The Squat

MalcolmX

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4 Jul 2011
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The Squat
How do I properly perform a squat?​


This is the first thing Mark teaches on a squat and it's covered in Starting Strength. To this day, I use it as a warm up. This will not only get your knees pointed in the right direction, it will also help to stretch out:
  1. Without a bar, squat all the way down.
  2. Put your left elbow inside your left knee and your right elbow inside your right knee.
  3. Clasp your hands together between your knees.
  4. Your elbows will be pushing your knees outward and you'll feel a stretch inside your thighs.
  5. Make sure that your feet are pointing in the same direction as your knees.
  6. Note the distance between your heels. If this isn't exactly how wide your stance should be it's damn close.
  7. If your hams aren't touching your calves, stay in this position for a few seconds and stretch yourself out.
  8. Stand up, thinking about lifting your tailbone first. Don't push with the legs as much as you think about lifting the tailbone. This is the first movement out of the bottom of the squat.
  9. Repeat.

The basics:

300px-ElbowsLowbarBackSquat.jpg
  1. Get under the bar with your chest high and your upper and lower back tight.

  2. Grip the bar, ensuring your grip is balanced from left to right.

  3. Grip the bar as close to your shoulders as possible. This will test your shoulder, elbow and wrist joint flexibility. The closer your hands are (within reason, your hands shouldn't touch your ears), the tighter your upper back will be, and the better the bar will sit on your back. Use a thumbless grip. You aren't supporting the bar with your hands. You're holding the bar DOWN against your back. Your wrist should NOT bend in either direction. It should be a straight line from your forearm across the wrist onto your hand.

  4. Place the bar on your back across the low portion of the traps and rear delts (low bar position). Elevate your elbows as high behind you as possible, while keeping your chest upright. If your pectorals are sore, you will feel this as a deep stretch in the pectorals and possibly delts.

    500px-Squat_Bar_Placement.jpg


  5. Inhale as deeply as possible, ensure your back is tight, bend down a bit and squat the bar out of the rack. Do NOT LEAN FORWARD and perform a good morning to get the bar out of the rack. You will lose tightness this way and, as a novice, expose yourself to injury.

  6. Stand fully upright with the bar across your lower traps and rear delts, and clear the bar from the rack in 3 steps:
    • Take 1 step backward with one foot to clear the rack
    • Take 1 step backward with the other (trail) foot so that your feet are even
    • Take 1 step sideways with the trail foot so that you get your heels to proper stance width.


  1. Do NOT perform a "backward walk" with the bar. No more than 3 steps are necessary, total. Fidgeting with a few hundred pounds on your shoulders gets tiring. Squats are difficult enough as it is, no need to tire yourself needlessly prior to exercise execution with needless steps.

  2. Make necessary adjustments so that stance width is proper, i.e. heels at ~ shoulder width, feet pointed in a "neutral" manner, ~30 degrees outward. ~30 degrees is "neutral" because as you widen your stance, your toes need to point outward in order to maintain proper patellar alignment with the thigh bones (toes in line with knees). When your heels are at approximately shoulder width, your toes will need to be pointed ~30 degrees outward.

  3. Keep your chest high and the bar balanced above the midfoot, take a deep breath, hold it, and squat down all the way. Do not look up, do not look down, do not look side to side. Keep your eyes focused on a point that is ~ 6-10' ahead of you on the floor, or if you have a wall close enough, focus on a point a few feet above the floor along the wall.

  4. 4 basics of execution:
    • Sit back (stick your butt out!)
    • Squat down (bending/flexing the knees)
    • Balance the weight by keeping your chest and shoulders upright while your upper body leans forward slightly to keep the bar above the midfoot
    • "Keep knees tight" - i.e. don't relax your quads and simply "drop" into the bottom position, keep your thigh muscles tight throughout the motion

      500px-Squat_Hip_Drive.jpg


  5. Once you have squatted down all the way into "the hole", without pausing or bouncing (more on this later), stand back up.

  6. As you raise out of "the hole", you will be doing 3 basic things almost simultaneously:
    • You will be pushing your butt upward
    • You will be pushing your shoulders upward
    • You will be extending your knees
    • You will be forcefully contracting your upper and lower back muscles isometrically to maintain tightness in your torso
Do not begin to exhale (blow out) until you are near to completion of the repetition. This will cause you to lose tightness.
 
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MalcolmX

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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:
  1. Work on calf and hamstring flexibility
  2. Do NOT go up on your tiptoes
  3. Stretch your hamstrings
  4. Do a better job of warming up
  5. 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?

176px-Parallel_Squat_Position.jpg
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
 
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MalcolmX

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The Safety Squat Bar and The Buffalo Bar

Assuming you have had an injury of some sort, or you have shoulder joint flexibility problems for whatever reason, then absolutely. The buffalo bar and safety squat bar both are outstanding pieces of equipment, especially for the lifter who has had shoulder problems *raises hand and points to self*. They certainly can create a different training effect than squatting with a conventional bar setup, but the training effect can be quite beneficial, especially for those with shoulder injuries who cannot squat otherwise.

