Squat Guide & More

By:

Frankie Vincent 

           Table of Contents
 

Welcome to CMT Squat 101 Guide. Whether you're new here or a long time follower, we appreciate you joining. I'm stoked for this guide and hopeful it will be useful! With much help from others I aim to put out quality information that is trustworthy, useful, and actionable with the hope at continuing to help others.

Today, it's easy to search fitness related topics though at the expense of accuracy and subsequently we need to use caution. This guide is made out of necessity due to the high volume of questions regarding Resistance Training (RT) specifically the squat. I'm hopeful this will be utilized to answer questions, help one get started (and optimize the squat), and a resource for you to leverage throughout your journey. There are many topics discussed here, do use the table of contents above to navigate. 

 

About Resistance Training:

 

Resistance training involves lifting weights of all kinds e.g. squats (yes, body weight too) push ups, machines, and barbells. While exercise is likely to benefit everyone there is a clear advantage of resistance training vs other forms e.g. HITT, cardio, pilates, yoga etc. Read here, here, and here

 

Here is a short list (more below) that Resistance training is optimal for improving:

-Strength

-Lean body Mass

-Increase Bone Density

-Improve balance using free-weight exercises

Strength is the display of force (read more in physics) by muscles such as bending over and lifting something from the floor (deadlift). An example, when you lift groceries you are creating muscular force against the external resistance - the groceries.
Using progressive overload Resistance training, ideally with ground based free weight exercises, we increase our muscles' ability to produce force against external resistances that can be applied elsewhere. 

Resistance training is supported and recommended as an essential part of an exercise therapy program and has been endorsed by the American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Diabetes Association. These recommendations are primarily based on the effects of RT on muscle strength, cross-sectional studies have shown that muscle mass is inversely associated with all-cause mortality and the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, independent of cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

 

My 74 year old Grandma has less of a challenge getting in and out of a chair after teaching her how to squat and deadlift. Though we began with a training bar (< 20 kg), resistance was progressively added until a standard barbell was feasible.

 

There are no other set of exercises that can match the same physical and clinical results within the same amount of training time that barbell squats paired with deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press exercises can.
In other words,
 with respects to lean body mass, skeletal muscle, and bone mass, RT is optimal, while also improving medical relevant parameters, such as:

-Fasting blood sugar

-Body fat

-Waist circumference 

-Blood pressure

-Bone density 

-Cognitive capacity

"In addition, many daily functional tasks as well as sporting movements require the coordination of several different muscles therefore making the squat an effective exercise as it recruits multiple muscle groups in a single movement" - Joshua A. Cotter, M.A.



Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement - Wiki. Yes, untrained people (highly sensitive) will benefit from most any form of exercise though resistance training additionally improves ones proprioception and is more time efficient. (More here).
Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults (PAGA) recommends at least twice weekly resistance training for all adults. Do read
Here. 

 

High bar, low bar, and front squat are the most common forms of squatting. Our aim is to help explain the the differences, anaylize the movements, and explain how you can optimize your squat technique which will give you a better experience. 

 

You may be asking yourself why should you be reading this guide from me? (and I hope that you are) Below are pieces of information that may ease some of your questions and hesitations...

I’m a USAPL coach and I’ve been training for 5 years and coaching resistance training for 4. I’ve squatted 365lbs at 152lbs. Though these numbers are not a world record, it's a considerable amount of weight especially given I'm also a Professional Muay Thai fighter, BJJ competitor, run a business, and coach others.


A majority of my coaching experience is with new lifters, though I've worked with experienced lifters as well. My strongest lifter is a CEO weighing 185lb and after a year of training 3x/week squatted 385lb for reps and now we work together through our Online Coaching Platform.  

I've also learned and studied from some of the most notable coaches in the world in person and from afar including Mark Rippetoe and Jordan Feigenbaum in the US to Nueng Mart from Thailand. All of this is combined with a thorough understanding of the biomechanics of the lift through years of research and experience.

 
At the conclusion of this guide, there is a reference list for your reading and further research; you'd be challenged to make it through that much scientific literature without gaining useful tips along the way (which largely match my personal experiences as an athlete and coach).

