originally Posted on Sunday, November 27, 2011 8:13 PM

One of the long term topics I've wanted to write on is squats.  I love squatting, and I have many thoughts on the subject.  I've squatted often, a lot of weight, high reps, low reps, etc. Here are a few of the basics in which I believe:


  • Squatting is necessary in a program
  • deeper is better
  • light is just as import as heavy
  • minimal assistance gear

Any good program has squats in it.  Any personal trainer, coach, whomever who doesn't have people squat is a joke of a trainer.  This doesn't mean that people have to high bar back squat for 5x5; but the squatting movement is the foundation for everything else in a training program (in my opinion).   I always evaluate new trainees on their capacity to squat the first day I meet with them.  Here's what I look for:

  • Can the person keep their back arched until their hip joint goes below their knee joint? 
  • Can the person do this while keeping their feet flat?
  • Can the person keep their knees tracking along their toes while they do this?
  • Can the person put their arms overhead or behind their head and do this?

If the person can do all of this, then they generally can begin to do back squats with little further preparation.  



Many people cannot do these things, so I have to find a way to get them bendy and confident.  If someone has difficulty arching their back, I need to make sure they don;t have any medical issues.  Assuming the person can arch their back without medical exclusions, I'll have them start with back extensions on the 45 degree hyper bench.  When we do these, I have people hold their arms at their sides and slowly move themselves into a bent over position.  To rise out of the hole, I have people squeeze only their back extensors to pull themselves up.  To help people with their proprioception, I can either put fingers on their extensors or put a foam roller across them and have people push their muscles against it.  


The next remedial movement is to have people us the reverse hyper (http://www.westside-barbell.com/products/index.php?page=2&c=9).  Nothing else works the extensors as well in people with weak postures.  I would like to add here that I NEVER recommend doing an unloaded reverse hyper, whether on a glute ham bench, a reverse hyper machine, or anywhere else.  The movement is totally different when some load is on the ankles; without a load, the movement becomes dangerous.  I will, therefore, always have people load the movement, even if it is only with the t-bar apparatus and no extra weight.  beginners will do sets of 5-10 on the reverse hyper, adding weight slowly and only when they can do the movement precisely.


The other work we do for people learning to arch their back is a stretch I call "Happy Cats".  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-67HQ5xetzk  The stretch is the yoga cat stretch; it's effective and comfortable to teach people to arch their back and feel good in that position.


If someone can't move their feet flat, sound stretching and strengthening usually fixes the problem.   I do some movement education here, including introducing Amosov squats:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWFJf0dqoZ8  These squats lead nicely into the next piece of remedial squat education, the tracking of the knees with the toes.


When you squat, your knees should go more or less along the same path your toes point.   You need to stay on the heels and trust your knees to do the right thing.  Sometimes, you need to cue the athlete to "sit their butt down/ back", or, my favorite cue: "sit back like you're going on a dirty public toilet" If people do this movement, keep their feet flat, and then keep their knees in line with their toes, they can get into a deep squat.   I don't want people to do a powerlfiting style squat, though, with their body bending into a good morning.  I do want the shins to track in front of the ankles, and most people end up doing this naturally.  I just stop cueing them or cue other movements when their hips start to go below the knee joint.   


If peoples knees buckle in, have people stretch their IT band and roll them, along with some basic movement exercises.  I like putting a mini band around the knees and doing some shuffling, I also have people do the Ickey Shuffle to learn what muscles to use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8f-m-Fmd1lY


We keep one foot on the ground and push to the other foot, push back; I have folks work up to single support for the drill (single support means one leg at a time; we start with two legs on the ground, working up to one leg on the ground).  If the athlete can do it like Ickey himself, we usually don't need to do it at all. 


The final part of my evaluation is always to see if the person can get up from the squat.  

More often than I think, someone gets down and can't fire their muscles to get back up.  Sometimes they relax totally in the bottom of the squat, sometimes they are just week in this position and get onto their toes, or sometimes they fall down.  Usually a couple assisted squats (with my hands) helps people figure out how to get up.


Usually, people move through the above progressions, if they need them at all, in a few sessions and then I let them squat.  Honestly, most of the time people can squat within the first workout or two unless they have serious stability issues.


When there are serious stability and strength problems, I like to use plyo boxes, stools, or benches to have people squat onto.  I teach them to sit back, sit down and arch their back, keep their feet flat, and push their chest into the air when they get up.  I've had a women start doing these onto a kitchen stool with 10 pound dumbbells; 15 months later she's squatting 100 kilos deep with good form.  The other day she did 85 for a set of 5.  


This first section of the squat blog was brought to you by your adductors.  Find them; they will matter in the next post.  


Next:  High bar squats, low bar squats, powerlifting squats, and when to claim you're strong.  






I usually will start people with a light weight have them sit as deeply as they can and feel a stretch each time the get to the bottom of their range of motion.  

Michael McKennaComment