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Improving your squat technique

As with any exercise, arguably the most important aspect is your squat technique when performing the movement. Although you may need to lower the weight slightly to keep your form good and stop yourself from heaving the weight up, this is to prevent injury and joint pain in the future.

The importance of good squat technique

This is even more important in the exercises where you are moving the heaviest weights, such as squats, deadlift, bench press and overhead presses. If you squat too much weight before building up the muscle then you will end up getting pinned under the bar without a spotter, or even worse end up with a muscle tear or similar injury that could put you out of training for months.

Because the squat is an exercise that uses every muscle in the body to some degree, and puts you through a range of motion that leaves your lower back exposed there is also always the danger of a lower back injury or slipped disk that could permanently affect your lifting potential.

For the sake of a little less weight, a bit better form and even some training safety aids such as leg wraps and a powerlifting belt will help drastically reduce the chance of injury.

Learning the correct form

Although there is a wealth of information available today on all types of exercise and the correct way to perform them, simply stepping into many gyms and looking at how some people perform the squat would make you think otherwise. Even though this seems a relatively straight forward movement, the range of motion and muscle groups used are complex and need to be trained well outside of the squat as well to benefit your squat technique.

With so many mistakes possible in the squat it is difficult to cover them all, but some of the more common ones that can be seen in gyms I have worked out at in the past can be covered by the following few points. Each problem also comes with a solution so if you see a problem you might be guilty of then be sure to find out what you can do to resolve it.

Squat technique mistake 1: Not Taking Time to Set Up Properly

Even when you are performing your warm up sets and lighter work sets with squats, you still need to take the time to focus on un-racking and racking the weight. If you are performing the squat in a smith machine then this will be less of an issue as you can get your feet in the correct position before even unhooking the weight.

Take the time to focus on every part of the squat movement, even the un-racking of the weight and steps backwards.

If you are performing the squat in a power cage or squat rack then you will be resting the racked bar on the back of your shoulders before pressing it up off the rack and walking backwards to be clear of the rack. This is when a large number of injuries will happen so always make sure to follow this checklist before every set.

  • When approaching the bar, duck underneath and be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together hard. This will provide a “shelf” for the bar to sit on.
  • Squeeze the bar as hard as you can while pulling the weight down against your traps. Which will help to stabilize your spine and keep the bar stable.
  • Take a deep breath, unload the bar, and take just two steps back.
  • From there, take another deep breath, point your elbows toward the floor, keep your chin tucked and begin the descent.
  • How deep you go before pressing back up will be entirely based on the following two mistakes being corrected, but it is generally accepted that the minimum depth to squat to should be where your upper thigh is parallel to the ground
  • Squat technique mistake 2: Not Using a Hip Hinge Pattern

    Using more of a hip hinge pattern can be achieved by pushing the hips back rather than knees forward when you start the descent, which will help to prevent common knee pain when squatting.

    By adding this to your squat technique you can maintain more of a vertical angle in your shins, which will place less on your knee joints and mean less joint pain later in life.

    The hip hinge will also engage the hamstrings and glutes to a higher degree, which are generally the more underdeveloped muscles in the squat when compared with the quadriceps.

    If you do find that your current squat technique doesn’t allow you to drop your hips to the point where your quads are parallel with the ground, then it would be worth either lowering the weight or building up hamstring and hip strength with exercises such as stiff leg deadlifts and weighted sit-ups.

    Squat technique mistake 3: Not Hitting Proper Depth

    If you don’t suffer from significant injuries or dysfunctions then there’s no excuse for poor squat technique, where you don’t squat to the correct depth. When the quadriceps are just below parallel with the ground then this is when you can start the movement back up.

    Make sure your squat technique includes squatting down until your quadricep muscles are parallel to the ground to perform the full range of motion

    There are those who will lower the weight all the way down to nearly having their glutes touch the ground, but this often comes from years of practice as well as good flexibility in the hamstrings and isn’t necessary to fully develop the leg muscles.

    This also puts your knee joints through a wider range of motion which could be damaging in the future.

    Almost always, box squats will provide the best fix for poor squat technique when it is due to lack of depth for two major reasons:

  • They mark a fixed position that you have to squat to. Once you are comfortable squatting down and feeling the box or bench there, the next step is to move it back so that you can still see in the mirror how low you need to go, but without taking the weight off your muscles by sitting on the box when you get there.
  • Box squats also help people learn more of a hip hinge pattern—sitting back and pushing the knees out—that engages the hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree, which is critical to building an impressive squat.
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