You should note that I am not another random guy who lifts a lot and therefore believes I have any right to tell you "how to squat." This guide will not feed you "facts" about the squat that are not backed by scientific literature, these theories are not owned by me. As science develops, I am open to shifting my views and will continue to learn and gain knowledge from high level athletes and coaches.

 

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)- one of the large associations who provides clinical guidelines on these types of topics, persons who need to be screened are those who either exercise currently, but who have symptomatic cardiac, metabolic, or renal disease OR those who do not exercise currently and also have cardiac, metabolic, or renal disease regardless of if it’s symptomatic or not. 
I am obligated to write this article is meant for general informational purposes and is not to be taken as medical advice. 
However, do read here for their published guidelines. Next, the ACSM strongly recommends that all adults engage in resistance training a minimum of 2x/wk.
Additionally, no medical clearance is suggested if one is over 18 w
ithout known cardiac, metabolic, or renal diseases. Do see your doctor if you are unsure if you have cardiac, metabolic, or renal disease OR upon starting exercise you have symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, blurred vision, profound shortness of breath, or other issues.

 

Physics

We'll attempt to break down some super basic physics associated with the squat.  

Force.  Force is the product of mass and acceleration, typically calculated in Newtons (one Newton is the force it takes to accelerate a 1kg mass at a rate of 1m/sec2). For our purposes here, force is linear: it describes things that are being pulled or pushed in a straight line.

 

 

Moment. Moment is force applied about an axis, often calculated in Newton-Meters – the force applied, multiplied by the distance from the axis perpendicular to the direction the force is being applied. While force is linear, moment is rotational.

 

Anatomy

The squat is a complex movement and there are many muscles and bones involved. Below are four bone groups, seven muscle groups, and four joints. This will provide us with some basic information regarding tissues and will help us chat about the biomechanics of the squat.

Spine

The spine runs from the base of your head to the top of your pelvis and are split into three general sections:  

Cervical - 7 vertebrae in your neck
Thoracic - 12 vertebrae from base of neck to bottom of rib cage
Lumbar - 5 vertebrae from base of rib cage to top of pelvis

Minimal movement is allowed at the junction between each pair of vertebrae, but small movements add up to allow for pretty long ranges of flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion up and down the spine. More here

The spine naturally has three major curves:

Lordotic Curve (inward round) of lumbar spine
Kyphotic curve (Rounded outward) of thoracic spine
Lordotic Curve of Cervical Spine

Spinal flexion or extension is flexion or extension relative to these baseline curvatures.

A forward bend relative to these baseline curvatures is flexed.

 
An arched position past these natural curvatures is hyperextended.

Examples:
If the thoracic spine is flat it's hyperextended and when its hunched over it's flexed.
If the lumbar spine is flat it's flexed and when it's arched it's hyperextended.

 

Between each pair of vertebrae is a disc that cushions the spine and hold up really well to compression forces. Read this.

In a properly performed squat, there shouldn’t be a meaningful amount of flexion or hyperextension taking place. Your spine should remain rigid and extended to transfer force from your legs and hips into the bar.

Pelvis

Six bones make up the Pelvis each side having an ilium, an ischium, and a pubis.  The ilium is the top of the hip, the bony ridge that you feel on your side just below the obliques. The ischium is at the bottom of the pelvis on the back side, and the pubis is at the bottom of the pelvis on the front side in your groin area.
Read more here.

"The articulation of the femoral head with the acetabulum forms the hip joint. This articulation connects the axial skeleton with the lower extremity and functions to transmit forces encountered during daily activities from the axial skeleton through the lower extremities. The hip joint’s ability to balance forces through its full range of motion provides providing the stability required to execute everyday tasks such as standing upright, maintaining a smooth and balanced gait, rising from a chair, and lifting weight from a squatting position." - Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hip

Femur

The femur is your thigh bone, running from your hip to your knee. 
 

Four main parts of femur:  the head, the neck, the shaft, and the condyles.

