Should my knees stay in, or should I push them outward as I squat down?
Most people will need to think about forcing their knees to stay outward during the up and down motion of the squat. It almost feels unnatural for the novice trainee to keep his knees tracking along the proper "groove" when the motion is very new.
Your knees, technically, should track at the same angle that your toes do. Yes, powerlifters, you keep your legs wide and point your toes forward because this tightens your hips on the way down and up from the hole, but we're not talking about that. Figure 56, pg. 56, Starting Strength demonstrates this graphically and gives an excellent explanation.
Should I be leaning forward a little bit or do I try to stand straight?
Some amount of forward lean is natural, and in fact, is necessary. It is impossible, with a free weight barbell, to keep your upper body at a 90 degree angle to the floor. You cannot maintain any form of balance this way and if you try, you will fall onto your rump.
The bar, as it rests on your back, must remain above the midfoot area throughout the range of motion. It is common for a new trainee to lean back too far or, more commonly, lean forward too far. However, some amount of forward lean IS NECESSARY in order to keep the bar over your midfoot. The lower on your back you hold the bar, the more forward lean will be necessary.
The problem is that people have a tendency to lean so far forward that their heels come off the ground, or they end up putting far too much stress on the glutes and lower back and their squat turns into an impromptu good morning. Keep the bar tracking above the midfoot area, and you will be fine, as long as you don't round your back.
Why is my lower back rounding at the bottom?
This is the infamous "butt wink," This stems from hamstring tightness pulling your lumbar spine at the bottom position. Weak spinal erectors and tight hamstrings are the most frequent culprits. It's actually not a huge issue unless it is severe and will often be present to some extent in all trainees.
It's worth noting that butt wink is more severe when there is less weight on the bar rather than more. In other words, just because you are witnessing major butt winking when you do a bodyweight squat, does not mean it's the same when expressed under a loaded barbell.
Things you can do to reduce butt wink:
- Work on calf and hamstring flexibility
- Do NOT go up on your tiptoes
- Stretch your hamstrings
- Do a better job of warming up
- Stretch your hamstrings.
Do this stretch
, except keep both legs straight. The lower leg stays flat on the floor with your knee straight and your foot straight up and down (in other words, don't allow your leg to rotate laterally/outward). The other leg also stays straight. This will help "stretch your hips apart" as well as loosen up those banjo-string hammies.
You can also do this stretch
with a towel. Same rules apply, keep your legs straight. Another variation is to do these in a doorway. Your lower leg stays flat on the ground and runs through the doorway. The upper leg is held flat against the door frame. Another necessary stretch will be to start in a full squat position with your hands flat on the ground about 2 feet in front of you. Straighten your knees while keeping your hands flat on the ground. You should feel a VERY powerful stretch in your hamstrings. Keeping your knees straight, walk your hands inward toward your feet until you are able to touch your palms to the ground without bending your knees.
Be sure to do these stretches AFTER your workout, not before, as pre-workout stretching can actually weaken your muscles.
Are deep squats bad for the knees?
Parallel Squat Position by Tim Donahey
Squats are actually not "bad for the knees", but they are, in fact, good for the knees. Properly performed, they evenly and proportionately strengthen all muscles which stabilize and control the knee (in addition to strengthening the muscles of the hip and posterior chain, upper back, shoulder girdle, etc.). When the hips are lowered in a controlled fashion below the level of the top of the patella, full hip flexion has occurred, and this will activate the hamstrings and glutes. In doing so, the hamstrings are stretched at the bottom of the motion and they pull the tibia backwards (toward da' butt) which counteracts the forward-pulling force the quadriceps apply during the motion. As a result, the stress on the knee tendons is lessened since the hamstrings assist the patellar tendon in stabilization of the knee. A muscle supporting a tendon which supports the kneecap is going to be better than the tendon having to take up the entirety of the strain by itself..
Think about Olympic lifters. They squat VERY deep (almost ridiculously deep) all the time, frequently 5 or 6 times weekly, with very heavy weight. If deep squats were so bad for their knees, they wouldn't be able to squat that deep, that often, and that heavy.
Partial squats, however, will NOT activate the hamstrings, and the amount of shearing force on the patellar tendon increases exponentially. What WILL happen if you do partial squats is that your quadriceps will become disproportionately strong as compared to your hamstrings, and the following are likely results:
- In partial squats, the hamstrings aren't activated, which means the patellar tendon takes up all the strain/stress/pull during squats. As a result, fatigue and damage to the tendon can accumulate because tendons recover MUCH slower than muscles. Any type of action involving knee bend can then cause further stress and strain during daily activity. This is asking for trouble. If the hamstring is strong, it drastically reduces the amount of stress on the patellar tendon. Full squats make the hamstrings strong. Partial squats allow the hamstrings to become weak. Weak hamstrings are bad Bad BAD.
