By Myprotein Writer Alex Pinnow
In part one of this three part series, we will go over the basic technique of the squat. Yes, I hear all the sighs of disappointment…another article on technique.
As much as you don’t want to hear it, perfecting the right technique will allow you to reap the muscle-strengthening benefits of proper powerlifting exercises.
Proper technique in the squat took me from being an average squatter at around 300 pounds to 500 pounds raw in less than two years, all while being only 21 years old and weighing less than 180lbs (81.5kg)!
Unequipped or Raw powerlifting (wearing a belt, wrist wraps and eventually, once the weight builds, knee wraps for protection) is the sport which I compete in, so it only makes sense that I cover the movements and techniques that I have become familiar in raw lifting.
Let me breakdown the squat to gain a better understanding of the proper steps an individual should use to execute a proper squat (not your average bro half squat that has come to be the norm in many people’s eyes.)
To save the argument, I am calling a squat one where the top of your patella (knee cap) is above your hip joint.
Not exactly parallel based of your calibration technique, not a mile high, but slightly below parallel.
For the record – there is research supporting that half squats cause more shear on your patellar tendon, leading to more pain and possibility of injury than squatting below parallel, which actually causes less shear on your patellar tendon.
The Back Squat
Two main variations of the back-squat include the low bar squat and the high bar (Olympic squat).
I realize that there are about as many variations of the squat as countries in the world, but these are a great foundation to build off of as well as what is allowed in competition.
In both styles, the amount of weight that can be moved is worth a double take – but the last thing that you want to do when setting up for the big squat is to not have precise technique that have become a part of you through continuous work and repetition.
Before both styles are jumped further into, let’s address the setup of each.
The setup is the first time you and the bar will meet, and is arguably the most important factor in the success of the lift. A few key things to keep in mind are that the setup can make or break your squat, and that good old saying previously mentioned in Powerlifting which is practice makes permanent.
The following parts of the setup are going to be specific to you individually based upon your mobility:
– Which hand you grab the bar with first
– Bar placement on back
– Where you put your hands once set up under the bar
– Breathing sequence before, during, and after the unrack
– Which foot you step first with
– How many steps you take once you have unracked the weight
Once these become second nature, you are ready to decide which type of squat works better for you.
Picking the optimal style is not black and white and will vary depending on your leverages of limbs, experience level, and which allows you to move the most weight safely, among many other factors.
However, the one thing that is for certain, that you must always do is stay tight and keep your entire core braced. This can be covered in the future if necessary but in a nutshell you want to be squeezing the bar as tightly as possible, control your breathing, and stay braced from your abs all the way around to your spine.
High Bar v Low Bar
In theory, both the low bar and high bar squats should have the exact same movement pattern, while the low bar allows you to handle moreweight due to the fact that you are creating a shorter lever arm. This is no perfect world though, so there will likely be noticeable differences between the two based on your individual dimensions if you will.
In short, low bar and high bar are exactly what you’d think; for low bar the bar is placed lower on the back, either on or below the rear deltoids while the bar placement is more resting on your trapezius (traps) or lower neck for high bar.
To get a little more in depth without writing a 32 page dissertation for the squat, we will briefly break down the main differences between the high bar and low bar squat:
High Bar Squat
– Torso stays more upright due to placement of bar higher up on back/traps.
– Generally a more quad dominant lift
– Great place to start for beginners or novice lifters.
– Requires you to break (part of body that initiates the descent) more at your knees first, followed by hips; more knee tracking in front of feet.
– Lastly, proper depth (hip crease below top of knee) can be harder to hit due to knees moving farther forward causing shin angle to be less vertical.
Low Bar Squat
– Technique can be harder to learn due to important nuances that can make or break the entire lift.
– Movement is initiated more by breaking at your hips first; similar to sitting back in a chair.
– Due to breaking at the hips first shins tend to stay more vertical, causing less tracking of knees in front of feet.
– Torso can become less upright and more horizontal due to bar placement being low on back, possibly putting more shear on lower back
– More hamstring dominant lift which leads to more weight being able to be handled for majority of people
High: Left, Low: Right
Take home message
The first article of three is enough to get you in the squat rack and loading up some serious weight. Not just as a powerlifter, but any athlete or regular gym goer can benefit from proper squatting as it is one of the best ways to build strength and explosiveness for your entire body.
Practice and determine which way works best for you and allows you to achieve your goals as an individual.
Who knows, hit the squat rack hard enough and you may become the next big squatter in your gym!