The squat is an exercise that you need to grow into, meaning it’s an exercise that you will probably shun until you make the decision to learn the proper technique and then include them regularly into your bag of tricks.
Why include it?
Because it is arguably the best exercise you can do and the reason I say this is because of these benefits.
· It is a compound movement which means it incorporates many muscle groups, so it works the body at a high level both aerobically and anaerobically.
· It recruits many muscle fibers including mainly fast twitch but can slip into slow twitch if you go high enough with your reps. (mainly above 20-25)
· So you can have both aerobic and anaerobic effects by varying the weight and reps
· The legs are worked eccentrically (going down) and concentrically (coming up) whilst much of the upper body is in isometric contraction. (static – holding the upper body flexed and rigid) This stresses the body as a whole, even though it is basically used as a leg exercise.
· You will find overall power in both the lower and upper body will increase as your weights go up over time.
· It is a great exercise if you are an athlete and want to increase power, strength and performance and it is very effective if you wish to lose weight and get fitter.
There are two basic squat techniques:
Squats used to be my favourite exercise but only after I made the decision to concentrate on learning the correct technique. I was lucky in the early days because I had a very good squatting technician to learn from. This proved invaluable because if you don’t get the biomechanics right, heavy weight will either elude you or injure you.
NOTE: You will never squat heavy weight until you perfect the foundation rules of the squat technique.
The two basic squat techniques are - the high and low bar squats. High bar squats are known as body building squats and low bar squats are known as power or power lifting squats. Low bar squats are used mainly in power lifting competitions where lifting the most weight is the primary goal. Low bar power squats use more gluteus and hamstring muscles, with the bar sitting lower down on the back on the rear or posterior deltoids. Dropping the bar lower on your back means you can lean forward and bring the bar down closer to the centre of gravity. Moving the bar closer to your fulcrum in your hips and the centre of gravity, reduces the stress on your lower back and allows you to use more weight without fatiguing the lumbar muscles.
With high bar squats you need to mitigate the high bar position (ie the moving of the centre of gravity forward and away from your body) by keeping your upper body more upright. This throws the weight more onto your quads which is more effective in building big strong thighs.
Today I’m going to talk more about high bar squats because these are what most trainers use, and I will write another post about low bar power squats in the future.
My version, step by step of the high bar squat technique:
With high bar or body building squats, the bar sits in the gap between C7 and T1 of your vertebrae and sits on your trapezius muscles. Don’t have the bar too high on your neck as it can displace cervical vertebrae. (those in your neck)
OK listen up:
1. Place your hands on the bar with thumbs on top and at a width slightly wider than shoulders. Try and get the width as narrow as you can.
2. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width (similar to hand width) and with toes pointing slightly out. (about 20deg from straight ahead)
3. Get under the bar and place bar on the position mentioned above.
4. Keep your elbows tucked in and push them forward
5. Try and touch your shoulder blades together and push out your chest.
6. Put your head up slightly and keep you eyes up higher. (keeps your upper vertebrae locked)
7. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed over the entire sole of your foot. Not too much on your heels not too much on the balls of your feet.
8. Push back with your bum as you go down, but don’t drop your chest and lean forward.
9. Take a large breath in as you go down.
10.Hold your breath until half way up and then breathe out until you are upright.
11.Make sure you hyperextend your thoracic and lumber spine locking them in the locked flexed position. Don’t lose that locked position throughout the movement.
12.Go down so your thighs (femurs) are parallel to the floor. If you go down further you run the risk of your lumber spine (L1 to L5) tucking under. This can result in injury.
13.At the end of the lift push your hips forward.
· If you are trying to build leg size don’t lock out every rep. Lock out when you need to rest. So depending on weight say you can do 15 reps, an example would be 8 reps lockout, 3 reps lockout, 2 reps lockout, 1 rep lockout, 1 rep lockout – finish. Just keep each block of reps going until you feel you need to rest. This is the best way to fatigue the muscles.
· If you are working on strength, lock out more often, mainly doing twos and ones. This comes naturally because of the extra weight you are using.
· When I say use a narrow a grip as possible, I found that this works because it compresses your upper body holding it more rigid.
· The reason I say to push your elbows forward is for two reasons. When you’re under load and your elbows go back away from your body it will loosen the upper thoracic vertebrae, and once you unlock them the spine is more likely to collapse and injury occur. The second reason is when your pushing an overhead press it is important to get your elbows directly under the bar in a vertical position. I find the same logic works better with elbows in that same position when doing squats.
· The biggest problem I see with people doing squats is they lose the locked and flexed hyperextended vertebrae, and I’m talking about the entire length from neck to bum. If you cannot hold that locked and flexed back position you will not be able to lift maximum weight, so your squatting success will be compromised and the potential for injury will increase dramatically.
· It is important that your toe position (slightly pointing out) is inline with your knees. So when you go down or come up don’t move your knee and toe alignment apart. This is important so you don’t stress the medial and lateral knee ligaments.
· Try and keep your hips inline with your shoulders. If they become out of alignment you place too much stress on either leg, hips or lower spine.
· How upright you are when doing BB squats is dependent on the flexibility in your hips. Everyone is different and the more you do squats correctly the more flexible you will be. Don’t try and stand too upright if you’re not flexible, it is better to get your back hyperextended (curved) and lean forward slightly. So a hyperextended back is more important than an upright position. Obviously it is better to do both if you can.
· Should you use a heel block? In my day we either used sturdy weight lifting shoes that had a small heel or a small block under the heel. Having a small block under the heel helps because it allows the body to maintain a more upright position, which brings back the centre of gravity which in turn allows more weight to be lifted. Having said that it depends on your hip flexibility. If your very flexible you won’t need one but if you’re not they can be very helpful.
· Girls don’t be afraid to do squats, they will not give you huge legs if you train them correctly. In my experience squats for women will tone and shape thigh and bum muscles and have a positive effect on overall fat levels. The same with men that want to reduce fat. It is the testosterone in males that gives them the ability to achieve greater muscle mass than women.
Weight belts, wraps, shoes etc
· There are advantages and disadvantages with these lifting aids. It is important to have solid, sturdy shoes especially if you are lifting heavy weight as sneakers or runners are not supportive enough. If your going relatively light, then it’s not as important.
· A good solid leather weight lifting belt is a good asset if you are lifting heavy. It does two main things. It increases abdominal pressure by giving something for your stomach muscles to push against. This helps to support organs and abdominal muscles and secondly it keeps the lower vertebrae inline and in position and gives support. I used to use my 10cm wide weight belt when I went heavy and my smaller 6cm weight training belt on lighter days. I would only put the belts on once I reached a certain weight. For me that was 100kg and above.
· Knee Wraps can be good and then again not too good if you use them incorrectly. Overall the same applies as with the weight belts – use them on heavy days and don’t use them when going light or on medium weight days. Knees are made up of 2 major articulating bones, tendons, ligaments, meniscus cartilage and patella all held together by skin, small muscles tendons and ligaments. If you are squatting heavy, there are tremendous forces trying to rip the knees apart. Knee wraps help mitigate these forces, but allow your knees to become stronger themselves by only using them at the times mentioned above.
· Chalk and wrist straps. Not as important but can be useful for some.
Well I hope you have all have learned some useful information in this post. As you can see there is a lot to look at if you wish to be successful and get results with squats. If you remember and incorporate this information that I have learned over the many years of squatting and coaching there is no doubt in my mind you will achieve success.