Squat Like a Champion

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How much you squat bro? -- said no one ever.

Never has there been an instance in a gym (or any other setting) where someone asked you how much you squat. It’s always how much do you bench?

Why is that? Because training legs is hard, taxing work, and most people treat it like a red-headed step child -- they’d rather just avoid it. But, the squat is the king of all exercises, and if you’re not squatting regularly, your legs will never grow to their full potential. And don’t even bring up the leg press, it’s NOT a replacement for free standing squat!

So, whether you’re a grizzled gym vet or newcomer to the lifting life, listen up, because it’s time you really learned how to Squat!

Finding the Proper Stance

Before you even approach your first barbell squat, you need to figure out a proper squatting stance. To find your own ideal stance, we’re going to begin with a wall squat. So, find a wall, and turn to face it with your toes touching the wall. Now, squat down until your hips break 90°, or parallel to the ground, with your toes still in contact with the wall. If you can’t squat to parallel or below with your toes still touching the wall (or at most an inch or two from the wall), you need to widen your stance a bit.

Most lifters, in order to break parallel, will have to move their feet out, and they’re going to automatically push their feet (and toes) out. If that’s the case, get someone to hold your feet in place, glued to the ground, and try and break parallel there.

If you’re new to lifting, you probably won’t be able to accomplish this right away, and it may take even a few weeks before you are able to successfully break parallel while still keeping your toes in contact with the wall. But, if you keep at it, and practice the wall squat before every lower body training session, everything will come together much, much faster.

Bar Approach & Grip

Every time you approach the bar, no matter if it’s the squat, deadlift, bench, or military press, you want to approach the bar the exact same way, no matter if you’re going for a one rep max or a simple warm up. Liken it to a batter’s approach in baseball when approaching home plate. They have the exact same “ritual” and approach each and every time to get in the right frame of mind. You’re squatting is no different.

For example, walk around the bar the same way each time before gripping it, placing your hands on the bar in the same order, and stepping up to the bar so it meets your mid chest.

Now, as far as exact hand placement, that takes a little bit of personal experimenting, and your grip may change over the years of squatting. What works now, may not feel quite right down the road, but for starters, try experimenting with the following “thumbless grip.”

To use this grip, approach the bar, and place your hands about shoulder width apart on the bar, with your thumbs wrapped over the top of the bar (i.e. “suicide” grip), and not wrapped underneath, like you’re typically grasp a barbell. Now, hold the bar in the bottom of your hand, very low on your palm.

Bar Placement

Now that your stance and grip are solidified, it’s time to address bar placement -- where the bar will sit on your traps when you’re squatting. A lot of lifters (especially powerlifters) use low bar squatting, which allows you to squat more weight during the exercise. Plus, it helps center the weight over the middle of your foot and prevents your chest from caving forward and in while squatting.

Note: If you’re looking to gain an extra 20-40 lbs on your squat really easily, shifting from a high bar placement to low bar placement will instantly increase your max squatting weight.

Now, we’ll keep working our way down the body and talk about your hips.

Pickup & Walkout

Once you position yourself under the bar and have it situated comfortably on your back, it’s time for pickup! With your feet underneath the bar, perform a mini-leg press to get the bar off the rack on loaded onto your back.  Then, take 2-3 small steps backwards and “shimmy” your feet into the proper stance for squatting.

A common mistake many lifters make is taking far too many steps back after the pickup, which wastes energy, and is completely unnecessary. You really only need to have 2-3 inches of clearance from the squat rack, and you’re good to go.

When you’re ready to attempt your first squat, you want to begin with your knees locked and your hips in line -- everything should be locked and tight.

Break Parallel

To squat parallel is defined as the straight line from the top of your knee to your hip crease. All you have to do is break that by a centimeter and you’ve completed a full repetition of the squat good enough for competition! It doesn’t have to be 4 or 5 inches below parallel, though feel free to squat that low if you like squatting ass-to-grass.

Bracing

Learning how to properly brace your midsection during a squat, whether you’re going light or heavy, is absolutely crucial. One piece of equipment that can really help with proper bracing is a lifting belt.

We’d suggest 4” belts that are 10mm wide with a single prong. This allows you to cinch it very tight on the sets you really need it, and easily loosen it a bit on some of your lighter weight sets as well.

To properly brace your core for the squat, begin by addressing the bar, gripping it, getting into place under the bar and completing the lift off portion described above. Then, continue by taking 2 steps backwards, shimmying your feet into place and locking everything out. Now, exhale all of the air in your lungs, tighten your abdominal wall, and brace. At this point, take a huge breath in (all the way to your stomach!), and push into your lifting belt.

Make sure you’re not “chipmunk breathing” on your squats, i.e. taking in a small breath and puffing out your cheeks. That’s not going to help you in any way, shape, or form.

Squatting

To start the squat, begin by pushing your hips back, descend under control all the way down until your hips break parallel, go all the way down, and then push the weight back up by contracting your glutes, quads and hamstrings. If you happen to be a close-stance squatter, you’ll be able to rebound out of the hole a lot faster than if you use a wider stance when squatting.

That’s all there is to the squat!

Go Forth and Squat!

If you’re a seasoned weight lifter, use the points up to top to fine tune your performance of the squat for maximum efficiency and weight moved. If you’re new to lifting (or squatting with a bar), really take some time to go through these tips and learn how to squat properly from the very beginning. That way, you save a lot of time and avoid potential injury from squatting improperly.

Even better, write these notes down in your lifting log, and re-read through it every time before you squat and during your rest periods so these key pointers are always fresh in your mind each and every time you step under the bar.

Now, get under the bar and SQUAT!