How to Squat – From Diesel Strength
This is a comprehensive (read: long and highly detailed) post on HOW to squat.
It’s amazing that something so incredibly simple, something we did as 2-year olds without a second thought has become so incredibly difficult for us. Unless your daily job has you squatting (like lots of people who are not in a cubicle-based-computer-obsessed societies do), we have forgotten this most basic of human functions. Our hips are stiff, we bend at the “waist” because we don’t know where our hips are, we round at the back and keep our legs straight….it goes on and on.
Just look at the picture of this child squatting and what do you see? No problems with balance or flexibility, no excess tension, she hasn’t learned any muscle compensations – no, everything works exactly as it should.
Compare this with your typical desk jockey….think this range of motion would be easy?
Not likely. Attainable yes, but with LOTS of work. Which tells me there is hope for all of us! Just because you can’t squat not doesn’t mean you can’t learn and get there. You can work on your mobility, your flexibility and technique and it can happen for you.
And just because it makes me happy to look at pictures of happy kids squatting with perfect, unadulterated technique, here’s another picture of how we were born to squat….BEFORE we learned to mess it up. Yes, that’s right, we LEARNED to mess it up. Which means you can un-learn it!
Everything about what this child is doing is right! His spine is in neutral alignment, his neck is free, his knees are in line with his toes….how did we go from that to all wrong?
We went from this beautiful picture of ease to this:
You get my point.
In fact, let’s get back to the article at hand. This article put out by Diesel Crew will show you a lot of different ways to squat and coaching cues to all of them.
The take-aways from this post are EXACTLY what I talked about in my presentation at NFA: the 3 aspects of form you must master if you want to lift. You must arch your back (keeping your chest tall, towards the ceiling) draw your shoulder blades back and down, and drawing the belly button in toward the spine – also known as “bracing” which they cover in the double breath.
From the article:
How to Squat Video Series Summary
How to Squat – Squat Tip #1 – Elbows Down, Chest Up
How to Squat – Squat Tip #2 – Setting the Lats
How to Squat – Squat Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back
How to Squat – Squat Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible
How to Squat – Squat Tip #5 – The Double Breath
Tip #1 – Elbows Down / Chest Up
After you unrack the bar and before you even attempt to move into the squat, you must take care of your elbows and chest. You must drive the elbows down. Drive them down until they are facing the ground. As you drive the elbows down, you’ll notice something else; your chest rises. This is a good thing. In fact, you need to accentuate this thoracic extension.
Driving the elbows down will help you engage the lats for more stability and tension. The lats are an important part of the “core“. This, along with pulling your chest up, will keep your head up when you are in the bottom (hole) of the squat.
Because what will happen when your elbows drift up and back?
Your torso will fall forward and the hips will rise too early when you are drive upward. You see this with athletes who don’t have good torso strength or immobile ankles, hips and upper back. This might be ok when the weights are light, but will put a lot of stress on the lower back when the weights get heavier.
Remember “perfect practice makes perfect”, so keep drilling form.
So you’ll notice first off, the chest must be high and the elbows come back. This CAN help retract and depress the shoulder blades, but what you’ll notice most of all is that you set the bar high on your traps (NOT ON YOUR NECK! 🙂 ) and then only way to do this is to have your hands on the bar in a closer grip so that they are close to your shoulders, not far away. This can lead to big time instability.
Tip #2 – Setting the Lats
When the lifter prepares to squat, they must first create tension. This is especially true if the weight is a max or near maximal effort. In the first part of the how to squat series we learned about pulling our elbows down and our chest up. As we do this, the next step is to squeeze the bar very hard. Not only squeeze the bar hard, but engage the lats by pulling the bar into your upper back. This tension is so important for stabilizing the torso, protecting the spine, helping you to remain upright and increasing the amount of weight you can lift.
In fact, renowned back special Stuart Mcgill states that the simple act of engaging the lats during the squat can add 20-30lbs to your squat weight immediately.
