Above all exercises, the squat is the king of all big lifts. Training for the squat is not just about the amount of weight you lift but how efficiently you can lift the weight. In the world of strength training, there is a simple mechanism that we all abide by and that is form = function. Without form, you will lose strength and force production which will lower the amount of function you can actually have any specific exercise. To best address how to maximize your squat let’s take a look at the five phases that we have found enable you to increase squat performance.
#1 – The Set Up
Before you can squat heavy and improve your strength we need to set up properly. Our goal is to be strongly aligned and tight through the entire range of motion, this is why the setup is perhaps the most important aspect to a great squat. Here are the three steps to a great squat setup. Hand Position: Hand position on the bar should be as close as your shoulder mobility can allow. Keep your elbows inside the hand position. Retract and Depress the Scapula: With relaxed shoulders, pinch your shoulder blades together to squeeze the upper body. Push Elbows under the bar: This will engage the lats and allow for more muscle mass to function.
#2 – Breathing and Bracing
Our goal is to set ourselves up with a strong and neutral spine in the same tight position from the setup. Here are the steps to breathing and bracing prior to your lift. Breath down and out: Unracking the weight, push air down and out through your obliques to increase pressure and enable stability. Create 360 degrees of pressure: Standing in your neutral position create abdominal pressure throughout. Try not to engage in lumbar extension – this can lead to spinal injuries.
#3 – Feet and Knees
In order to squat heavy with great form and function, we need to position our joints in the best way possible. Over the years people have discussed that pushing the weight back over the top of your heels can help improve performance but when it comes to maximizing your squat we want to be using as many muscles as possible including the quads. This means we must push some weight over the knees and ankles. Find even weight distribution: With feet turned slightly outwards, find even distribution between the big toe, little toe and heel of the foot. This will enable you to descent with balance and strength. Move both the Hip and Knee at the same time: Difficult to perfect, but this will allow you to load the most amount of muscle mass throughout the movement, sitting down with balance. Maintain forward knee position on ascent: Keeping the knees forward will enable the quads to take the primary role in the movement. This will alleviate stress from the low back and hamstrings. Avoid Internal Rotation of the Knee: On descent, imagine screwing the feet into the floor, this will enable the powerful external rotators at the hip to avoid inward rotation and increase strength.
#4 – The descent This will cover the mental and physical aspects of weightlifting. Treat every lift as if it’s your max. Descend as fast as your technique will tolerate: Your squat descent should follow your personal strength. Some may find a slow descent works best, while others divebomb to the bottom and rebound out using the stretch reflex. Treat every weight with optimal respect, and only descend as fast as your technique can tolerate.
#5 – Head and Upper Back
The head and Upper Back position is the last crucial phase in maintaining strength and form throughout the squat. Find a neutral neck position:: Not too high, not too low. Find a comfortable position. You may want to look up with your eyes. Push the bar up with your back: Don’t allow the hips to rise or knees to fall back. Push up with your back to engage the entire body and let the legs carry the load. To optimize your squat form and function be sure to set up properly, breath for pressure, stay strong in descent, connect the knees and hips and push up with the back.