Proper Technique For The Back Squat

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Proper Technique For The Back Squat
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Mike Fancious Squating!

Since we include the (Back) Squat exercise into a large number of our articles on weight training, we feel this is a topic which has to receive special attention. We firmly stress correct technique for “all” exercises and since the Back Squat has been a controversial movement (among many coaches, trainers, doctors and athletes) let me discuss the technicalities involved in this exercise to wash away many of the misbelief's.

The Back Squat is a total body exercise which requires, of course, a total body effort. Many believe the Back Squat to be solely a leg exercise which automatically misdirects their interpretations and applications. To begin with not everybody is capable of or should be allowed to do Back Squats. Special concern must be directed towards the flexibility of the ankles, knees, thighs and low back. Once you (as a coach or trainer) feel your athlete has the proper flexibility to perform good Back Squats then, at this time, is this exercise to be implanted into his or her training. If an you have never done any substantial training to develop good flexibility and strength, disregard any squatting movements until the you have developed a satisfactory level of strength in both of these areas.

At first allow the yourself to handle resistances which are very light. This will enable the you to develop correct muscular patterns of coordination as you will be able to expend greater amounts of energy towards technique development; (hence flexibility, coordination, stability, speed, control, etc.). If too heavy resistances are handled, concentration and energy expenditures are directed towards strength often ignoring a sound technical base. It is often witnessed that when an athlete starts to perform Back Squats with too heavy resistances, three faulty occurrences take place:


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  1. With excessive resistances the athlete cannot travel a complete range-of-motion (r-o-m). If the athlete cannot handle the resistance which has been placed onto the barbell, the weight will simply drive him down to the floor.
  2. If the athlete is aware that he cannot perform a good full Back Squat, they simply will perform a partial squat. Partial squats (a short r-o-m) with excessive resistances will increase strength in special cases and for certain periods of time but the resistances which are handled in partial squats, (and for that matter any partial exercise), are well above the athlete’s actual strength capabilities. After a period of time, partial squats will take their toll on the athlete’s body causing spinal compression and overall body fatigue.
  3. Excessive squatting resistances (as stated earlier) will develop poor muscular patterns of coordination (bad technique) and opens the door to many unnecessary injuries.

The Back Squat is one of the top exercises in which the most amount of weight can be handled by an athlete. Once correct technique has been learned, strength development will progress in a much more efficient manner. Allowing you to get comfortable and confident to the movements of any exercise, then start to progressively increase your resistances as your athletic abilities develop. All this means is that the Back Squat performed properly is the greatest overall body mass developer there is, PERIOD!

To attempt any form of Back Squatting follow these next steps:

  1. Place the bar high on top of the trapezius muscles and across the superior portion of the deltoids to perform high bar or bodybuilding squats, lower across the rear deltoids to perform power squats.
  2. Assume a firm grip, of both hands onto the bar, which is approximately 3-6” wider than shoulder width. Many athletes take a very wide grip. This is fine for power squats but incorrect for high bar squats as all of the pressure of the barbell is on top of the spine. With a narrower grip you have a tripod support system (two arms and your back).
  3. A stance in which the feet are at least shoulder width to a max of 4-6” wider than shoulder width is to be obtained. (This is, most of the time, the athlete’s preference which is determined by the athlete’s comfort and flexibilities. Generally speaking, due to hip positioning, a narrower foot stance works the hips and upper thighs more whereas a wider stance attacks the mid to lower thigh.) At this point both of the feet should be slightly pointed outward but should not exceed a 45 degree angle to that of the plane of the back.
  4. After steps 1, 2 and 3 have been performed, the athlete is now in what I refer to as the Neutral Position. This is where the athlete is free-standing with the weight across the top of his back ready to proceed and squat. Before the athlete lowers his body, special concentration must be focussed to the positioning of the back. Instruct the athlete to keep his back flat with a slight rearward arch to it. This position must be maintained throughout the entire movement. Helpful tips are to instruct the athlete to take in a deep breath, prior to lowering his body, forcing his chest up and out allowing the abdomen to form an antagonistic shield for the stabilizing of the back muscles and the spine. Also the athlete is to obtain a focal point, which is no less than eye level (at the start, while the athlete is standing), and try to keep his eyes fixed on this area throughout the entire movement. This (focal point) will help maintain proper stability and positioning as the head will automatically travel rearwards, as the athlete descends into the squat, forcing the back and spine to stay in an arched or flat position.