The head of the femur is that part that fits into the acetabulum (hip socket); the neck shoots off the head of the femur to connect it to the shaft.  Near the junction of the neck and shaft of the femur are the greater and lesser tuberosities, where a lot of your hip abductors and rotators insert.  The vasti (your other three quad muscles, apart from the rectus femoris) originate on the shaft of the femur, and your gluteus maximus inserts on the back and lateral sides of the shaft of the femur.  

The length of the shaft of your femur largely determines the moment arms you’re working with at the knee and hip.

The femoral condyles are at the bottom of your femur where it meets the knee.  They’re cushioned by your menisci (pads of cartilage in your knee joint) and attached to your tibia by the four major ligaments of the knee:  your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).  Your gastrocnemius (your biggest calf muscle) also originates just above your femoral condyles. More knee anatomy here, here, here.

Tibia and Fibula

Your tibia and fibula are the bones of your lower leg, running from your knee to your ankle.

The tibia has its own set of condyles that meet the femur at the knee.

Your hamstrings muscles insert just below the tibial condyles and near the top of the fibula, and your soleus (the other major calf muscle, in addition to the gastrocnemius) originates near the top of the back side of your tibia and fibula. More on hamstrings here. 

Intervertebral joints are those between two vertebrae.  
 

Hip

The hip is a ball and socket joint, meaning it allows for movement in all planes, including flexion (bringing your knee to your chest), extension (bringing your knee closer to the floor or pushing it behind you), abduction (bringing your knee away from the midline of your body), adduction (bringing your knee toward the midline of your body), and rotation (internal rotation is rotating the front of your femur toward the midline of your body, and external rotation is rotating the front of your femur away from the midline of your body).

Anatomical variations of the pelvis, hip socket, and femur largely determine how large of a range of motion you’ll be able to achieve in each of those movements.

Knee

The knee is essentially a hinge joint, it primarily only allows flexion (heel to but) and extension (toe to head). It can allow for a bit of rotation, abduction, and adduction, though we are cautious of more than a few degrees.

The patella, the knobby little bone at the front of your knee, improves the quads’ leverage to pull against the tibia to cause knee extension.

Ankle

The ankle can rotate and bend side to side (inversion and eversion), though we only need to worry about plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. Plantar flexion is pointing your toes away from you while dorsiflexion is pointing your toes towards you.

Spinal Erectors

Because all the spinal erectors basically operate in the same way (in the squat) we won't address them individually.

The spinal erectors attach to the top of the pelvis, the ribs, and most importantly, the spine. All of them extend the spine when they contract. Each individual muscle only crosses a few vertebrae, so strength in each region of the spine needs to be addressed specifically. You could have very strong thoracic erectors (upper back) but weak lumbar erectors (lower back) and vice versa. More here & here.

The “Core”

This is the well "known" term for all of the muscles between the neck and the hips that help keep the torso braced and rigid that don’t play quite as direct of a role as the spinal erectors. This would include the obliques, transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, psoas, lats, and quadratus lumborum. These muscles need to be able to produce enough tension to aid the spinal erectors in keeping the spine rigid. More core here.

Gluteus Maximus


It originates on the posterior surface of the ilium, and inserts on both the rear and lateral surface of the shaft of the femur, and on the iliotibial band.

"Origin" refers to the attachment point of a muscle closest to the middle of the body  (proximal attachment), and "insertion" refers to the attachment furthest from the  middle of the body (distal attachment).  When a muscle contracts, it pulls the origin and  insertion toward each other. 

Origin is the attachment point of a muscle closest to the middle of the body. Insertions is the attachment furthest from the middle of the body and when a muscle contracts it pulls the origin and insertion toward each other. More here, here, and here.

Hamstrings

3 different muscles and for the squat essentially have the same purpose and all originate on the ischial tuberosity and insert below the knee. They cross both the hip and knee therefor they cause hip and knee extension.

Bicep Femoris

Semitendinosus

Semimembranosus

Adductor Magnus

The most important adductor in the squat. It's different from the hamstrings because it doesn’t cross the knee. It inserts on the line aspera on the back of the femur. The adductor magnus is large muscle and its placement makes for a mechanically advantageous position to exert a huge hip extensor moment.

Quadriceps

 

4 different quad muscles.

