The Ultimate Guide to Squats

Get the best out of your body by mastering squats. This guide will describe why you should be performing squats to enhance performance, lose weight and improve overall strength.

WHAT IT IS

Squats are a compound strength movement that is generally considered the ultimate lower body strength exercise. Squats are so effective because they are arguably the most natural movement for the human body, besides walking and running. Toddlers sit and play in a deep squat position without fatiguing for long periods of time because it is the natural human seated position.

A squat can be done in a dozen unique variations, all using the same technique. Start in a standing position with feet comfortably apart and toes turned out. Your stance will be unique to your abilities and physiology.

To activate, dip down, pushing your hips slightly back, then bending at the knees. Imaging dipping to sit on a very low stool… Your hip should dip below your knees while your back remains neutral and erect.

Your knees can’t pass…what? There is an old myth that the knees should not pass forwards beyond the feet. This is biomechanically impossible and has been debunked over the last 15 years. Still, the myth persists. Your knees should actually follow your toes, in both width and direction. Keep your heels on the ground throughout the movement and you’ll be just perfect.

There is another myth that squatting at depth (hip below knees) is bad for the knees. This has also been debunked, and people who squat to the end range with correct technique have much stronger, more stable knees than those who do not.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM IT

The first benefit of squatting is improving your lower limb mobility:

The squat movement requires mobile hips, a stable lower back and flexible calves and hamstrings. Adults who are unable to perform squats at all are the unfortunate result of a lifetime of sitting in chairs which leads to a loss of mobility. Those adults who are flexible enough are fortunate to have genetics that allows them to have mobility and flexibility without ever having practiced.

Another benefit of squatting is improving lower limb strength:

The quadriceps are the main winners when squatting, performing knee extension. They are aided by the glutes, which perform hip extension.

The upper and lower back, abdominals, as well as the calves and tibialis muscles (front of calf) are working to stabilize the body through the entire movement to keep you balanced, and support any weight you might be carrying.

The hamstrings and calf muscles are working eccentrically to control the descent of the body, during hip and knee flexion.

As you can see, the great number of muscles and joints involved in a squat make it nearly a full body exercise. You can expect sore muscles, improved strength, improved mobility, and improved lower limb muscle endurance by working squats.

VARIATIONS OF SQUATS

We love squatting because it is such a diverse exercise while still being safe, functional and effective. Once you have mastered the movement of 10 to 12 air squats in a row with no weight, you might want to try adding some level of difficulty. Here are a few variations you might want to try:

Back Squats: Performed with a barbell behind your neck. Great for strength training… Continue reading here.

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6 best queues to improve your snatch

Time to improve your snatch! So let’s look at the most common queues I use with athletes of all levels who are looking to improve any of the snatch parameters. Snatch parameters include things like speed, mobility, acceleration, power, etc.

Let me also add, right off the bat, that none of these things are made up by myself. I learn from my coach of 7 years (John Margolis) and pass it on. I learn by researching work by Bud Charniga, and pass it on. I learn by watching what all sorts of great coaches say and think and pass it all on. Coaching is sharing information, which we should all do more readily if we want to advance the sport! Okay, enough rant, we move into the queues!

           Snatching this week

My 6 Best Queues to improve your snatch:

 

1. Stop pulling high and get low!

The power lifts are great to practice pulling high, but we find that most people instinctively pull high already! Improve your snatch by actually getting under the bar. Learn to get under the bar by queing yourself to get your body to pull down on the bar

2. Lead with your shoulders

The initial pull is where people seem to get tripped up when they get nervous, particularly at 85%RM and more. I like this queue because it keeps your hips from popping up. “Lead with your shoulders” means keeping the chest out and the spine as extended as possible through the beginning of the pull. If you are leading the movement with your shoulders, it also helps with keeping them covering the bar, which brings us to the next point…

3. Cover the bar

Well, this is nothing new, but if you set up a camera to watch yourself, you’ll see the mechanics of your movement with more clarity. No matter the level of the athlete, there is always a coach somewhere, yelling “cover the bar”! So, watching from a lateral angle, you’ll notice that your hip extends too soon, bringing your chest vertical earlier than is ideal. Remember that when the bar reaches the crease of your hip, you still want to have both the power of the knees extending and the hip extension! That means that the bar should be tucked in tight with the chest leaning slightly forwards until the last moment.

If you notice that you hit your pubic bone with the bar on the way up, it’s a good indication that you are not covering the bar long enough!

4. Lock the mechanism before pulling

Inconsistent at reasonable loads? This is another one for those of you anxious to pump out big lifts, but can’t seem to be consistent at 90%. Lock up your training mechanism by pausing, and quickly going through a mental checklist…

-Quads… Abs… hamstrings… glutes…lower back… upper and lats…

Then loosen your arms to be sure you can whip the bar around. By pausing and intentionally locking up, you’ll be tight throughout your pull. Make this a habit and you are guaranteed to become more consistent at those heavier loads!

