The back squat is held as the King of exercises; it is great mass builder and develops strength, power and overall athleticism. However, many people fail to develop the proper technique and mechanics that is necessary to have a solid back squat. There are many questions out there about the back squat as well as many myths and misconceptions.
First off, squat depth. It has commonly been held in the past that squatting to a deep depth much like an Olympic weightlifter was bad for the knee joint; however, recent research has debunked this misconception. Squatting below parallel in a full squat position increases compression at the knee which decreases torque and alleviates stress on the ligaments within the knee (Schoenfeld, 2010). A normal healthy knee joint can handle the stress applied by a full depth squat.
Recent research proves that many of the misconceptions surrounding the back squat exercise and high risk of injury were unwarranted. Most people go straight into the back squat exercise without proper training or building a good base. The back squat should be considered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting on serious strength and mass; however, the bottom of that iceberg needs proper support or a good base. When coaching the back squat or learning to squat properly it is best to use exercises that help reinforce proper squat mechanics. The most common errors in squatting mechanics is not breaking parallel or even reaching parallel – take a look at the athlete on the left.
The hip is below the knee meaning that the greater trochanter of the femur passes the patella breaking the 90 degree parallel mark. The common issue is leaning to far forward if the athlete leans to far forward into the squat it is difficult for the hip to pass the knee figure 2 is a perfect example. If you take a look to the right the athlete is squatting at about parallel but the bar is riding too high for their wide grip. They seem to be attempting a low bar Back Squat but the bar is placed on the shoulders in a high bar position. This forces the bar to be too far from their center of gravity and now the athlete will fail to properly drive through with the hips resulting in less weight being lifted.
Without fixing this technique the athlete will not lift to his true potential and never put on the serious mass they hope for. The best way to fix these errors is to add corrective exercises that reinforce proper mechanics. I like to call it progression which is key in developing efficient technique.
Developing Squat Technique
The first exercise is the goblet squat which can be done with a kettlebell or dumbbell. The second exercise is the front squat with a barbell. The below depicts the performance of the goblet squat. In order to perform the goblet squat hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position with the hands and elbows in close proximity of each other.
With the feet just outside shoulder width apart and toes pointed at a sight angle initiate an anterior pelvic tilt to keep the back tight while squatting down to the deepest point possible. The mobility of this exercise can be enhanced by pausing at the bottom and pressing the knees out slightly with the elbows to open up the hips. This will allow you to sink into a deep squat. The goblet squat is a great exercise to reinforce opening of the hips to allow the deep
The front squat, depicted below, is preferably done with barbell held in the rack position as if catching a clean in Olympic Weightlifting. The goal is to keep the elbows high and the bar rested on the shoulders and not the wrists if the elbows drop the weight will shift onto the wrists and off the shoulders.
The front squat is a great exercise to reinforce upright posture if you lean forward you will be forced to drop the bar so remaining upright with elbows high reinforces upright posture. You can get the greatest benefit by interchanging these exercises sometimes back to back or even using the goblet or front squat for your warm-up sets.
During the motor learning process the body remembers the patterns being performed. Utilizing these corrective exercises helps clean up bad technique and works as a great way to progress individuals to the Back Squat. Table 1 is an example of a 12 week program to develop better squatting technique, although not a full exercise routine it can take place of one of your leg exercises you are doing now or in replace of your poor squatting technique if you need help.
The above program is a 12-week squat routine to reinforce proper squat mechanics in the Olympic-style high bar squat. This program should be followed using light loads; proper squat mechanics should be present before pursuing load increments.
The most important thing is to follow a safe progression before deciding to load up heavy – if you take it slow in the beginning and perfect that squat technique, you will start hitting big weights and put on some serious mass in the long run.