Why we have to squat

Photocredit: Trey Ratcliff

After I got a great response regarding my deadlift article from colleagues, clients, and people online, it’s pretty obvious that talking about the squat needs to happen. If the deadlift is the queen of any strength and conditioning program, then squat is the king. Squatting is one of the fundamental human movements we do every day, from sitting down on a chair, toilet, office chair, etc.  A correctly executed squat starts with hinging from the hips while maintaining a neutral spine. Compared to the hip hinge (picking something up from the floor), the squat has less hip bending, more knee bending, and a more upright torso angle. With that in mind, the squat falls more into the category of a knee dominant exercise whereas the hip hinge is a more hip dominant exercise. Squatting is a natural movement, and we all should be able to perform it efficiently. The squat not only transfers very well to everyday life it also has a huge carryover to many sporting activities by increasing strength and helping to learn proper jumping and landing mechanics.

Having good lower body strength is also a predictor of quality of life. The one reason people are living in nursing homes is the inability to get up from the floor. The stronger our lower body is, the better we can sit down and stand up, walk and move around. Doing strength training is the number one precaution for aging.

Learn how to squat

I like to teach the squat with the box squat first. Box squats are the gym equivalent to sitting down on a chair and standing up correctly. Next step is bodyweight squats without the box and using full range of motion.

Learning how to Squat with @mintchalita. Starting with Box squats. Box squats are the gym equivalent to sitting down on a chair and standing up correctly. Next step is bodyweight squats without the box and using full range of motion. 1. Position your feet shoulder width apart. Place your toes from straight to approximately a 30-degree angle. It depends on your flexibility or what feels comfortable. 2. Be aware of your posture by making sure your spine is straight and hinge from the hips (driving your hips back). 3. Lower the hips and bend at the knees until you reach a proper depth or the box. 4. Hold the knees straight over the toes or slightly outside. That creates external rotation and stabilizes your hips, knees, and ankles. 5. Reverse these steps to return to a standing position. #squat #movement #learning #health #strengthandconditioning #personaltraining #strength #basic #humanmovement

A post shared by Jamal Younis (@jamal.jokkok) on

 

  1. Position your feet shoulder width apart. Place your toes from straight to approximately a 30-degree angle. It depends on your flexibility or what feels comfortable.
  2. Be aware of your posture by making sure your spine is straight and hinge from the hips (driving your hips back).
  3. Lower the hips and bend at the knees until you reach a proper depth or the box.
  4. Hold the knees straight over the toes or slightly outside. That creates external rotation and stabilizes your hips, knees, and ankles.
  5. Reverse these steps to return to a standing position.

Different styles of squats

After mastering the bodyweight and the box squat, the goblet squat is my preferred squat variation. The two main reasons are that some people have balance and flexibility problems in a bodyweight squat. Adding a load in front of you with a kettlebell or dumbbell improves these two problems immediately. Further, the goblet squat is very easy to learn and can be executed well in a group class setting.

After the goblet squat is mastered it is time to move under the barbell. Back squats (with the barbell positioned on the back) is the best way to lift the most amount of weight.

Back Squats (High-bar or Low-Bar)

In a low bar squat, position the bar below the horizontal spines of the scapulae and just above the rear deltoids (shoulders). The high bar back squat places the bar on top of the trapezius muscles. I am not concerned about the style that is chosen, but rather that the bar path is directly over the midfoot position and the squat is balanced. Most people I see in gyms have an unbalanced squat because they are leaning too far forward. For this reason and for the fact that we can make the squat more hip dominant, I like to use the low bar position for myself and some of my clients. A proper low bar back squat is knee neutral that’s another main reason to choose it over the high bar squat as it brings in the hamstrings to balance the quads in knee extension.
By placing the bar lower on the back, you have to lean more forward to have the bar over the balance point. People should also not confuse a straight back with a vertical back. You can lean far forward and have a completely straight back.

 

Front Squat

In a front squat, place the bar on the front of your shoulders. That means the torso is considerably more upright and the squat is much more knee dominant, because of a closer knee angle (see picture above). This style of squat is similar to the goblet squat, but you can lift more weight because you do not need to hold the load. You will feel that squat move more in the front of the core and quads and less in your back. That’s a reason why many athletes use that style. This decision is debatable as you lift less weight as opposed to other squats.

There are other types of squats like overhead squats, the dumbbell squat, zercher squat, etc. They will not be addressed in this article because they are of less importance for general strength and health purposes.


(Front, High-bar and Low-bar Squat and how the body needs to be positioned to balance the squat. Extract: Starting Strength, Basic Barbell Training)

Program the Squat

The squat is an exercise that increases lower body strength dramatically. I use and plan the squat for 2-3 times per week. The number of sets or reps and style of squats depends mainly on the goals of the person.  I also like to use the squat as the first exercise of the day and with a linear increase, which means we try to add weight (2kg or so) every time we squat. Here I explain why the squat is a good first exercise in any program. I discuss a more detailed program regarding frequency combined with other activities directly with the client.

Four main misconceptions about the squat

  1. Squats are bad for your knees
    The opposite is true. Squatting strengthen the muscles, bones and connective tissues surrounding your knees. If you believe you have “weak” knees, it makes sense to start squatting now.
  1. Don’t squat below parallel
    A big part of humanity sits in a deep squat position (like here in Thailand). So this misconception makes no sense at all. For strength and fitness purposes I like my clients go with the hip joint (as seen with the crease of the shorts) slightly below the top of the patella (knee). This is little bit below parallel and seems very useful and healthy range of motion. For mobility (link) purposes, I highly encourage people who sit on chairs all day long to sit in a deep ass-to-grass squat as much as possible during the day.
  1. Keep your knees behind your toes
    Depending on the length of your femur (thigh), the type of squat chosen (e.g. front squat), the knees may travel behind your toes, and that’s fine. Watch the weightlifters at the Olympics. Their knees are way behind their toes.
  1. Maintain the head-up position
    A lot of people believe that looking up during a squat helps to drive up more efficiently. Bringing the neck in an unnatural position with a load on the back makes no sense. Keeping the head in a neutral position by looking straight (front squat) or slightly down (back squat) is more healthy for your spine.

Train the squat on a regular basis because it is an essential movement. The squat is very beneficial to your overall strength, sports performance, aesthetics, and overall health as they will allow you to perform basic daily tasks more efficiently. And because lower body strength connects to the overall quality of life I can highly recommend that you get up from the chair right now and do a few squats.

Use this article to work on your squat technique and enjoy the process of getting stronger. Let me know your experience and opinions regarding squats in the comments or as a message and share this post. Thank you

*special thanks to Noleen and Troy to edit the article and point out mistakes in the technical aspects of the squat*

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