Here are some tips for enhancing the beginning position of a back squat:
Be sure to read PART 1 to learn all the prerequisites to the actual squat!
Spread the floor apart with your feet
This will activate the hamstrings and gluteals through torque. Without torque, muscles would not be functional. Torque is the rotation of an object about an axis. In this case, the axis is the acetabulo-femoral joints (hips) and the tibiofemoral joint (knees), and the object is the upper and/or lower body. The primary objective of the hamstrings and gluteals is to extend the hip. Spreading the floor apart with your feet forces a slight external rotation in the hip pushing the head of the femur to the anterior causing an extension in the hip joint; thus, this has engaged both the hamstrings and the gluteals.
Squeeze the bar
Squeezing the bar helps to recruit the upper body into the lift. Having a strong upper back and flexed triceps supports the weight and protects the spine. Squeezing the bar allows for more muscle activation which means extra caloric burn; plus, the more muscles recruited in an exercise the more weight that can be lifted.
Set the core
Setting the core is essential for spinal protection and maximal muscle activation. This is accomplished by taking a deep breath and forcing pressure on the diaphragm in the downward phase of the squat. Taking a deep breath and pushing the abdominals out causes an isometric contraction of the abdominals, erector spinae, and multifidus. Holding the breath can increase intravenous blood pressure which allows for more muscle recruitment and summation. However, holding the breath throughout the movement can be detrimental. The carbon dioxide buildup in the blood is toxic, and the blood pressure can become too elevated. To avoid this Valsalva maneuver, expiring the breath on the upward, or concentric, phase is advised. The trick is to learn how to inhale and exhale without relaxing the core, and this takes practice.
Now, for actual squatting mechanics, here are some additional tips:
First movement is to unlock the hips and sit back and down
Begin the squat by lowering yourself as if sitting down on a chair or a bench. Preventing the knees from moving over the toes is essential for activating the posterior chain. Even high-bar squatters need to sit back and down because they still need to recruit their posterior chain even thought they are quad dominant. More muscle recruitment equals more strength and safety.
Sit at least parallel
Partial squats will only reap partial rewards. In order to increase more activation of the posterior chain muscles, squatting at least parallel is optimal. The term parallel refers to the axis line of the knee and hip joints and the ground. Sitting parallel means that the top of the hip joint must sink below the top of the knee cap.
Keep a neutral spinal alignment
Neutral spinal alignment is the natural alignment of the spine from the coccyx to the base of the skull. A common mistake is the tendency to not maintain a flat back. Having the spine flex is a sign of doing too much weight because of a weak core. A flat or slightly arched lower back is a power producer. Also, looking forward instead of up with the head will help neutralized the cervical spine while maintaining balance.
Push hips through
When at the bottom of the squat, standing up properly is the next objective. The gluteals’ job is to move the hip anteroposterior. This means they move the hips back to front instead of up and down. The gluteals must fire and allow the hips to “pop” up and forward. Trying to push the hips underneath the bar is the goal. The faster the hips pop the more power development. Proper alignment and maximum strength and power will be achieved if this movement is done properly.
Push through the heels
Pushing through the heels will help keep the knees behind the toes. When looking at a profile of a body, the heel supports the rest of the body because it is base of the frontal plane and the easiest transfer of energy to the ground. Power is in the heel. The heel provides the shortest distance energy has to travel to the ground which maximizes speed and strength.
Hips and shoulders rise at same time
Being sure that the back stays neutral is essential to prevent injury. The back will have the most potential to flex as the bar moves up. To prevent this flexion, the shoulders must rise with the hips. This is achieved by allowing the hips to get underneath the bar. Another helpful tool in this regard is to drive the elbows under the bar as well. This will push the shoulders up while activating a strong scapular platform.
The neutralizing effect
Pretend 45lbs is actually 500lbs. In this way you will learn to flex and recruit more muscles and be stronger and safer. This is called the neutralizing effect because it inadvertently makes heavier weight feel lighter and lighter weight feel heavier.
The back squat is a total body movement that requires activation of all the muscles in the body in order to execute properly. Never compromise proper form and execution in the quest for additional weight. By properly activating all the muscles in the body, one will produce more caloric expenditure, reach higher weight lifts and the coinciding muscle growth with less risk of injury. Increased transfer of strength and power to the athletic field or court are also among the rewards of maximizing the use of the back squat. Also, simply adding weight to the bar to increase strength may not be the best tactic. Read “How I got stronger by lifting lighter.”
But, before you squat, be sure always, always, always warm up! What kind of warmup should you do? I bet you don’t warm up like this.