A lot of basic movements are not as “basic” as they may seem. A lot of bread and butter exercises that we regularly have our clients perform at Emperor Fitness group classes require a strict adherence to technique, which is precisely why we don’t like to rush through our workouts in a traditional CrossFit style. Many exercises that you see being done for speed are more effective when done a touch slower, with more focus on engagement of the target muscle groups as well as controlled and consistent engagement of areas like the core and scapula to protect your body and maintain your posture.
Today we want to talk about the Squat, one of the most important exercises (second only after the deadlift) and also one of the most difficult to perform safely and effectively.
Squats are one exercise that is still often performed incorrectly, even by trainers and athletes. It’s a simple movement at face value, but there is a host of technique points to keep in mind when performing a safe and effective squat.
If you are using a barbell you have a choice of positioning the bar higher on the upper-back, at the base of the neck. This is the position favoured by bodybuilders because having the bar further away from the apex of the movement creates a slightly greater range of motion, which places the muscle fibres under tension for longer.
A weightlifter/powerlifter would usually opt for the lower bar position, sitting it on the upper back, using the posterior deltoids as a cradle. This position, while difficult to adjust to at first, grants you the potential for far more strength and power and, as we know, the more weight you can lift with good from and in great volume, the greater the response from the body. The low bar position requires a certain level of mobility too, which must be earned.
Hand placement is usually subjective, with some lifters opting to place their hands at the very ends of the bar. However, for core and posterior chain stability, placing your hands closer to your body helps you lock in your upper back, creating a more solid torso.
Foot placement is also dependant on your body type, your goal and any injury or immobility to you may have. For maximum range of motion, placing your feet just outside shoulder width, with your toes angled only very slightly outward will allow for maximum range. Placing your feet wider with the toes pointed out on a greater angle, also known as a Sumo stance, will place greater emphasis on the hamstrings and gluteals but will limit the range of motion, which can be more ideal for powerlifters.
When you begin the movement, whether you have a barbell on your back, or are holding a barbell, kettle bell or medball at the front you must stand with your hips locked and straight, chest high and eyes looking forward.
If you have barbell on your back, as in a traditional squat, force your elbows forward to raise your chest. If you are attempting a heavy weight, take a huge breath in, expand your ribcage and hold the breath.
Squeeze your core in as tight as you can.
As soon as you stick your butt out to unlock the hips you must begin your descent. Imagine you are moving to sit on a very low chair, sticking your butt out and placing a lot of weight on the heel of the foot. This will ensure your knees don’t travel too far forward over your toes and place undue pressure on the knees. Keeping your chest high and shoulders pinned back as you descend will ensure that your spine stays straight, and doesn’t round.
Descend until your hip has passed the heigh of your knees, keeping your head up, elbows forward and midsection locked in as tight as possible. Then apply force from the heel, up through your hamstrings and into your glutes and push upward. As you push up, apply force through your upper back, shoulders and arms too – remember the squat is a whole body movement, not just a leg exercise.
As you ascend force your knees outward slightly, this will help engage your glutes.
As you reach the top of the movement force your hips forward and lock them, squeezing your hamstrings and butt as tight as you can.
Be sure to not let the weight shift onto the toes, and when you push up avoid favouring the front of the foot. On top of knee stress this will also radically shift your weight forward, completely sabotaging the concentric part of the movement, and puts you at risk of losing balance completely.
Never let your eyes drop – if you look down, your head will soon follow and your shoulders after that. You must performing as squat like you are being held up by a puppeteer.
Mastering the squat is one of the most important things you can do, whether your goals are to lose weight, build muscle or just improve your strength and athletic ability. Mastering the mind-muscle connection during a squat will make it much easier to do on other movements and once you are truly engaging and isolating your target muscle groups during these compound movements your training and your physique will improve by leaps and bounds.
If it’s your first time squatting, start with little to no weight and perform the reps very slowly and in high volume. If you are an experienced exerciser, apply these points to your current squat and observe the improvement in the connection and engagement you have with you entire body.
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