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  6. Now the athlete is ready to lower his body and squat. This is (step No. 5) the area which will abolish a lot of the controversy which has been brought about to the squat exercise. Every athlete, as we all realize, has his or her individual variances of flexibilities. As the athlete is descending into the squat a number of vital points must be observed and enforced to suit each participant. First, always make sure that the athlete is maintaining that flat or arched back positioning. If, and when, this position starts to faulter, this indicates that the athlete has either exceeded his or her flexibilities (range-of-motion) or too heavy a resistance is loaded onto the barbell. Second, make sure that the athlete’s feet are (constantly) firmly planted onto the floor. Once a hint of heel elevation is present this is the point in which the athlete has exhausted his ankle and or knee flexibilities. This forces his body forward to keep his center of gravity and body balance evenly distributed. If, and when, back positioning and foot contact to the floor starts to faulter, this is the point of return. The athlete has travelled to his or her fullest range-of-motion and must start the upward portion of the exercise. If the athlete persists on lowering his body, loss of balance and control will be evident, opening the door for injury. As time progresses, and the athlete becomes more comfortable with the Back Squat, his or her flexibilities will strengthen to compensate for the demands which are put upon the body, and the depth for which he or she can travel will be noticeably increased.
  7. Now, when the athlete is approximately 3-5” above his or her deepest squatting position, this is the point where the athlete is to “put-on-the-brakes” so-to-say and start the concentric (upward) portion of the exercise. This will help ease the athlete into his deepest squatting positioning, allowing his knees to tolerate this kind of an activity. Many athletes squat too quickly and this is the portion of the exercise which proves to be of great danger If improperly controlled. Many athletes simply fall into their squats and bounce right out of them creating a tremendous build-up of pressure in all of the patellar tissues and also all of the tissues of the lower thighs and lower back. When the athlete realizes that he is about 3-5” above his deepest squatting position, all he has to do is start to contract all of his frontal leg and hip muscles by pushing his feet into the floor. When the athlete is changing directions, (from downward to upward) he will still sink a bit into his squat as the resistance will still be pushing on him. To contract, or start the upward portion of the exercise, 3-5” ahead of time simply allows the athlete to carefully and safely lower himself into his deepest squatting position, enabling that athlete to perform the Back Squat with complete control and efficiency.
  8. Now as the athlete is ascending into his squat, this is the portion of the exercise where faster speeds of muscular contractions may be concentrated on. If the athlete starts his employment of speed during any portion of the descending phase of the squat, a bouncing action will take place and (as mentioned earlier) opens the door to loss of balance or control and injury. Tell the athlete to lower himself with complete control and once he has reached his deepest point, to drive out of it back to a straight leg standing position. It will be witnessed that when the athlete starts to drive out of the squat, his back will have a tendency to lean forward. The main causes for this are (1) too heavy a resistance and (2) the athlete’s control and strength of his back muscles. Make sure that the athlete does not get into the habit of leaning forward during the ascending portion of the squat. If he can descend with an upright and arched back, he will be able to ascend in exactly the same manner. If this problem is evident, first instruct the athlete to slow down his speed a bit to coordinate and control the actions of this exercise and secondly decrease the resistances which are loaded onto the barbell. As time progresses, both speed and resistance will be able to increase as the athlete will become a better squatter.
  9. Steps 1 - 7 instruct the proper way in which the Back Squat shall be performed. In step No. 8 I want to inform you of some of the dos and don’ts.
    A) A belt, one which is 4-6” in width, will be helpful in supporting the back.
    B) Avoid too heavy resistances too often. Since the Back Squat is an overall body exercise excessive resistances too often will over tax the body. It is best to fluctuate resistances.
    C) Never have an athlete squat alone. Spotters make this exercise safe to attempt and also creates a lot of confidence within the athlete as he can attempt this exercise without many of the doubts which exist when squatting alone.
    D) Shoes which have an elevated heel will enable all athletes to sink lower and more comfortably into the squat as the elevated heel will increase ankle flexibility.
    E) Do not over wrap the knees. This does nothing for strength and opens the door to many unnecessary injuries.

Tags: Strength Life Squats

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