to avoid squatting to a position you're not comfortable with or your body won't allow you to get into.
Overall, the majority of us are looking for a parallel squat, which is the kind of powerlifting stand and a good standard to go to. By parallel, I mean the hip crease is in line or slightly below the knee.
Have in mind that in order to get to that position, you need to have correct mobility in your ankles, knees, and hip. For that, there are a couple of drills you can do:
Personally, when I'm warming up, I'll go into a goblet squat to start with 10 reps. This allows you to squat deeper because the dumbbell is in front of you and is held nice & high.
From there, I'll go into a hip circle, bringing the knee back, up, out, and round, doing big circles. And then, I'll do 10 reps of mountain climbers on each side.
After 2 or 3 rounds of these, I find myself sweating, warmed up, and ready to go.
Tip #5: Ankle range.
Another limiting factor to your squat depth is the ankle range, meaning your range of motion in the ankle.
Luckily for me, I've got quite mobile ankles and I can get into a nice squat position. But if you don't, you might need to work on it and there's a couple of things you can do:
One of them might be getting the correct set of weightlifting shoes, since the whole point of these is to give you some artificial range at the ankles by having that extra heel.
You might see some people squatting with a flat shoe, but I prefer to use a heeled shoe since I'm going from a high bar position, staying nice and upright, dropping very low, and I need that ankle range.
Tip #6: High bar vs low bar.
So now, onto the age-old question of high bar squatting vs low bar squatting!
I actually don't mind either one, but I prefer using a high bar because that's the way I learned it when I was a former rugby player, and I also think that high bar squat gives a little more carryover to other events.
Still, the low bar squat has its benefits. The further you move the bar down your back, the more you're going to be moving over your hip, and combining an upfront position with a low bar squat can be devastatingly good.
For example, look at some of the Ukrainian lifters in the IPF, they're able to perform a squat very very well.
So it's definitely an option if you're looking to go down the powerlifting route, but just because you're using a low bar squat doesn't mean you need to go to a traditional wide stance "powerlifting squat".
I think it shifts the hips far too back, and even though you could talk about leverages, I just don't feel it's an efficient way of squatting. Instead, a more upright position, it's a lot easier for people to learn and a lot more sustainable in the long run.
This is because you can push the bar position around and improve your squat that way. Plus, it has a better carryover to other events, as I mentioned before.
Tip #7: Safety squat bars.
In my opinion, nothing replaces a standard bar squat. There are a lot of people that go to a safety bar to protect their shoulders a little bit and while that is good, are you really in the correct position to train your squat? I don't think so.
Moreover, when you go to a competition you're going to have to squat with a standard barbell so that might not be the best for you.
Also, with a safety bar, the weight sits a lot higher than it would on a normal squat, so it definitely makes it a bit more challenging. Still, it has to be programmed right, and I think that a standard squat is going to be the staple of most programmes.
Tip #8: Programming.
If you're someone who's looking to improve their squat, make sure you're training often enough. For most beginners, I'd say training their squat between once and twice a week with different intensities is okay, as well as getting in as many squat variants as you can.
I don't feel exercises like leg extensions or other machine exercises can give you that much carryover towards your squat, but a basic example of a squat programme could be:
- 5 sets of 5 reps with standard squats.
- Then drop the weight and do 3 sets of 5 reps with pause squats.
- And finally, go to front squats for another 3 sets of 5/8/10 reps.
Focus on building all those pounds and keep trying to add as many different moves as you can and that's how you'll get better.
So that's my simple guide to squatting, thanks for reading! Hopefully, you got a couple of points that maybe you hadn't thought of and you can use them to improve your training results!
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