Squats, Part 2

Originally Posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 4:38 PM

Okay, so once we know we can squat, what do I do and teach?  There are three basic squat variations we do in the gym with a barbell:  Back Squat, Front Squat, and Overhead Squat.


I covered the Overhead Squat in a previous blog:  http://www.mckennasgym.com/blog/2011/09/25/Overhead-Squats.aspx


Since we don't need to rehash all that material yet, let's talk about the back squat today. In my opinion, three different types of back squats exist in the training world:  The Powerlifting Back Squat, the low bar back squat, and the high bar back squat.  The Powerlifting squat is how I describe the low bar squat done with shins perpendicular to the ground and often involve a deep back bend, almost a good morning. These squats are how you see most 1,000 pound squatters squat. Here's a link to a T-Nation article with a picture of Louie Simmons squatting this way: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/the_mad_monk_of_power_lifting_an_interview_with_louie_simmons

I don't teach people how to squat like this. This type of squatting is a specialized form of the movement designed to move bigger weights. Not everyone is cut out for this type of squatting, and I sincerely believe that squats like this are best done with more assistance gear than I recommend.  People can move very big weight this way; I've personally spotted on a few 1,000+ pound squats, along with several 700-800+ pound squats by 220 pound lifters.  These guys are all strong as hell.  But these guys also want to do one thing:  squat big.  Let them do this.  Here's a link to a good series of videos teaching you how to squat like the powerlifters.   http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/articles/powerlifting-articles/so-you-think-you-can-squat-part-1-and-2/  (In the interest of full disclosure, I used to squat this way.  I moved a whole LOT of weight, but I had trouble getting deep in the squat, and that hurt my Olympic Lifting when I came back to lifting at the age of 27.  Not until I was 30 did I get a good, deep squat where I could move some weight).  


The low bar back squat is often, in my opinion, confused with the powerlifting style squat.  Mark Rippetoe teaches the low-bar style, and this style is emphasized in his book Starting Strength:  Basic Barbell Training.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kawBY5p29fQ  In this video, Mark teaches you how to low bar squat.  


While I advocate the high bar squat, and I teach all my trainees the high bar squat, I face two situations where the low bar squat is necessary.  The first is when I have someone who wants to powerlift Raw.  If they're really into powerlifting, then they should low bar and not high bar squat, since you can move more weight this way; I usually don't teach the powerlifting style squat, since I will not work with equipped lifters, and I don't think that that kind of squat is beneficial for the general lifter.  If I ever get someone who can squat so much hat we want to switch to a Powerlifting style, I'll do make that switch.  Here's a video of Shane Hamman low bar squatting:  




And here's a picture of Shane's 1008 pound squat.  http://en.allpowerlifting.com/lifters/USA/hamman-shane-3882/



This video shows Donnie Thompson working up to a 1300 pound squat.  Notice the difference in the set-up between Donnie and Shane, also note how Shane's shins go in line with his knee, and they also move past perpendicular to the ground.  Donnie keeps is shins almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground.  I provide both of these videos so the average reader can see what I mean by the difference between a low-bar and what I call a powerlifting style squat.  



And here we have Behdid Salimi of Iran, 2011 World Champion in Wieghtlifting.



I have no idea what he's saying, but I'm sure it has to do with the ability of athletic tape to hold 7 25 kg plates on each side of an Eleiko bar which is bending like a palm tree in a hurricane.  He goes down slowly because if the bar bounces too much, the weights will fall off.  He comes up like a shot.  This is a beautiful squat.  Let's watch some more:


Pat Mendes 363 kg



Chinese lifters at the 2008 Arnold:



Zhang Guozheng:



Jalaine Ulsh:



Rizelyx Rivera



Cara Heads



Hilary Katzenmeier



Erica Yamasaki



17 year old Brittany Harris back in the original McKenna's Gym in Vineland, NJ:



That was fun, wasn't it?


So what is the High Bar Back Squat and why do we do it?


In the high bar squat (which I'll just call the squat from now on), the bar is carried on the back above the top of the anterior delts and below the neck itself.  I carry the bar high on my traps, though it does get a bit lower for heavier work.  One of the interesting things about the HBBS the quads are not the primary movers; though people often think they are.  The erectors, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors are all also heavily involved in the squat.  The greatest concern in squatting is depth.  As long as you keep your feet flat and track your knees in line with your toes, you can squat deep safely.  Your depth may not be great when you first start, bit it will get there.  I have two women in their late 40s squatting 100 kilos deep and they started lifting less than two years ago with no athletic backgrounds at all.  If they can do it, so can you.  


Let's walk through the squat from the beginning:


Take your set up seriously.  There should be a lot of weight on the bar, so don't goof off.  Focus on the bar.  I put my hands on first, squeeze the bar, and pull myself under; I use my clean grip on the bar so that my traps are high and my scapulae are tight together.  I then duck my head under and get comfortable, take a deep breath, and use all my power to lift the bar from the racks.  Yep, this liftoff should be powerful.  The shock to your body from this explosive liftoff will prep your body for upcoming squat.  You then take a careful step or two or three back; make sure you clear the stands entirely.  Reset your breath, get a big lungful of air, and descend.  


The descent should begin with your knees and hips at the same time.  I focus on using my adductors to pull myself down; I also use them to accelerate through the bottom of the lift; this gives me a little bounce out of the hole.  Yep, I bounce when I squat heavy.  As long as you control your descent and accelerate after the hips are below the knees, you should be fine.  The speed I get here immediately returns me to driving upward with the bar.  Anytime spent in the bottom is going to kill your lift.  


So, once you get deep, what do you do to get out of the hole?  Well, you push hard with the INSIDE of your legs.  Yep, the adductors.  You want the Back Squat to mimic the second pull, and starting with the adductors gets your hips through as fast as they can.  You can NOT let the hips be lazy in this position, nor can you let the knees buckle in (knee buckling happens to everybody, and especially on heavy weights.  But make a habit of preventing it).  In order to keep the torso erect during the back squat, you also need to push with your arms.  Pushing against the bar with your arms means to push UP and pull your elbows forward; this will keep your chest up when squatting, and the chest up prevents your hips from getting too far back and you bailing with the bar over your head (Andrew M.).  As I finish, I also remember to ACCELERATE.  I like the bar to pop at the end of the lift.  Since the weight gets easier to lift when you finish, you should move faster, not slower, to finish the lift.  Slowing down will lead to bad things happening (missing the lift).  Speeding up leads to good things (making the lift).  Once I finish the lift, I take it slowly into the squat stands, standing straight up until I hit the back, and then lower the bar.  Don't lean down to put the bar away.   


The back squat needs to be embraced and accepted.  Heavy squats are difficult.  It's easy to get stuck and stop, but pushing through a hard sticking point is a spiritually rewarding experience.  Remember, no matter what kind of squat you do, you should always squat for the benefits of the squat.  Never cheat to get a weight, because cheating in squats can be deadly.  


I will leave you with this picture of Joe Dube squatting at the 1970 World Championships:













Michael McKennaComment