One of the fundamental movement patterns is a squat, most things in our day to day lives require some form of a squat. From bending down to pick up and object (or a child for the parents) to getting out of the lounge chair. In this blog I will walk through a couple of common techniques to maximise your efficiency with a barbell squat/back squat.
Why are squats good?
- Improves coordination between various muscle groups (quads/hamstrings/glutes).
- Works on 2 of the biggest (and most powerful) muscles in the body, quads and glutes.
- Translates over to other activities such as sprinting and jumping.
- Studies have shown lower body resistance training can improve conditions such as osteoarthritis through the hips and knees.
- Squats will challenge your “core” – squats will force the abdominal muscles to brace and stabilize the spinal column.
- Being a compound movement, it will help burn more calories than majority of other exercises’ (larger muscles being used).
Often compound movements (multiple muscles and joints moving in a coordinated fashion) such as a squat may need to be broken down into partial movements with some progressions to help achieve the end result i.e. body squat progresses to a goblet squat, then onto a Barbell back squat then into an overhead squat. For good technique here are some of my main tips and tricks to get the most out of your squat:
Squeezing shoulder blades together –
For a back squat (particularly low bar – type of squat) it is important that as you set yourself up under the bar with the shoulder blades squeezed together. It serves a couple of purposes:
- Creates more muscle bulk (traps, rhomboids) so that the weight doesn’t sit on your vertebrae.
- Increase upper back tension, which in turn allows any force produced by our legs to transmit up the body and into the bar. This equals a higher weight lifted in a safer manner.
Neutral spine –
It is really important that when doing exercises that we keep a neutral spine. What I mean by that is, a neutral spine is where we see both curves (lordotic and kyphotic) through the spine. This supports on loading of the spine in an optimal fashion. The way I teach this is to suck your ribs down and bring your belly button closer to your spine. This type of technique is a bracing that helps the spine deal with compression (weight on top of the back) in a safe and efficient manner.
Knees in line with toes –
This is important because it will maximise the efficiency of the muscles ability to pull with force. Generally speaking, taking a stance of your feet outside your hips and feet/toes pointed on an angle of 30-45 degrees (depends on hip mobility) will increase the recruitment of the glutes but also allow for a deeper squat because the femoral head has more room to move in the hip joint. What that basically means is that there will be less of a pinch/pain through the front of your hip when getting low in the squat position. Having the knees move over the second toe is a good guide to make sure everything is in alignment.
Squat selection –
Out of all the tips and tricks this one is probably the most important. Depending on what your training goals are as well as mobility restrictions. For example, I use a low-bar position for my back squat due to decreased ankle mobility and wanting to load the glutes more. Here are some versions of a squat followed by why you would pick them;
- Low- bar barbell back squat – Good for individuals with poor ankle mobility but also can prioritise the glutes/posterior chain over the quads (beneficial for individuals that are really strong through their quads but still want to squat).
- Front squat – more focus is on the quads (knees move further forward over the toes), this type of squat also challenges the posterior spinal muscles due to needing to stay up right more so the weight doesn’t fall off your shoulders.
- Split squat – Very good exercise to work on unilateral (one side) strength, which is good for sports. You can either focus on the glutes or quads with the positioning of your foot/knee angle. The greater the knee angle the more quad dominant the movement will be.
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