as the "King of Exercises," the barbell
squat truly lives up to its name. The squat is
one of the single most powerful muscle and strength
building exercises a person can do.
now, you're going to learn 10 of the most immediately
useful techniques that I know for rapidly improving
1. Try wearing solid-heeled work boots when squatting.
give a natural heel elevation and allow the power
from your legs to be transferred better than when
wearing soft-heeled running shoes. You can lose
power at the bottom when wearing soft shoes because
the sole will squish in when you push. If you
don't have work boots, try squatting barefoot.
You will not lose any power at the bottom through
soft shoes that way. When you squat barefoot,
set the racking collars a little lower to make
up for the lack of soles. If neither work boots
nor going barefoot is an option, use court shoes.
They have the most solid sole of any type of shoe.
2. If you find yourself leaning over too far...
you come down to the bottom of the squat, lack
of calf flexibility may be your problem. Work
on that before each squat session by stretching
the calves for 5 minutes.
3. Hold your hands on the bar fairly close in
to your shoulders (similar to your bench press
grip width) and keep your elbows pointed DOWN
through the entire squat.
you hold the bar too wide, this will force your
shoulders to rotate internally (forward). Your
elbows will start to point backwards, which will
cause the bar to rotate forward as you come down.
As the bar rotates forward, this will cause you
to lean over excessively, increasing the pressure
on L4 and L5 of the lumbar area of your lower
back. Keeping your elbows pointed down activates
your external rotator muscles (the muscles in
the shoulder area that pull backwards) which will
keep the bar from rolling forward.
4. If you feel yourself leaning over and pushing
from the forefoot area too much...
pressure from your hands to rotate the bar backwards.
This will force the weight back over your heels,
improving your balance and posture while working
the quads better and preventing injury.
5. If you feel you are about to get stuck at the
bottom, try this trick...
down hard on the bar as though trying to snap
it in half over your back. It may sound counterproductive
but if you do this while you are straining against
the bar, it will cause an emergency stretch reflex
in your quads and give you an extra little kick
out of the bottom of the movement.
6. As you start down into the squat, sit back
will keep your back in a much better position
for squatting. Knee bend will follow automatically.
Your posterior chain muscles (hams, glutes, lower
back) are the real power muscles of the body and
this will help develop them. Quads will be worked
strongly as well, but when you lead by sitting
back, you'll be in a much better anatomical position
7. Look slightly up and forward.
you look down, your head will go forward. Here's
the problem: your lumbar (lower back) area mimics
your cervical (neck) area with positioning. If
your neck is flexed forward (as when looking down),
your lumbar area will try to flex to match it
(when it should be extended and held tightly in
an arched position).
8. To help get the proper position at the bottom
of the squat...
to squeeze your elbows together behind your back,
arch your lower back and look up slightly. This
will force your back into the proper position
as well as giving your rear delts and back a good
9. Some people squat with their heels raised.
the opposite, squatting with your toes raised.
You will need to thoroughly stretch your calves
out to do this one but it will force you to push
only with your heels, maximizing hamstring and
glute involvement as well as focusing on the lower
quads. Perform this technique with high rep and
using a full range of motion to increase blood
flow to the lower quads. Be sure not to raise
the toes up excessively (a thin plate such as
5 or 10 will do it).
10. To increase quad involvement, pull your toes
up to touch the top of the insides of your shoes.
will tend to throw the point of push back to the
11. Do not use a belt when squatting.
the start, suck in your gut and hold it tight,
activating the transverse abdominus muscle (the
internal supporting muscles of the core), giving
you a natural weight belt. Tightening the muscles
like this will increase intra-abdominal pressure,
just like a weight belt does. A weight belt causes
dysfunction and weakness of the transverse abdominus
and can lead to injury. The belt inhibits the
body's ability to fire the muscle when needed
and can predispose the back to injury by creating
a weakness in those important supporting muscles.
important point to note here is that if you've
always used a belt for squatting, work back up
to heavier weights slowly. Start with lighter
weight and higher reps to give your supporting
muscles a chance to work and strengthen. If you
jump right into heavy weights without re-training
your core muscles, you could injure yourself.
Focus on sucking in tightening the abs and feeling
them contract and hold during the squat.
12. To fire the lower quads during squats, as
you descend, come up on your toes in a calf raise.
upright and sit back. Only go to parallel on this
trick. Do not lose tension in the quads and only
do this with a very light weight. It can be tricky
to balance with this one so take it easy when
first trying it. Don't let your knees drift forward
too much and don't lean over. This will also give
a great contraction in your calves.
13. A plastic molded device called the Manta
Ray is an excellent tool for squatting.
is no pain from the bar as the weight on the bar
is more evenly distrubuted across the entire shoulder
girdle instead of having the bar digging into
the shoulder blades. It is also much safer than
a rolled up towel or pad as the bar cannot roll.
14. Build power in the bottom of the squat by
performing the Wall Sit exercise after every leg
is a good way to strengthen your thighs isometrically
(without moving). Go into a sitting position with
your back against a wall, lower back arched, knees
bent at 90 degrees, and just hold it there for
as long as you can, pushing yourself backwards
into the wall to keep yourself up in position.
This helps you build power in the bottom of the
squat. You can increase the resistance by holding
a dumbell or weight plates on your lap (you can
even have a spotter progressively pull plates
off your lap as you get tired!).
15. Try Bottom Start Partial Squats
variation is done in a power rack. Set the pins
just above where the bar would be at the low point
of your regular squat. This is where you will
be starting the movement from. This will build
tremendous power out of the bottom of the squat.
Do not bounce in this position! Set yourself up
under the bar in the bottom of the squat position
then gradually build up tension in your legs and
body. When you're ready, explode the weight up
a few inches. Lower yourself back down under control.
You will need to experiment with the amount of
weight you use to get an idea of where to start.
16. Typical Squat Problems and Solutions
- Heels rise
- keep your eyes up, chest up, lean back slightly.
- Rounded back
- strengthen your lower back, arch your lower
back more, lift your toes up in your shoes
while you squat, grip the bar closer to your
- Lack of depth
- open your stance, turn your toes out up
to 30 degrees (remember to keep your knees
tracking straight over your toes).
- Knees buckle
in - wrap a weight belt around your thighs
and pressout against the belt as you come
leaning over - stretch your calves thoroughly,
squat withyour heels raised (use a wooden
wedge or ten-pound plates). It is better to
stretch, though, as squatting on blocks is
not the best way to squat. Hold the stretches
for 3 to 5 sets of 15 seconds using the standing
calf raise or seated calf machines or any
other good calf stretch. Work on improving
your calf flexibility in the long-term as
well, stretching a lot when you work calves.
Don't use the Smith Machine to squat. The Smith
Machine, while making the squat easier to balance,
is not better for squatting. It is hard on the
patellar tendons of the knees due to the shearing
forces involved. It is bad for the ACL (anterior
cruciate ligament) and it also takes the hamstrings
and stabilizing muscles out of the movement. The
Smith Machine squat is especially bad when you
set your feet a little forward of the bar and
push backwards against it as you come up. Every
rep will grind on your knees.
these squatting tips to the gym with you and put
them to work. You'll notice a big difference in
how you squat and how much weight you can use!
more information on squatting and squat technique,
read the following articles:
Don't Know Squat About Squats
Training Tip #321 - Squatting With Your Core -
This Never-Before-Seen Technique Can Make You
Stronger in the Squat Instantly!