Squats. I love squats. They’ve been a staple in my routine since I started weight lifting almost a decade ago. I know I’m not alone in my love for this mother of all exercises, either. Many people around the globe are utilizing this movement to give them a seriously good workout with seriously good results.
No, I’m not talking about body weight squats, nor am I talking about smith machine squats. I’m talking about slapping some weight on a barbell and squatting… lowwww.
But, why should squats be a part of your exercise program? Why are they adored by so many?
First of all, squats are one of, if not THE most functional movement that we use every. single. day. Essentially every time you sit down and stand back up, you’re doing a squat. Every time you get into your car, you’re squatting. When you get on the TOILET you’re popping a squat. That alone should be enough to persuade you to add squats to your routine if they aren’t already… but if you still need some convincing…
Squats are a full body compound exercise, meaning that they utilize multiple muscles and joints to complete the movement.
Because of the utilization of a large amount of muscle groups, they cause your body to increase our [overall] anabolic hormone production (in turn, helping us lose fat and gain muscle). (Nerd Fitness)
They actually work some of the largest muscles in your body: your glutes, and all the muscles that compose your thighs.
[…] they not only stimulate serious gains in muscular size and strength but also provide a systemic metabolic stimulation that seems to encourage even upper-body growth. (Iron Magazine)
They also work many of the SMALLEST muscles in your body. These muscles are called stabilizer muscles. When squatting with a barbell… or any free weight for that matter, you’re not only working all those big muscles to get the weight up, you’re also having to call on all those little muscles that help keep you upright, balanced, and stable throughout the whole movement.
Now, squats are only going to treat you well if you treat them well, and by that I mean; if you squat correctly, you will reap the benefits. If you don’t, it’s likely going to get ugly reeaall quick.
The Basic Movement:
The biggest cue that I found that took my squat from ok to great is envisioning pushing my hips backwards and forwards, as opposed to getting the bar up and down. By this I mean initiating the movement by first pushing your butt back into a squat position – as if you’re about to sit on a chair. Then, when coming back to standing, thinking about extending your hips (pushing them forward) to bring the bar back up.
Start with your feet just wider than shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards, weight on your heels. From this foot position, come down into a squat position using the cue I mentioned above while keeping your spine in a neutral position. If this movement feels awkward, try adjusting your feet. Everyone has different anthropometrics, so biomechanically they will not move in the same way, meaning that you may need a different foot position in order to reach full range of motion (ROM).
Where is your weight on your feet? Your weight should be on the balls or heels of your feet, not your toes! A cue I used when first learning how to squat properly was that at all times during a squat I should be able to wiggle my toes. This way you know that you’re not putting much/any pressure on the front portion of your foot.
Bringing the bar back up is where I find people have the most problems regarding technique. Envision there is a ruler attached from your butt to your head. When coming up from the bottom of a squat, the rulers angle to the ground should not change until you straighten up right at the top of your squat. As in when pushing up out of a squat, your butt should not start traveling before your head does, and vice versa; this will put an unnecessary load on your low back.
What Are Your Knees Doing?
When squatting down, your knees should track over the same direction of your toes, and there should be a straight line up from the centre of your feet to the bar (as in the bar should look like it’s over your feet from the side). Don’t let your knees cave in! When you push up out of the bottom of your squat, consciously think about pushing your knees out away from each other to limit inward movement.
I hear quite often that many people are told that their knees should never be further forward than their toes. This is not true!! The knees can withstand a pretty hefty load, so having your knees go over your toes is not going to cause damage. There was a study done by Fry et. al. (2003) that found that by limiting the knees from going past the participants toes, that knee torque was decreased by 22%… HOWEVER with this decrease in knee torque, there was in increase in hip torque of 1070%!!!! So basically, not allowing your knees to go past your toes is just going to transfer stress to the low back x48. For more on this myth, read this article.
Where Is The Bar?
You’ve probably seen the terms “low bar” and “high bar” squats thrown around before, generally by powerlifters.
What’s the difference between the two you ask? Well, one is high on your back, sitting on your upper traps/lower neck, the other is about 3 inches further down, behind your shoulders. That’s literally it.
At the end of the day, position of the bar doesn’t really matter if you’re just recreationally working out, just place the bar wherever you feel most comfortable. I find that if you’re having trouble reaching full ROM with your squat (as in you’re unable to come below parallel) that moving the bar futher down your back helps (usually the case for those with longer femurs). Low bar is also apparently a little easier than high bar, hence why you’ll see powerlifters utilizing the low bar squat more than high.
This post is great if you want to delve a little deeper into the ins and outs of low bar and high bar squats: High Bar vs. Low Bar Squatting
Now, off you go. Grab yourself a barbell and get to work! Happy Squatting!
Until next time