Remember, more tension equals more strength.
See that beautiful picture of the back muscles? Those muscles are HUGE players in helping you play the flute. If they are weak and can’t stand up to the task of holding the flute up, when they fatigue, your rotator cuff muscles and shoulders take over, even your chest muscles and your neck flexors take over and you wonder why you’re in pain.
SQUATS ARE FOR FLUTE PLAYERS! 🙂
If that last paragraph wasn’t enough to convince you, make sure to head over to the article via the link above and check out the videos. You can see that when performing this squat, the shoulder blades are squeeze together (what he calls setting the lats) and arches the back (lots of lovely good tension there keeping the back in neutral alignment) and the core is safe and protected and stiff – in a good way. The amount of strength and power to do any kind of squat with good form is immense and translates into being strong enough to handle the demands of playing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Debussy. Squatting will give you a strong core and a strong body, which equals a strong flutist!
Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back
Setting the lower back is as easy as slightly arching the lower back (into it’s natural curve) while taking a huge breath and isometrically contracting the abdominals simultaneously.
When you first watch the video it might look like Ryan is overarching his lower back. He is in fact, just setting it hard into its natural position and holding it. Most times when lifters unload the bar from the way they assume a posterior pelvic tilt under the weight. This position isn’t optimal especially when we talk about stabilizing the lower back and pelvis prior to squatting. He has to consciously move his pelvis back to neutral and “set it”. And like we stated, this is a dual effort with the bracing of the abdominals and his breathing pattern.
Remember, don’t just squat down. You will lose tension!!! Move the hips slightly back (loading the hamstrings and glutes and setting the back) and spread the knees. The act of spreading the knees will lower you (under tension) into the hole.
I didn’t go into too much detail with this at the convention. Arching the lower back is good, and you should not do it to the point of lordosis (as you can see in the picture) but what it does is that it forces the spine to stay in neutral alignment and stay safe. Practice these basics of form without weight until your are comfortable, because as you can see by now they are crucial to safety and strength.
Something else they touch on is the hip hinge. This is something I really talked a lot about in my presentation and if you’ve ever gone to any body mapping or Alexander Technique classes, you’ll know what it is. The hip hinge is basically understanding where your hips are and bending from that place while keeping your spine in neutral alignment. In layman’s terms?
- put your fingers in the crease between your leg and body
- your butt should go back
- if not, 1) you are pushing in the wrong spot 2) you are not pushing hard enough 3) your body doesn’t know what the heck you’re doing because you haven’t bent this way in so long and is trying to bend from the middle of the spine like usual.
- as your butt goes back, you should feel a pulling stretch in the back of your legs
- Keep your shoulder blades back and down, neck looking down or slightly in front of you and lower back arched – thus, keeping your back in neutral alignment.
You MUST master this before attempting any kind of big lifts like squats or deadlifts, or even Romaninan Dealifts, Good Mornings or split squat. You truly need to understand that the body should bend at the hips (which are not the body things that stick out of your body at the top of your legs – that’s the top of your pelvis, your hips are the JOINT) and your butt and hamstrings should do the work of pulling you upright again. We’ll get into this in a later article
To end the article I really like how they talk about mobility exercises for the upper AND lower body, because the squat is truly a full body exercise, not just a lower body one. If you have lousy upper body mobility (aka, your arms don’t go backwards much, chest is tight, etc.) you will not squat well. Period. Give some of these exercises and stretches a shot and see how they work for you. The favorites are the upper body mobility work, shown below. This, believe it or not DOES have to do with your squat, but they are all excellent exercises/stretches to do:
- before your workout
- before your practice session
- in the morning or before bed
- any other time of day – the more you do them the more flexible you become!
- What’s So Important About Core Strength? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Your Favorite Strength Training Moves (fitsugar.com)
- NFA Convention Recap (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- Benefits of Weight Training Exercises (fitnesstipsforlife.com)
- Three Exercises to Activate and Strengthen Your Core (stack.com)