Speaking to a number of athletes on the subject of strength and conditioning, the subject of squatting comes up, often with numbers thrown around. Impressed, my eyes light up when the lightweight fighter tells me “yeah I squat 200kg”, but when I ask them about depth they usually hand their heads in shame, such is the life of a quarter squatter. Not just the domain of some athletes who never had the benefit of coaching, the average gym is full of quarter squatters, merrily crushing reps of double or so body weight with about as much depth as a body-pump instructor. These are the same people that also chirp on about how squatting deep hurts their knees or their lower back. I recall Dan John once saying “Remember, squats don’t hurt your knees, but how you perform them can.”
Back to Square one
Truth is most of this folks have never been taught how to squat or were taught poorly, in the case of athlete is structural issues due to sport or anatomical issues (being tall makes squatting hard for instance) where as for joe gym its the chronic effects of sitting all day effecting the ability to squat. Often with these clients its a case of ditching everything going all the way back to square one. We then work our way through a series of progressions to build proper form, thorasic (upper back) extension and vertebral alignment.
Learning to master the bodyweight squat is the first step, if you cannot do this without toppling you have no business loading a bar on any part of you while squatting. If you make it past this stage we move on to the Goblet squat, most of the general exercise population could probably master the goblet squat and finish there. To perform the goblet squat simply grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it against your chest. Now with the weight cradled against your chest, squat down and try and keep your elbows on the inside of your knees. Keep the chest high and head up. Next up is front squat hopefully with patterning from Goblet squats we can look to do front squats (Zombie squats if you lack the wrist and fore arm flexibility) and eventually the back squat. Ive never know someone who was good at Goblet or Front squats who could not back squat effectively, double that for good overhead squatters. The front squat forces good posture regardless of the grip you use without it you will lose the bar. We have to stack the vertebrae thus decreasing stress on the lower lumbar, the spine acts more like the column it has evolved to be.
|Goblet => Front Squat => Back Squat. When I first started with Sean Carter @Sexycurlsmma he could barely bodyweight squat with good form but starting with Goblet and single leg work hes getting there|
Experiences from the Gym floor
2 of my current MMA clients both with significant time under the bar, had always eschewed deep back squats, citing back pain as their reason for not doing them any more. In this instance it is often a case of excessive forward lean and the lower back taking the brunt of the work when driving out of the bottom. One took straight to the front squat the other took to the goblet squat and worked through the progressions. Over the course of 6 months I rotated back in initially higher rep back squatting and eventually heavy back squatting, both are now pain free and in fact prefer deep back squatting more than front squats.
Trouble shooting : “My heels elevate when ever I squat regardless of variation.”
Quick Fix, Pop 2.5kg or 5lb plates under your heels. This occurs, went here is a change in the mechanics of your squat to be forgiving towards your lack of inflexibility. Longer term solution will be to perform soft tissue/mobility/flexibility work on your calves and ankles.
When working with junior athletes we would always start with Bodyweight or Goblet squats and then try and move on to Overhead and front squats. Often people are too keen to load up barbells and get beginners or novice trainees under them, then brag about their numbers on-line. This is a recipe that will produce a good quarter squatter or an injured trainee. Drop the the ego start at the progression that is right for you. Master these movements, add weight and then look everyone in the eye when you tell them you squat double bodyweight.
In the Video I below I perform both Goblet and Front Squats but also the rarely seen “Zombie” squat.