- Partial squats develop the quads and neglect the hamstrings. Weak hamstrings coupled with strong quads result in hamstring pulls while sprinting, starting or stopping suddenly, playing sports, etc.. They frequently occur as the result of muscular imbalances across the knee joint. Strong quadriceps and weaker hamstrings result in a knee joint that is unstable during rapid acceleration and slowing, and the hamstrings are unable to counteract the powerful forces that occur during sudden stops and starts. In other words, you do a sprint with extra-strong quads and weak hammies, and you are begging for a pulled hamstring because your hamstring isn't as strong as the quads and isn't able to perform an adequate eccentric contraction to keep your knee joint from hyperextending during a sprint. As a result, you strain the hamstring because, although it isn't strong enough to do the job, it will hurt itself trying.
- In sports, your acceleration will be weak, as will your jumping ability, as a result of underdeveloped hamstrings and hips. Poor speed/acceleration = poor performance
- You will end up using stupidly heavy weights in the partial squat due to the mechanical advantage afforded by partial squats, and you put your back and even shoulder girdle at risk due to the extreme loading of the spine.
If it's too heavy to squat below parallel, it's too heavy to have on the back.
– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 18
And most importantly: Everytime you squat above parallel, Rip drowns a kitten in milk.
Do I really need to squat if my legs are already big?
Don't be afraid of the squat. Learn to embrace it.
Having said that, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and we'll assume you are part of the 1/4 that isn't afraid of the squat. Determine what your goals are. If you want to get as big as possible, all over, then you will most definitely want to become a master of the squat. Your physical structure might not be ideal for the squat. You may have zero aspirations of becoming a powerlifting squat champion. You might not really give a flying fig how much you squat.
But if you SERIOUSLY want to be as large as you possibly can, all over, then yes, you will squat, even if you already have big legs.
There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning as the correctly performed full squat.
– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 19
Squats spur full body growth when combined with full body training much better than full body training without squats. If you want to look like some Abercrombie model, then find another program and enjoy your nice, easy training style. If you are serious about adding muscle to your frame, then get under the damn bar and make it happen.
I don't know how to produce a good hip drive, What can I do?
Hip drive is getting out of the hole using your posterior chain, basically the glutes and the hamstrings. One of the best ways to guarantee a pure hip drive while getting out of the hole is to curl your toes up. By curling your toes up, your system can not go forward, thus the load will now be shifted from your quadriceps to your glutes and hamstrings.
If by curling the toes up, you fall backward while getting out of the hole, this is an indicator of dormant or too weak glutes. Deload till you find the weight you can manage with a good hip drive and continue progressing and powering your glutes.
Another indicator of a good hip drive is feeling the glutes getting squeezed and tightened unconsciously while getting up. It feels as if the whole weight is moved up by your glutes. If you get a sore quadriceps instead, I guarantee you that you're not curling your toes up and the weight is shifted forward instead of up while getting out of the hole. A quadriceps-dominant back squat is a leg press, not the interior-posterior-balanced squat type recommended by all Rippetoe books.
What about the leg press?
...(the leg press) restrict(s) movement in body segments that normally adjust position during the squat, thus restricting the expression of normal biomechanics...(it) is particularly heinous in that it allows the use of huge weights, and therefore facilitates unwarranted bragging. Please slap the next person that tells you he leg-pressed a thousand pounds. A 1000-lb. leg press is as irrelevant as a 500 lb. quarter-squat.
– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 61
The leg press is an excellent tool for an intermediate or advanced physique athlete to use for quad and/or glute and/or hamstring development. However, it has NO place in the routine of a novice trainee, and it has no place in this program, despite its uses and advantages.
Can I use a manta ray, safety squat bar, buffalo bar, or back pad when squatting?
If you have had shoulder problems, the Manta Ray can be a pretty useful piece of equipment. Its use is certainly not advised unless absolutely necessary, because it lengthens the lever arm between the weight and the rotation point (i.e. the barbell and the hips), which can cause problems with the lower back. It can also "wobble around" atop the shoulders causing a load shift affect, which also can cause problems with the lower back.
However, if you are experienced enough with the weights to know you NEED a manta ray, then by all means, it is better to squat with one than to NOT squat with one.
If, however, you simply want to use a manta ray for comfort's sake, then don't bother squatting at all. The amount of pain tolerance from a hard, heavy set of squats will be too much for you if you can't take a little bar sitting across your shoulders. Perhaps you should take up a different hobby...knitting, for example.