The Power Source: The Squat

Blitz Magazine, August 2012

The squat, with or without weight, is one of the fundamental movement patterns and is referred to by many as ‘the King of Exercises’. It develops mighty posterior chain strength and can be made more specific, depending on where you position the load.

A good squat is a thing of beauty and gym-rats the world over regard the squat as a kind of secret handshake – many people attempt it, but few do it well. In order to get the maximum benefit, as well as avoid injury, a number of essential cues must be observed and practiced.

The Back Squat

The back squat is so named because the load is positioned on the back. In actuality, the bar should sit on the process bones of the shoulders, the lifter using the traps for cushioning. Initially, this position hurts; it should. That’s how you know the bar is in the right place.

The most important – and complex – part of the lift is the set up. You need to ensure the following, as demonstrated in the above image:

  • Feet shoulder-width apart
  • Toes pointing forward
  • Chin up
  • Chest out
  • Bum out

From here, you need keep your lower spine neutral, bend your knees and descend until your thighs are parallel with the floor. At the bottom, your hips will be slightly lower than your knees.

DO NOT LIFT WITH YOUR BACK.

The temptation is, as with all manly exercises, to go for the highest numbers you can. This is a fool’s game. Keep your chest high, chin/eyes up and your spine neutral. If you’re hinging at the hips at all, you’re using your lower back and have failed. When you lift your chin/eyes, it compels you to lift with your legs. If you look at the floor, you will automatically lift with your back.

At the bottom position (figure 2), curl your toes up to touch the top of your shoes. This will encourge maximum drive through the heels. It’s a posterior chain exercise, which means you’re working your glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae. If you push through the balls of your feet, the stress is transferred into your knee joints. Drive back to standing, squeezing the glutes and finishing with the hips directly under the shoulders.

The squat is a highly sophisticated, potentially harmful exercise which demands exacting skills practice. Do it right and your physical conditioning will accelerate in leaps and bounds. Do it wrong and it’s a fast-track to the physio. For this reason, it is essential to practise with a skilled trainer. There are more trainers that can’t squat properly than those who can, so use the guidelines presented in this article to quiz them.

Happy squatting!

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2 Responses to “The Power Source: The Squat”

  1. ilfiore66 Says:

    Well put, clarified step by step.

  2. For what its worth after a liftetime of lower back problems bought about by sitting in front of a computer every day I have found daily unweighted squats have solved the problem when bouncy ball chairs, stretching and twists failed. Perhaps you can verify a story that was told to me by the person who recommended to me daily deep squats. The story goes that sitting on your ass all day cuts off the ciurculation to some bum muscles which are resonsible for holding the lower back together. Squats therefore pump more blood / muscles into the area and so less work for the muscles to hold things correctly. Fact or myth?

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