For the squat we will think of three the same way; 

vastus lateralis

vastus intermedius

vastus medialis.

They originate on the shaftof your femur, and insert near the top of your tibia on the tibial tuberosity (that little bump near the top of your shin, just below your knee)via the patella.  All they do is extend the knee.

The Fourth rectus femoris deserves its own section. Just like the rest of your quads it inserts on the tibial tuberosity via the patella though it originates on the anterior inferior iliac spine of the ilium (above the hip) therefor it can flex the hip and knee

Calves

You have two major calf muscles and both are plantar flexors and insert on your heel via of the Achilles tendon. The gastrocnemius originates above the condyles of the femur and the soleus is on the back side of the tibia and fibula.

Soleus only crosses one joint and only is a flantar flexor while the gastroc crosses both knee and ankle and it functions as plantar and knee flexor.

 

Biomechanics

Planes:

Sagittal plane cuts something in half top to bottom and front to back. This is where flexion and extension happens.

Frontal plane cuts something in half top to bottom and side to side and is where abduction and adduction happens.

Transverse plane cuts in half front to back and side to side and is where rotation happens.

Sagittal = forward or backward
Frontal = side to side (definitely confusing)
Transverse = rotational

The frontal and transverse planes relative to the torso defines abduction, adduction and rotation. Flexion and extension though are defined relative to the bones and joints. For the squat hip and knee flexion and extension are defined by the sagittal plane relative to the femur. 

What the squat demands:

Spinal flexor movement, hip flexor moment, knee flexor moment, and ankle dorsiflexor movement.

Spinal flexor moment:

  1. Horizontal distance in the sagittal plane between the bar and any intervertebral joint.

  2. Load on bar
     

How we increase spinal flexor moment:

  1. Moving bar higher on back or a front squat

  2. Adding more weight

  3. Inclining your torso farther

Ankle dorsiflexor

  1. Horizontal distance in sagittal plane between the center pressure on foot and middle of the ankle joint

  2. Total load
     

How we increase ankle dorsiflexor moment:

  1. Increase load

  2. Shift pressure further forward of the foot

Hip flexor depends:

  1. Horizontal distance In the sagittal plane between COM center of mass of you and hip.

  2. Total load above the hip
     

How we increase hip flexor moment:

  1. Center of mass shifting further forward or hips shifting further back

  2. Increase load

  3. Depth
     

Knee flexor:

  1. Horizontal distance in sagittal plane between the center of mass and knee

  2. Total load above the knee
     

How we increase knee flexor moment:

  1. Center of mass shifting further backward or the knees shifting further forward

  2. Increase load

  3. Depth

 

Squat Setup:
The Setup, Descent, Ascent

There may be different variation regarding the descent and ascent and different people will respond differently to cues. Contrary to the ascent and descent, the setup for people can vary a lot. From bar positions, stance widths, different grip widths, each person has their own preference. There are few hard and fast rules. This section aims to discuss tools to troubleshoot what optimal for you. Read more here on low bar vs high bar.
 

Bar placement

There are three basic bar positions with the squat. Front, High bar, Low bar. We are only focusing on low and high bar, for now (02/19).
 

High bar

Bar rests on the traps. Contract your traps and see where the bar feels most comfortable. Do avoid the bar resting into the C7, the bony bump at the base of your neck. Often, when people complain of neck pain when squatting this is the reason, the bar is resting and digging into that small bony ridge, lower the bar a bit…

Low Bar

Bar lies across your rear deltoids. If you're getting pain from squatting it may be because you're letting the bar rests directly on the spine of the scapulae. Try moving the bar up just a little bit…maybe <1CM. 

It should be noted the line between high and low can be grey. The differences between them are generally small, typically leading to a 5-10 degree change in torso and joint angles. In other words, a bit more knee flexion, a little less forward lean for the high bar.

Whether you're low bar or high bar squatting you should actively contract your shoulder blades together. A quick note on wrist position, the narrower the better, in general. Most people feel tighter with a more narrow grip though some have discomfort. The main point is to keep the shoulders contracted as much as possible. Read it here.

