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The Essentials of the Squat

The squat is known as the king of all exercises, but why?

The squat is a full-body exercise where a person lowers their body from a standing position, keeping their torso erect until the hips are parallel with or below the knees.  

This exercise is well-known as a staple in any strength building program, but there is more to this lift than just leg strength.

Performing squats can:

  • Build glute and quad muscles
  • Improve core stability
  • Increase vertical jump
  • Boost power and speed
  • Burn more fat
  • Improve mobility and balance
  • Increase hormone release (reference)
  • Prevent or help reduce injuries

 

Follow these guidelines to help improve your squatting technique

Here are 3 essential areas to look at when improving your squat:
Mobility (both hip and ankle), core stability, and footwear.

1. Mobility:

It is important to remember that mobility is different from flexibility. Whereas flexibility refers to the length of a muscle or group of muscles, mobility refers to the ability of a joint to move through an intended range of motion. When it comes to functional movement (like that required in a below parallel squat), mobility is key. To improve mobility, focus on hip flexion (bending) and external rotation, as well as ankle dorsiflexion. A great article with videos of both hip and ankle mobility exercises can be found here.

2. Stability:

Stability is often mistaken for mobility. When addressing cases of movement dysfunction in the human body, most are due to a combination of poor mobility and stability. When the body cannot stabilize itself through a given range of motion, it will simply reduce the range of motion, thus creating a more stable (and usually safer) movement pattern.  For example, if someone with poor spinal stability performs a squat and their back starts to flex near the bottom of the squat, their body will often respond by limiting the hip and knee flexion in order to protect the spine and prevent it from bending unnecessarily.

Motion requires stability. In order to improve overall stability, focus on improving spinal stability, particularly through ground-based core strengthening exercises. My favorites for this are the Cable Lift and Chop and the Pallof Press. Videos of these can be found here: Pallof Press and here Cable Lift and Chop. The stance progression (from easiest to most difficult) for these two movements is as follows: standing, tall kneeling, half-kneeling, squat, split squat. I recommend mastering the full squat position for these movements in order to improve core strength specifically for the squat. Progression however, must be used at the start. Other core stabilization movements for the squat include the following:

Front squat hold: simply walk out of the squat rack with a barbell loaded, holding it in the front squat position. Stand in place stabilizing the spine for a set period of time (usually sets of 15 seconds).

Pause lifts: pause at the bottom of the squat with a loaded barbell for 1-5 seconds and then stand up and repeat for sets of 3-5 repetitions.

Uneven holds: perform the above described pause squat, but with weights loaded unevenly on one side of the barbell. This will add another dimension to the difficulty of stabilization.


3. Footwear:

Many people like to squat in Olympic lifting shoes. These are fine, but they require great hip mobility and can negatively affect ankle mobility. A better choice for those with less than ideal hip mobility may be Reebok's Version of Powerlifting Shoes.

 



Bryan Dermody, Former Strength & Conditioning Coach/Powerlifter

 

 

 

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