Bros may ask what you bench… But true Ballers will simply shrug and walk over to the squat rack!
Simple Strength: The Squat
There is no exercise or mechanical movement more beneficial and essential to learn in the gym than the squat. The squat is a balancing act that requires your entire body to be activated and engaged in the mechanics and motions to fully maximize your strength. Whilst your leg muscles are doing the main work load by driving against gravity and resistance, your upper body, back and core are required to stabilize and fixate the squatting movement. The ability to controllably squat your hips below knee level and explode yourself back to an upright position whilst maintaining your balance improves your skills in the gym, the gridiron and in everyday life.
And beyond building muscle mass and strength, the squat not only requires but develops flexibility of the hips, knees and ankles. It also works the mobility of your hips and your upper body, as well as the ability of your core strength to keep a neutral spine and good balance.
Here are my key tips towards establishing a correct, safe and efficient squat in your fitness program:
Know what squat you are doing.
The squat can be initially split into styles: the front squat and the back squat. The front squat is highly regarded as an accessory lift that you can perform as a secondary lift in order to boost your strength in the back squat. This is because of the limited amount of muscles being used in the front squat. The true bread-and-butter of the squat is the back squat. Because of the larger amount of body over the bar, as well as more of a surface area for the bar to rest on (i.e. your back muscles), you can stabilize more weight, and therefore lift more! There are two formats of back squat style: the ‘high bar’ and the ‘low bar’.
For High Bar, it’s all in the knees.
The high bar squat requires us to place the bar on the top of our traps. Because the high bar squat requires an erect posture, we must squat through our knees in order to maintain this posture. Maintaining spinal posture is a fundamental cue throughout the entire squatting motion, which can maximize your potential to lift more weight and increase strength. Doing so will put more of the load in our quadriceps, as well as our core muscles due to our up right posture.
For Low Bar, it’s all in the hips.
As the name may suggest, you place the bar lower on your back; your rear deltoids now carry the bar instead of your traps. This initiates a major shift in biomechanics that makes the low bar squatting motion different than the high bar squat. Because we have the bar lower on our back, more of our body is in front of the bar, meaning a greater chance of the bar pulling us backwards. This requires us to lean further forward with our upper body in order to keep the bar in line with the center of our foot. We must alter our squatting mechanics in order to maintain center of balance.
In the low bar squat, you squat through your hips and engage your posterior chain consisting of your Gluteus Maximus and Hamstrings. By performing the squatting motion through your hips, you shift more weight behind the bar in order to accommodate for the extra amount of your body ahead of the bar. This will ensure the bar stays in parallel to the center of your foot.
Take the time to find out which style is best for you.
In terms of which squatting style you should use, which is a grave question to address, I would suggest trying both out! The reason being is that most of you reading this article may not have had enough time practicing the squat efficiently to fully conclude which style is best for them. Beyond that, certain squatting styles can be prioritized for different athletic reasons.
If you want to get stronger in general, then the low bar squat is the style for you because of the potential of adding more weight on the bar. However, you can achieve a much deeper squatting depth that truly tests your mechanics and balance if you opt for a high bar squat. This can improve factors like core strength and explosiveness. The high bar squat has been regarded as the preferred form of squatting for American football players because of these factors.
What is correct depth? Correct depth is when the crease of your hips go below the top of your kneecap. This is when a good standard of flexibility and mobility in your hips and knees are essential towards achieving a correct squatting motion and developing fundamental strength. If you feel as if your hips are tight or knees feel stiff whilst you’re lifting, increase the amount of time you take in stretching before you engage in your heavy lifting. Stretching is crucial in order to achieve any form of strength; it builds flexibility, develops mobility and it can prevent injury and maximize muscular performance.
Angle your feet for better hip engagement.
Pivot your feet between a 30-45 degree angle and make sure your knees stay in line with the direction of your toes. Doing so will engage your hip flexors and stretch your adductor muscles (groin) in order to activate more muscles and generate more push when driving upwards. This will also give you a greater chance of achieving correct depth.
Acknowledge your genetics.
It is always crucial to apply your tailored genetics towards the decision of which squatting motion to commit to. High bar squats have been preferred by those with shorter torsos due to the amount of lean core muscle mass within a compact space. More lean muscle within a smaller space equals potential for more strength! Low bar squats are preferred to those with longer limbs in order to reduce the range of motion. However, you see a lot of short-height athletes take the low bar squat form for the same reason. Less range of motion with short legs can equal a much easier squat for them.
Breath through your stomach!
The big cue that most beginners forget: efficient breathing! Before your squat, take a big gulp of air through into your stomach and hold it throughout the entire squatting motion. This will expand and brace your abdominal muscles known as your ‘abdominal wall’. Doing so will strengthen your core and spinal posture throughout the entire squat, thus providing less pressure on your legs when squatting, as well as being less likely to be prone to any unnecessary posture movements. Using a belt on your heavy weight, low rep sets will elevate the importance of efficient breathing through the stomach. Your abdominal wall will be compacted by the belt’s tightness, which will provide an additional layer of stability on top of your core strength.
Accessory lifts you can perform beyond your regular back squats can be Front squats, Walking Lunges, Sumo Deadlifts and the Vertical Jump.
Stay tuned for our next article, which will centre on the deadlift.
Legs Regime example:
Main Lift: 5 x 5 reps Squats (75% of 1 Rep Max) (plus 2-3 warm up sets)
- Sumo Deadlifts 4 x 6 reps (build up to a challenging weight with two warm up sets)
- Walking Lunges 4 x 10 reps (1 rep= both legs) 15-25kg on back via barbell (including barbell; work up weight based on ability)
- Isolate Lifts: Leg Extensions Machine 6 x 10 reps (build to challenging weight)
- Laying Leg Curl Machine 6 x 10 reps (build to challenging weight)
Core: 5 x 10 reps laying Leg Raises (90 second intervals)
I hate squats.
Like, I know they’re important, but between multi-injury knees, already being a heavy bugger who spends most of his time sat on his butt typing, and my waist/hip flexibility being poor? Eugh.
In the past I’ve built up to moving a good amount of weight in almost every lift, but squat is my nemesis.
BUT! Sometimes it’s not about how much. It’s simply about HOW.
Working with Darren and it’s been made very clear that the first and most important thing is technique. Get to the point where you’re doing it right, and then worry about how many plates you can move.
I’ve got a long way to go with this process, and I suspect now you’ve read some of the pointers above, you might have realised you to too!
I’m hurting in places I’m not sure I remember having… but it feels great! (In a painful way)
I was initially struggling a lot with the diet part, especially when I’m away from home, tracking across the #BritballNation to create content, etc. It’s pretty tough to get hold of clean, healthy, chicken… Much easier to get the tasty, greasy, southern fried kind! …oops.
But once I figured out easy, convenient ways of piling in a bunch of vegetables into my meals, I won’t lie… I feel fresher.
And more regular too!