Exercise Technique- The Back Squat

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Developing lower body strength is essential for those that want to get strong or lose weight. Ignoring the legs is really just a lost opportunity to build muscle or shed some fat.

I used to think leg day was the worst and almost unnecessary when I was younger. If I wasn’t going to make it to the gym one day, I was skipping leg day. O how the times have changed.

This attitude also set me back for a long time building up from almost nothing. Now, I squat a minimum of two times per week and I never skip either of those days.

I firmly believe that everyone should squat regardless of your training goal. The squat is an exercise that is very important for developing the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.

These also happen to be some of the biggest muscle groups in the body. They cannot be ignored any longer.

That being said the back squat is complex. It takes some practice and some growing pains as well. Let’s break it down and set you up for success.

Some quick myths associated with the squat

1.      Squatting is not bad for the knees. Squatting incorrectly is bad for the knees. If your knees hurt during the lift, your technique needs some attention.

2.      Squatting is not bad for the back. Squatting too heavy with a back injury can be dangerous. Squatting without adequate core stability can be bad for the back as well. Determine which is going on and either work on core stability or choose a variation that reduces load on the spine.

3.      Anyone can squat to proper depth. It does take time, though. Lower the weight, master technique, roll out your glutes, and strengthen your core.

The Set Up

OK so it is time to kick the guy that’s curling out of the squat rack and tell him to do a real exercise. But seriously.

-The bar is going to rest on your trapezii (traps). These are the muscles that you shrug your shoulders with. Admittedly, this is a position you will have to get used to.

-Grip the bar with both hands and close your grip.

-Set your feet. This will take some experimenting. The feet need to be wide enough that you can sit back into a parallel squat and slightly turned out.

-Keep a neutral spine. Do not extend or flex the torso excessively.

-Look straight ahead.

The Descent

This is where all hell can break loose without good technique. There are a lot of steps to getting it right.

-Hinge at the hips. The first movement is to tilt the pelvis forward and not bend the knees. The hips move first and the knees bend to follow suit.

-Keep your weight on the full foot. Your weight needs to be centered. All of the weight on the heels or the toes is reducing the ability to squat properly.

-Do not turn your feet out. They should be glued to the floor. A lack of ankle mobility will cause the ankle to turn out.

-Drive your knees out over your pinky toes. This will allow the spine to stay neutral and create a good base of support.

-Hit parallel. A parallel squat is achieved when the butt is lower than the knees. Anything higher is not a squat. You may go lower into a deep squat if mobility allows.

-Chest up, eyes up. Do not look at the ground and do not let the chest fall forward. If someone was standing in front of you they should be able to see the neckline of your shirt at all times.

The Ascent

Time to bring the squat back up. In my opinion the descent is harder to master but the ascent can really ruin the lift when done poorly.

-Chest and hips rise at the same time. If the hips start to raise too soon, the torso is going to be facing the ground.

-Force the knees out. If your knees are caving during the squat you need to push out over the toes. This will get the glutes activated and increase performance in the lift.

-Push through the full foot. A heel dominated lift is going to throw the lifter off balance and success will be compromised.

-Squeeze your glutes at the top. Most squats are dominated by the hamstrings at lockout. You need to fire the glutes in order to bring the body in a straight line from feet to head.

Variations of the Squat

Unfortunately the squat is not one of those exercises where you just do it proficiently. Here are some variations if you need to practice your technique.

1.      Med Ball Squat- squat holding a medicine ball at your chest

2.      Goblet Squat- do the same thing but hold a kettlebell

3.      Dowel/PVC Squat- Putting a lighter “bar” on the back mimics the back squat while greatly reducing the load.

There you have it, the basics of the back squat. I feel as though this exercise is one of the most important for anyone to master.

If you want to get strong you must develop your legs accordingly. The squat is probably the best way to do that.

For those that want to lose weight, you have to use the big muscles of your body. They will burn the most calories when they are used, as well as at rest.

It is about time that chicken legs become a thing of the past and we start to develop a rock solid lower body. Use the squat to help develop a leaner look or the strength that you are searching for.