Over the course of human history we have had accounts of many strong individuals starting all the way back with Milo who carried a calf up a mountain everyday until he was eventually carrying a cow. Even in the days of yore strength was something that was admired and revered by all, and it seems like many men and women today still want to be brutally strong. In my opinion being strong is a great goal to have because it carries over into all facets of life from carrying your groceries inside to self-confidence. Although physical strength isn’t a necessity like it used to be many of us still have a desire to be physically strong and competent. If this is your goal then there are a few movements that you should practice with regularity, to make this easy I’m going to steal Dan Johns list from his book “Before We Go” because it is something I base my training off of regularly.
- Pushing (Bench Press, Overhead Press, Incline, Dumbbells)
- Pulling (Barbell Rows, Pull-ups, Dumbbell Rows)
- Hinging (Deadlifts, RDLs, Kettle Bell Swings)
- Squatting (High Bar, Low Bar, Front Squat, Box, Specialty Bars or even bodyweight)
- Loaded Carries (Heavy Dumbbells, Farmers, Yokes, Barbells, Sled Drags)
- Everything else
If someone truly wants to be strong they should become proficient at these movements.
“Well gee whillikers mister I didn’t realize I had to be good at so many things,” says Johnny.
“Yes Johnny friends never let friends become bench bros,” I reply.
“What kind of bros should we become then?” inquires Johnny.
“We shouldn’t become bros at all Johnny, but why don’t we start with the squat,” I say with tears in my eyes.
I promise I’m not normally this emotional but squatting has a special place in my heart because it has been such a long and hard struggle to become proficient at the movement. I’m hoping that by writing this post I can save many of you the pain of figuring out how to squat.
- Set Your Feet Under the Barbell and Get Your Back Tight- When you approach the bar in the rack you should set your feet almost directly under the barbell about hip width apart and your hands should be in a comfortable position based off of your mobility. After you do this pull yourself under the barbell and place the bar on your rear delts or your traps. If you don’t have the mobility to place the bar on your rear delts then just place the bar on your traps and work on your shoulder mobility. If you’re using a specialty bar this position changes based on the bar. You should feel your back flexing under the bar from the tension you just created. If you can’t feel this then think about pulling your elbows into your side.
- Unrack the Barbell- Take a big breath and push your abs out like you’re bracing for a punch to the gut. Then use your legs and push your upper back into the barbell and stand up with the weight. At this point you may be tempted to run a half-marathon backwards so that you don’t hit the rack when you squat, resist this urge. Instead take a ONE step back with one foot (I step back with my right first) then bring your other foot in line, after you do this take a little step to the side with the first foot you moved, which will put you around shoulder width.
- Twist Your Feet into the Ground- Many people will give a “knees out” queue but I’ve found that telling people to twist their feet into the ground at the top of the rep works better. This forces you to activate your adductors, which will keep your knees from caving when you squat by creating torque.
- Break Your Hips Back Like You’re Going to Sit Down- Make sure your butt is squeezed at the top of the squat then do a small sit back with your hips. Many people want to break at their knees first, which is one reason many of you may have issues reaching depth when you squat. By breaking at the hips you not only create space to sit down into but you also stretch the glutes and hamstrings more, which activates more muscle tissue to act in the squat.
- Sit Down Into the Space Created by Your Hips- After you break at your hips you should be able to find a natural path to sit down into.
- One issue that you may run into is pushing your hips back so far that you can’t sit down into the hole. Fix this by pushing your hips back a little less and trying to descend more vertically. The most important thing is that you keep the bar over your mid-foot. It’s simple physics, by keeping the bar over your mid-foot you stay on balance but if the bar deviates from this path you create a longer moment arms making the lift harder, also known as losing your balance.
- Another issue that is common is lack of mobility in the hips or ankles, which keep a lifter from reaching proper depth. You obviously cannot force yourself to hit depth without getting hurt but this doesn’t mean you can’t work on it. Here are some resources you can use to increase ankle mobility Kelley Starrett Ankles 1, Kelley Starrett Ankles 2, Kelley Starrett Basic Lower Body Mobility.
- Push Up Into the Barbell and Drive Out of the Hole- Drive your upper back up into the bar so that you don’t round over when you’re coming out of the bottom of the hole. Obviously you’re going to use your legs to drive out of the hole so go ahead and do that. Since you have your feet screwed into the ground your knees should have tracked over your toes like they were supposed to and you shouldn’t have a knee caving issue at a light weight.
- Squeeze Your Glutes- When you reach the top of the rep don’t forget to squeeze your glutes through. It seems like a minor point but it’s important if you want to train the squat correctly.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you guys that every rep you do needs to be perfect because that’s impossible, but if you do these basics well then you should see improvement in your squats. Try and make every rep as close to perfect as you can, but don’t sweat it when a rep goes wrong. Analyze, adjust and go again, every squat is a chance to practice so treat it as such. I hope this post has helped you guys a little bit, if you have any questions or comments then go ahead and leave them below!