Understand, however, that the novice trainee should NOT choose these devices over the basic barbell back squat. Their use should be limited to those who have injuries and cannot perform a barbell squat.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Both the buffalo bar and the Safety Squat bar are used by knowledgeable powerlifters as assistance lifting devices. Obviously my statements do not apply to them, as they would have no reason to read a "novice training program description" for anything other than mild curiosity's sake.


The Back Pad

Meow.

No. Don't use the "puss pad".

If your back hurts excessively while squatting, then chances are good you aren't flexing your upper back muscles sufficiently to "pad" your skeleton. When you grip the bar, you must keep your hands in toward the body as closely as possible while gripping the bar BEFORE you unrack the bar and start squatting.

In other words, get under the bar, bring your hands in as closely as possible along the bar, grip the bar with a thumbless grip, lift your elbows back and up, and step under the weight. By keeping your hands close and your elbows back and up, the muscles of your entire shoulder girdle, as well as your trapezius muscles, will all "bunch/hunch up", which will provide significant padding for the bar. Ensure the bar is kept in the "low bar position" at the lower-rear portion of your traps and rear deltoids, and you should be fine.

The main problem with the pad, in addition to making you look like a wuss, is that it tends to throw the center of gravity off. For an experienced trainee, this won't be a problem, they can compensate (and they probably wouldn't ask to use a pad anyway). For a novice trainee, this can be VERY detrimental to proper technique and balance development inherent in the learning process of the squat. So, all joking aside, the pad might help your upper shoulders "feel better" while squatting, but once you get to heavy weight, that little pad won't do jack squat, except for throw off your technique! If you have a shoulder injury, then the pad won't help at all. Look into using a Buffalo Bar, a Safety Squat Bar, or a Manta Ray


Can I deadlift first, instead of doing squats first? Do I really need to squat everyday?

Deadlifts are an outstanding exercise, however, squatting before deadlifting is necessary for a variety of reasons

Squats serve as a more efficient and general "warmup" and preparation for your weight training sessions than deadlifts. Deadlifts will fatigue the upper and especially the lower back muscles prior to beginning the squats, which can definitely be hazardous to the health of a trainee, especially a new trainee. The last thing you want while squatting is a set of spinal erectors that are unable to bear the load. You can still frequently deadlift to near-limit poundages after squatting, but you will NOT be able to do that on your squats if you deadlift first.

Squatting first and squatting every workout is also ideal because it sends a strong growth signal to the entire body.

3 sets of 5 ≠ a set of the fabled "widowmaker" 20-rep squats, where after you're done with the squats, you are done with the training. Your lower body will get taxed during the 3 sets of squats, but a novice won't be able to squat enough weight to leave them unable to properly perform their next exercise, which is a bench press or a standing press. The lower body rests as you work the upper body with the pressing exercise.

So, as mentioned elsewhere, perform the squat properly as often as possible, and you will maximize growth in your entire body (assuming you train your entire body). Just make sure you do it everyday, and you do it first. If you have bum knees or you're an old fart like me, then you will possibly need to make adjustments.


Should I use a block under my heels while squatting?

Although this can put your knees and hips in a more advantageous position, it is not recommended for a number of reasons:
  1. A block of wood doesn't support the entire foot, and as such makes it an unstable surface unsuitable for squatting.
  2. Backing 2-3 hundred pounds onto a fixed block of wood could have disastrous consequences if the trainee stumbles over it. Even if he doesn't stumble, getting yourself aligned evenly will burn off the fuel in your tank. Or if you can't get yourself alligned, it will make for an uneven, biomechanically awkward squat.
  3. Squat shoes are better.
You can get all the benefits of using a block of wood, with none of the detriments, by rewarding yourself with a pair of solid squat shoes.They are well worth the price and they will make you a better, safer, stronger squatter as well.


I did squats for the first time and my legs are insanely sore, what should I do?

This shouldn't really happen. If you squatted so much weight that it is making your legs sore immediately after squatting, you may have started with too much weight.

The next day or the day after you will experience some soreness, but it shouldn't be too bad. Just be especially careful going down stairs. In fact, avoid stairs if you can and take the elevator.

An excellent series on the squat called Squat Rx. I recommend it to anyone who would like some more in-depth analysis of perfecting the squat form.
All credit goes to Mark Rippetoe. These text are simply ideas contained within his books.

Sometimes a very complex idea requires a very simplistic solution. Starting Strength details that simplistic solution, and Practical Programming follows up with information to maintain the trainee's progress.

If you want a more detailed description, go buy Starting Strength (on Amazon) for yourself.
 
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smith

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This is really too big to read! I think that it would be hard to follow. But if you have been looking for a perfect workout plan then please watch couple of video tutorials of Edward Checo.

Keep in mind that a good start mean half done.