1.09.2009

Squat Technique

Introduction
Squats are often called the "King" of exercises. I recommend that any athlete should do squats, but it is critically important that they are performed correctly and safely. The main emphasis of the squat is on the glutes and quadriceps, but it also strengthens the hamstrings, calves and lower back. I recommend performing squats using a free 45-lb barbell with weights rather than using a Smith machine. My experience and research has shown that doing squats on a Smith machine greatly increases the likelihood of a knee injury.

Before You Start
A lack of hip flexibility makes it difficult and dangerous to squat with proper technique. Perform the squat stretch (pictured below) for 4 sets, 30 seconds each. Keep the chest forward, knees out and toes curled. This will improve hip flexibility.
Un-Racking the Bar
Set the bar in the Power Rack at about mid-chest level. Position your feet directly under the bar. Squat under the bar so that the bar is resting on your upper back. Tighten your muscles and squat up to un-rack the bar. Take one step back with one leg and then one step back with the other leg. You are now ready to begin the squat.
Mental Tips
When performing the squat, there are a lot of things you need to think about. Here are some key tips to keep in mind throughout the squat.
  • Chest Up: Keeping your chest up makes the rounding of the lower back impossible and the tightening of your upper back much easier.
  • Forward Look: Look down and your back will bend. Look at the ceiling and your neck will hurt.
  • Bar Position: Put the bar low, on the muscles of your back shoulders - below the bone at the top of your shoulder blades.
  • Grip Width: Narrow grip makes it easier to tighten your upper back. Do lots of shoulder dislocations if this position feels uncomfortable.
  • Thumbless Grip: Put your thumbs on top of the bar, next to your fingers. You'll be able to keep your wrists in line with your forearms.
  • Straight Wrists: Your back supports the weight, not your hands. Keep your wrists in line you with your forearm - never bend them.
  • Tight Upper Back: Bring your shoulder blades together. Tightening the upper back gives the bar a solid base to rest on.
  • Elbows Back: Do not let the elbows come forward during the squat. Pushing your elbows back prevents elbow injuries.
  • Foot Stance: Heels should be shoulder width apart.
  • Toes Out: Point your toes out at about 30 degrees. Your toes must always follow your knees.
  • Weight on the Heels: Curl your toes up if needed. Never get on your toes. Push from the heels.
Squatting Down
You have un-racked the bar and all muscles are tight: you are ready to squat. The squat down is performed by bending the legs at the knees and hips, and lowering the torso between the legs. Here are the key steps in the squat down:
  • Hips Back: The hips go back first, way back. If they won't, you probably have tight hamstrings, so do the Squat Stretch.
  • Knees Over Toes: Do not let your knees travel forward in the bottom squat position. Keep your knees over your toes - not further.
  • Knees Out: Never allow your knees to buckle in. It can cause knee injury. Push your knees out.
  • Hit Parallel: Your hip joint must come slightly lower than your knee joint. Ask someone to judge your depth or tape yourself.
  • Torso Lean: The torso leans forward to maintain balance. It acts as a supporting structure. The back must maintain its natural curvature and not "round out." Lifting belts can be worn to help alleviate the stress on the lower back.
Squatting Up
Your hip muscles are stretched when you hit parallel. Use that stretch to bounce from the bottom. Do not relax your hip muscles and do no bounce off your knees. Keep your hip muscles tensed. Here are the key steps in the up squat:
  • Hips Up: If your hips come forward, your knees will also come forward. Drive your hips up straight out of the bottom.
  • Squeeze Your Glutes: Power comes from the glutes. Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can while driving your hips up.
  • Push from the Heels: Curl your toes up if needed. Don't let your heels come off the floor. Push from the heels.
  • Knees Out: Same as for the way down. Don't let your knees buckle in. Push your knees out.
Safety & Common Injuries
Whenever you squat (or leg press), the position of your feet is an important variable in determining not only the results you'll obtain from the exercise, but also the safety of your knee joints. The quadricep muscles can contract more efficiently when the feet are pointed slightly outward. Your feet should never point straight ahead. If you squat with a wide stance, your adductors (inner thighs) tend to assist the quadricep muscles. This can result in stress in the medial collateral ligament , abnormal cartilage loading and improper patellar tracking.

During the descent phase of the squat (or leg press), do not allow your knees to extend beyond your toes. The further your knees travel over your feet, the greater the shearing forces on the patellar tendon and ligament in the knee.

The top of your thighs should be parallel (or just below parallel) to the floor in a well-executed squat. Higher than that and you are losing some of the benefit to your strong hip muscles (gluteals and hamstrings). The pressure of the weight should be placed on your heels while descending as well as ascending and never on your toes as this can cause abnormal patellar (knee cap) tracking and over time serious damage to the knee joint.

Benefits
As suggested earlier, the squat is the "King" of lifts because of the benefits found through the execution of proper and safe technique.
  • Builds muscle
  • Increases leg strength through full range of motion
  • Develops hip flexibility
  • Strengthens and stabilizes the knees
Squat In Action
Check out this video below demonstrating proper squat technique:



Sources
Top End Sports: You Don't Know Squat, Jeremy Barnett
http://www.topendsports.com/fitness/technique-squat.htm
Strong Lifts: How to Squat with Proper Technique without Injuring Yourself, Medhi
http://stronglifts.com/how-to-squat-with-proper-technique-fix-common-problems/

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