Using Weight to Improve the Squat

Posted by & filed under .

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

There is an idea in the industry that someone who does not squat well with weight should not load the pattern until it is cleared up.

This sounds good and the intent behind it is good. After all, adding a bunch of weight to someone that moves like crap is going to increase the risk for injury and decrease the effectiveness of the program.

But this idea ignores a key aspect of improving movement- stability.

As with any blanket statement there are always going to be holes in the argument. Without really diving deep into why the person’s movement patterns are no bueno, we cannot just dismiss the benefits of a little bit of a load.

When trying to develop stability in a pattern we have a couple of choices for getting there.

One is through actively creating it. To actively create stability through the core we would have to brace the abdominals. Think about if someone was going to punch you in the stomach, you would tighten everything up to absorb the impact. You must still be able to breathe but that tension is going to create a rigid torso. The same can go for squeezing your glutes to get them working.

To passively create stability, we need to almost use tricks or hacks. We can use some band work or low level activation exercises that create tension and hop the person can transfer it over to the movement.

Specifically for the squat, one trick is adding weight to a squat. I like to use the Goblet Squat for teaching the pattern. It seems to be the most user friendly way to learn the squat.

The only potential issue is that it flies in the face of the idea that you shouldn’t load a dysfunctional pattern. The classic test for the squat is the overhead squat. This is a simple test, hold a dowel overhead and squat down 3 times. Coaches are looking for certain things when using this test.

oh squat

A perfect overhead squat would be below parallel, with the feet staying flat, the dowel remains overhead, and the chest is up. I would say somewhere around 1-5% of my athletes “pass” this test on their initial assessment.

The reason for a failed test may vary. It could be anything from tight ankles to poor shoulder stability.

So we have obviously determined the squat to be a pattern that we are going to train unless there is a reason not to- injury, anatomy, etc. When creating a corrective approach for the movement pattern, any strategy chosen should improve the pattern. If it does not, then it is not a corrective approach.

BTW- I hate the term corrective, but I will play the game on this one. 

Now we could go joint by joint and create a mobility or stability exercise for each one. I prefer to pick an exercise that is going to give me the biggest benefit in the shortest amount of time.

The best method we have found for improving a body weight squat is putting a kettlebell in the athlete’s hands. When an athlete goblet squats, they are forced to create stability without actually knowing it. It tricks them to using their muscles.

Asking a 13 year old kid to effectively brace and do a nice, controlled squat is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. Good luck to anyone that wants to work on breathing patterns and rockbacks in the hope that a middle school athlete is going to consciously use those skills in a squat.

Instead, we start with a light kettlebell and it will improve the pattern. As the pattern improves, they develop strength in the pattern. So we are getting them stronger and improving their movement simultaneously.

At the end of the day we have two ideas to work off of. Movement needs to be improved but we also need to get the person closer to their goal. They must actually train to improve the second part of that statement. And believe me, the last thing I want for someone who is a terrible squatter is to throw 135 on their back for a set of 10.

Using the goblet squat is a nice little trick for better movement. It allows the person to passively move better, it saves time from corrective exercise, and it is a better experience for the person that is training. They get to actually go things while moving better.

It is a win-win even though it disagrees with some of the movement experts. You can use load to improve a poor movement pattern, it just must be light and has to actually improve the pattern. If the pattern does not improve then the strategy is wrong.

Try the goblet squat and see just how much better squatting goes.