The back squat is considered by many to be the KING of lower body exercises. For the most part, I agree. There are many versions of the squat and I am not going to get into a stupid debate about which one is better than the other one. The simple fact is all different versions of squats can be effective and that it all depends on the desired effect, phase in a training cycle, the athlete’s ability level and proper execution. This post focuses on the last item I mentioned, proper execution!
The major problem I see with athlete’s and people who squat in general is that most of them do it wrong! I personally use the Olympic style of squatting as the staple of most of my athlete’s training programs. The main reasons for this are:
1. The Olympic Squat when properly done fully works the hip and knee joint through the full range of motion improving flexibility.
2. Performing a full Olympic squat recruits more muscles in the lower limbs such as, the vastus medialis, gluteals, and hamstrings.
3. These previously mentioned benefits also provide better structural balance between the muscles of the lower extremities improving performance and decreasing the risk of injury!
4. The body position while performing the Olympic squat is more closely related to the athletic stance of most major sports.
5. Lastly, proper Olympic squatting prevents excessive forward lean placing more stress on the working leg muscles and less stress on the lower back.
To perform the Olympic Squat:
1) First make sure the bar is even in the rack to assure proper placement on shoulders.
2) Place your and hands evenly on the bar to assure proper alignment.
3) Proceed under to step under the bar keeping your hands in place
4) Once under the bar rest bar evenly on the middle or upper back/shoulders
5) Keep feet shoulder width, arms tight next to the body and elbows under the bar.
6) Lift bar off rack and step back 1-2 steps to clear rack.
7) Keep head neutral or slightly up, elbows under the bar and chest up.
8) Feet should be shoulder width or slightly wider.
9) Take a deep breath and hold
10) Begin movement by letting the knees bend and shift slightly forward.
11) Now begin to squat down by “dropping” straight down until your hamstrings are touching your calves. Yes BELOW parallel! It is not bad for your knees contrary to popular belief. Your chest is up, elbows tight to the body and under the bar, feet flat on the ground.
12) Once in the bottom position do not bounce. Pause briefly and explode upward using your legs, and glutes. Push up against the bar with your hands. Exhale though the sticking point.
13) At the top take another deep breath and repeat for desired number of repetitions.
To further illustrate the proper technique please watch the following video of one of my athletes performing the Olympic squat in perfect technique! If you cannot get low enough or lean to far forward then you need to lower the weight and work on your flexibility! Also, if you have spent your training life only half squatting or box squatting, performing the squat like this will most likely be challenging. I have heard many fantastic stories of guys squatting 400, 500 plus pounds but were usually far above even parallel! I have seen many of these same athletes not even be able to perform 6 correct full squat reps with 225 pounds! So if you have never full squatted then give it a try. The benefit will not only help improve your other squats but your overall athletic performance.
For more great information about the squat check out this article by Charles Poliquin.