The squat is considered to be one of the best compound exercises. It’s a staple in top athletes routines. Guys that are looking to pack on lean mass and build massive strength never skip out on squatting. That’s because they engage your entire body, build your calves, strengthen your hamstrings, core, back and chest. In this article we’ll cover the squat and provide some insight on how to improve. So let’s break parallel and follow these 3 tips to improve your squat.
How To Do A Squat
Before we can get into how to improve it’s important to know the proper squat form and how to do one. There are several squat variations but the three most common are the olympic, low bar and front squat. Each variation has different variables which affect how they are performed.
The obvious difference would be placement on the back or placement on the shoulders. While the main difference between the Olympic and low bar is placement on the upper back. Bar positioning determines the angle and the overall geometry of the movement. The way the hips and knees are positioned will change based on where the bar is placed. One thing that remains the same in all variations is that the bar travels in a straight up and down vertical path, balanced over the middle of the foot.
Learning the proper form takes patience and practice. What you will need will be a barbell and a power rack. Proper form is extremely important. Learning to squat correctly without any weight will instill the correct motor patterns in our body and will assist in our efforts.
Note: Smith machines are great inventions and have their purpose. Squatting on a smith machine puts the body in a fixed path and does not allow the stabilization muscles to engage. Always squat with free weights.
To properly set up a squat approach the barbell in the power rack and dip underneath it. Position the bar high on your upper back. With as narrow a grip as you can manage, set your chest by adding a slight arch in the back. Squeeze your upper back muscles together and keep your back tight at all times. This will allow for a stable upper body and will help to hold the heavy loads as you progress. Keep your head in line with your body and find an area in front of you to focus on. If possible avoid squatting in front of a mirror, rely on the feeling. Focusing on the mirror enables you to become dependent and can actually throw you off.
From there plant your feet firmly underneath you, slightly wider than shoulder width. Press up from your legs, not your back to un-rack the weight. Take one step directly back with your foot and follow with the other foot. If you step back and your feet are not slightly wider than shoulder width you can make a slight correction with your second step by making one small step out, putting your feet in the optimal squatting position.
Standing firmly with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and your toes pointed no more than 45 degrees from the body, you are now set up and ready to squat.
Keep your back and core tight at all times. You need a solid base while squatting. Core stability is extremely important. The squat will help to build some but if you have not devoted some time to strengthening your core do so before you start squatting. When you’re ready take a deep breath, causing you to fill the lower part of your lungs and hold it, causing your abdominal muscles to tighten.
Keeping tension in your muscles slowly bend at the knees pushing the hips down, trying to sit in between your legs. Do not be afraid to fall, it will feel like you’re going to but you won’t. Continue to sit down between your legs, squeeze the glutes, push your knees out and inline with the outside of your foot. As you lower the weight aim to keep your knees out and glutes tight. The outside of your quad should line up with the outside of your foot.
A good way to always ensure this happens is to envision spreading the floor apart with your feet. You want to get the pressure to the outside of your foot where you are most stable.
Go parallel or below. Over time you will be able to judge the proper depth. It will help if you can get a training partner to give you subtle cues. When you reach full depth it will look like you’re sitting on your calves. At the bottom of the squat, you will be in what’s called the hole. With your breath still held and your muscles tight, push hard and drive back up.
Never let your shoulders lead. That is the incorrect way to squat. Power comes from the ground up. Your shoulders and upper body will follow-suit naturally. Drive upwards, slowly releasing the air until you reach midway, then exhale to force the rest of the air out as you reach the top. Lock out the movement with a deep squeeze of the glutes.
Take a big breath and repeat.
How To Improve Your Squat
There are a lot of misconceptions about the squat and a ton of variations we didn’t cover. Learning to squat can be rather confusing. Making sure to practice the proper form is essential and will make for the biggest improvement. Sometimes this means starting back at zero and working your way up. If you’ve been squatting for a while and reached a plateau or are new to the squat here are 3 tips to improve your squat.
Strengthen your core
A strong core maintains proper movement through the entire kinetic chain. Decreased activation of the core muscles or muscle groups can lead to pain or injury. Proper core training has been shown to reduce this. There are two techniques that can be applied while learning to train the core muscles. Those techniques are the drawing-in and bracing. Drawing-in activates the local core stabilizer muscles by drawing the navel in towards the spine. Bracing happens when the abs, lower back and glutes are contracted simultaneously.
Practice box squats
Sounds silly but this can be a very effective way to get more plates on the bar. Grab a box or a bench, place it in the rack and take your normal squat position. Sit back until your ass touches the box and then pause. Now stand up by squeezing your glutes, hams and driving with your hips. This will pick you up out of the bottom of the squat and begin to strengthen neglected muscles. Keep doing this until it becomes easy. Adding weight or even using a smith machine will really help to build up your strength and confidence.
Incorporate good mornings
By doing good mornings with proper form your hip, glutes and hams will really get a good work out. Looks a little weird but it is also a very beneficial movement to squatting. Good mornings will help to build your core muscles along with your lower back creating a stable base, which in turn will help you power through your squats. Just make sure you don’t round out your back. Get a good stretch by keeping your legs locked and bending as far forward as possible. Make sure you pull back up with your buttocks and not your upper back.
There are of course many other things you can be doing to improve your squat. There are a variety of ancillary exercises to help strengthen different muscle groups as well as progressions of the squat itself that teach your body proper motor patterns. A favorite of mine is the sissy squat. These are only 3 tips that can help make an immediate impact. Equipment can make a difference in your squat as well. Things like weightlifting shoes or belts can help to increase mobility and stabilization.
If I was only going to perform one exercise for the rest of my life it would be the squat for it’s sheer ability to build strength in the entire body. However without the proper technique you won’t get the benefits of this fantastic exercise. Improving the squat consists of getting it right, making sure your core is strong and practicing ancillary exercises. But, I cannot stress enough about proper form. Forget about your ego and what they say now. Pretty soon the other fellas in the gym will be asking you what you’re doing. Trust me I speak from experience.