5. Bring the bar to you

Bringing the bar in is the mechanics of a snatch means that at some point, the bar has lost contact with you. This is as it passes the knees and on most athletes, is slightly off the thighs. Rather than trying to shove your hips into the bar, you should be pulling the bar to yourself. This means engaging your lats, which perform shoulder adduction and extension. Pull the bar in, bringing it to you.

This ties in with #4, Your lats should be wound up, prepped to pull the bar horizontally into your waist, locked into position.

6. Train what you want to improve

There is no secret to lifting… this is what my coach, John Margolis, repeats over and again to his athletes. If you want to improve your snatch, then snatch. Stop box snatching, hang snatching and power snatching and focus on snatch. Considering the very low volume of training lifters are able to do in a week (or month), who has time to waste sets and reps on lifts that are not what you want to improve!? Accessory movements should be treated as such, something to add to training to tweak a few small techniques here or there, or to change up a boring program. Beginners, remember that you’ll need a solid year of repetition, 3 times per week, minimally, to really learn to snatch!

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility exercises

Having trouble with that overhead position? How is your front rack for squats? These are our top 5 shoulder mobility exercises which you can do pre or post-workout!

 

ANATOMY YOU NEED TO KNOW…

As you may know, the shoulder joint is called a ball and socket joint. But this does not fully describe the joint. A ball and socket usually leads people to believe there is some sort of comfy slot (socket) for the arm (ball) to be trapped in. In reality, the shoulder joint is nothing more than two bones somewhat close together and a whole host of soft tissue- muscles and ligaments- criss-crossing across the two, holding them together.

All that soft tissue is bound to lead to problems, even though it is what makes our shoulders so mobile. No other joint can move as freely as the arm does in the shoulder joint. Muscles from the back and chest attach at various points, which means that at any given time a tight muscle is pulling the balanced structure apart, or compressing it in any direction. These tight muscles quickly limit the range of motion of the joint and can eventually lead to some pain, or possibly injury, if they require a compensation elsewhere.

Looking at a persons posture may give an indication of which shoulder is causing more problems, but testing mobility is the best way to find out where improvements should be made.

More than likely, you have some idea of what is and is not mobile enough in your shoulders based on the lifts you have the most trouble with. A combination of stretching and myofascial release techniques can go a long way!

 

HERE ARE OUR TOP 5 SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES:

1. SUPINE LYING OVERHEAD SQUATS

This is probably the most complex of the 5 stretches, but is so effective at opening up the chest. Lying on your back with a foam roller horizontal under your mid back or lower traps. Place a light barbell overhead. Place arms at about 45 degrees out from your body as you would in an overhead squat grip. Maintain your feet flat on the floor and hips up in the air to place your hands and shoulders. Keep your arms extended when you activate the stretch by dipping your hips down towards the floor.

 

2. CORNER STRETCH

Another simple way to loosen up both Pec major muscles at the same time. Find a corner somewhere, and get comfy! Place your arms up in an ‘L’ shape, with elbows and shoulders creating a straight line. Place both forearms up on the wall and gently lean forwards to activate the stretch. Stretch for 2 seconds then release, repeating 8 to 10 times.

 

3. FRONT RACK/BACK RACK STRETCH 

Here, you’ll need to place a bar in a rack at approximately your back squat height. Place hands …  Read the rest of the article here!

This is my first blog post!

No, this is actually my first… can you believe that after freelancing for nearly 8 years on other peoples health and fitness sites I am finally starting posting to my own space under my own name?

Let’s talk about other firsts in my life. The first time I walked my mom says I was 11 months old. I don’t actually remember that all that clearly. I had 2 older brothers to chase after so it makes sense. I guess this is where all that physical activity started. I went on to run in the top 10 of the sprinter distances in the city of Ottawa in grade school. Get your kids up and moving early, folks!

The first time I held a badminton racquet I was 6. We were in Malaysia at a country club. I am pretty sure I broke it in a short period of time due to the frustration of not being as coordinated as my brothers. I went on to play varsity badminton, and to be made fun of by a lot of my friends who chose hockey and rugby… I tell them it was intense in its own right! It actually is a very explosive sport, and that set me up for weightlifting.

The first time I moved a barbell I was in University. I learned to clean, snatch and squat all in one period. The TA who taught us told me to try this strange sport he called “olympic weightlifting” with a resident strength coach at the school because he noticed I was flexible. She (the strength coach) turned out to be an incredible coach and have a great impact on my life. Within 2 years of training in a brand new sport as an adult, I won top 3 places in the province.

Why was I flexible? and Why was I strong at a whopping 114lbs and 5’5″? A combination of good genes and maintaining an active lifestyle up to that point. I’ve never stopped moving except when injuries force me to. During my athletic career, all my injuries were caused by accidents. Car accidents, high speed bicycle or snowboarding accidents. These things happen to everyone and I know I am not special. But being active throughout my life has made all the new things I take up in my life so much easier, not to mention recovering from injury!

Sure, we don’t all have the best genes to perform at the highest level in athletics, but we sure as hell should be making physical movement a part of our lifestyles if we want to live better for longer. This is the purpose of my blog. I intend on taking every opportunity to remind you why and how you can live better now to ensure you continue to live well in the future!