The idea of a perfect squat conjures up emotions like the smell of freshly cut grass, the taste of freshly baked warm bread or that feeling you felt when you first heard the soft, soul- melting tones of a young Michael Bolton...no? just me then.
Now as far as I’m concerned developing a good squat should be the foundation of any good training program. Very few exercises test full body strength quite like it and even fewer do so whilst promoting good mobility of the lower body. This makes it my number one exercise for developing overall athleticism.
Here are my 4 tips to building a better squat
I know it’s boring and about as sexy as the image of your dad on the toilet but having enough mobility to work the squat through a full range of motion is essential for continual improvement. Full range of motion squats will not only maintain optimal mobility of the ankle, hips and upper back but also ensure that you are getting stronger in that range. The lower your hip descend into the squat the greater role your glutes play in the movement and we all want a good backside right? So if you are lacking the mobility to get all the way down I would highly recommend that you spend some quality time developing this so you can keep yourself moving forward and weight going on the bar whilst remaining injury free.
2- Keep your back tight
All too often I see people squatting with little regard to what their upper back is doing. Now this is either due to a lack of understanding of the movement or they are just being lazy. During the squat the back has to stay upright and locked, the last thing you want to see is any loaded flexion of the spine. This is where the set up is important, I get everyone I coach to squeeze their shoulder blades together, pull the bar into the back using their lats with elbows forward and with their core braced. Notice I said core and not abs, what we are looking for is tension around the whole midsection. This braces the spine into neutral and is a much safer position to be in with a loaded bar on your back.
3- Keep the weight on your heels
Well technically speaking you are keeping the weight on the rear of your foot, think ball of the big toe backwards. You want to avoid any weight shifting on the feet throughout the movement and attempt to get the feeling of your feet being bolted to the floor. This is important as where your weight is on your feet relates to the muscles you will use during the movement, when the weight is on your toes you will favour the quads where as when the weight is on the heels you will get the backside working more, this is what we want. So check your feet and remain balanced throughout the movement.
4- Check your ego
By this I mean understand the difference between a technical max and a true max. A true max is the maximal amount of weight you can stand up with, these tend to look a little ugly and not how you would want every lift looking. A technical max is the amount of weight you can lift with perfect form. Now I’m not going to say that you should never test your true max but understand that this comes with its risks and continually lifting in this form will not only lead to issues in the future but you are also teaching yourself to lift with poor form, after all we adapt to what we repeatedly do and if your not strengthening good form you are strengthening bad form. This is where we need to check our ego, we all want to lift heavy but for better progress in the squat I tend to use technical maxes to calculate my training loads and then go for broke when testing. Now for some people this might mean dropping the load a little bit to allow better technique but you will thank me in the long run.
Getting stronger in specific lifts isn’t about just lifting heavy; it’s about mastering the skill, the technique, to lift more efficiently. These four simple tips will go a long way to building not only a bigger squat but also better technique.