Wrist Position

If you're creating a stable enough shelf for the bar with the traps or rear delts, you'll find the wrists are merely balancing the bar. Though many folks don't create that shelf for the bar which causes them to feel much weight in the hands and can lead to discomfort. Ideally we want our wrists in a neutral position (straight, flat). You can also put the thumb over the bar and/or the pinky under the bar to see if this helps relieve the discomfort. 

Key Notes:
-Create a shelf for the bar with traps or rear delts
-Hands are to mostly help balance the bar, not support it
-Neutral wrists (pictured right)

Elbow Position
 

In general we coaches like to see the elbows down and pulled into your sides.

Some cues: Tight armpits, scratch your rib cage with your elbows, hold money in your armpits. 
We want to create lat tension which aids the torso rigidity and upper back.

Walkout: 

Ready to walk the bar out? Let's go

  1. Set the hook height of the rack. The height should be at such that youre comfortable without half squatting or rising to your tippy toes to get the bar over the hooks. Setting the hooks to low is less of concern though energy may be wasted. Setting hooks too high is dangerous mainly for the re-racking.
     

  2. Set feet. Unrack the bar with feet square and set beneath the hips and shoulders. Unrack the bar with a deep breathe, tense your stomach, and drive your shoulders aggressively into the bar.
     

  3. Walk the bar out as efficiently as possible so no energy is wasted. Practice doing so in three steps with the third step being used to get comftorbale. Step away enough so that you don’t hit the hooks on the ascent, but not so far that energy was wasted walking the bar out (inside a rack is ideal).

Stance width: Narrow, Shoulder, Wide
 

What's comfortable? Starting with shoulder (middle picture below) width play around with your stance and find what's comfortable so long as depth is being achieved. For the experienced lifter play around with a load around 70-80%. If you're new play around with an empty bar, again starting around shoulder width. Find a stance that gives you the best combination and depth and comfort. Citation here.
 

Considerations for athletes:
 

Athletes and sedentary people can and will squat for different reasons. Weightlifters for examples squat primarily to improve leg strength for the snatch and use the front squat to improve strength for the clean.
 

For carryover in sports we want the squat width to be as similar as possible to your sports stance width. Though this isn't of great concern because the gains of lower body strength you build squatting will undoubtedly carry over regardless of how identical your stance is.

 

Final note: Powerlifter's goals are to lift as much as possible and this usually will happen with a shorter range of motion though still needing to break parallel. Athletes apart from powerlifting and weightlifting sports such as sprinters, tennis players, golf players or Martial Art fighters incorporate RT to improve ground base force. 
 

Stretch Reflex: taking advantage of the stretch reflex is advantageous for the squat versus reversing the weight up. You can take advantage of the "bounce" aka stretch reflex which provides a bit of momentum on the ascent.

Wide Squat: Advantages?

A wider stance will naturally limit depth, letting you still benefit from bottoming out and taking advantage of the stretch reflex, without going unnecessarily deep. This can be very helpful for some people though some people's hips may cause discomfort. In other words, play around with a wider stance. Informative read here.

 

Squatting wider also has two advantages apart from simply limiting range of motion:
 

  1. The adductor magnus may become more involved and research shows there's no less motor unit recruitment in the glues or hamstrings. Knee and hip extension is similar as well. Read more here.
     

  2. Many folks find a wider stance to be "easier" on the lower back. You don’t have to incline the torso as much to keep the load over mid foot in turn decreases spinal extension demands.
     

Foot angle: Again here, let the hips and knees help determine your foot angle. Once you've experimented with stance width and much you drive your knees outward, adjust your toe angle so that they point the same direction as the knee. Its normal for people that are near the anatomical bell curve to generally start with a toe angle around 15-20 degrees pointed outward though the wider stance will generally demand toes out more while a more narrow stance will have to toes point more forward. More here.
Until proven otherwise assume toes pointed out 30-45 degrees is A OK.

You want the knees to track over your first to third toe.

Bracing:
 

"Prior to the initiation of the descent phase, it is recommended for the athlete to inhale approximately 80 percent of maximal inhalation and hold their breath to increase intra-abdominal pressure to enhance stability of the vertebral column (i.e., