The squat is my most loved & most hated of the compound lifts. I love it because I just feel fantastic afterwards & it’s hugely rewarding to perform. I hate it, because it is one of the hardest lifts to master in order to really up your game. It’s also a confidence issue (for me anyway!), having such a big weight fully on top of you with no cutting corners.
The thing is, is that squats can look different on different people due to their biomechanics & factors such as limb & torso length, injuries & mobility levels etc. Some trainers may be either quad dominant or hip dominant. Some may perform a low bar back squat, others a high bar back squat. There are also variations of the squat such as front barbell squat, goblet squats, overhead squats & Bulgarian split squats.
I do a variation of them all, depending on my goals, time & energy levels. However, whichever I complete, I make sure I do a full warm-up before getting stuck into my working sets. All those squats have a high demand on dorsi-flexion, knee flexion, hip flexion & hip rotation.
Below is an example of how I might warm-up to make sure my hip flexors, groin, hip external rotators, knees, feet, calves & hamstrings are ready for action & to fire accordingly.
Spiderman instep hold
Toe touch squat
Un-weighted barbell squats
Weighted barbell squats – ascending pyramid (i.e. adding weight gradually & conservatively while reducing reps)
So, how do you perform a squat correctly? Here are my tips:
· Hold bar outside shoulder width
· Position bar along upper back – mid / lower traps (the ‘cushion’!)
· Squeeze shoulder blades & point elbows back
· Feet hip width apart (although experiment with a position that suits you)
· Sit hips back and down, keeping back flat & neutral (including your neck)
· Push knees out to keep them aligned with toes
· Keep bar aligned over mid foot
· Push into floor to stand
The bar cap needs to be aligned with your mid foot in order to attain optimal balance and efficiency. I often find that 'pushing' my knees outwards as I ascend, helps to activate my glutes & prevent knee valgus (knees caving inwards).
The real skill here is to sit hips back while squatting down without excessively arching your lower back, locking your rib cage down to your pelvis as you sit back & down & loading your hips, hamstrings & glutes without overly stressing the lower back. This takes a lot of core strength & comes with lots of practice. Front squats and goblet squats can help with this. But please don’t be disheartened if you find areas that you need to work on – I’m still perfecting my squats & finding areas of weakness each & every time. Recording yourself can be a really useful tool in assessing your squat form.
I personally, always train to break parallel. That's where you squat to a depth so your hips are parallel or lower than your knees. If I can't do this with the weight I have stacked, I strip some plates off the bar & go again. This is because I can naturally squat to a decent depth without any resistance, so it's my aim to maintain that form & technique even when weight is added. I always check my clients natural squat form before adding any weight & judge their future goals & progress from there.
If you experience any discomfort or pain outside that of lifting the actual weight, seek 1:1 professional advice & guidance immediately.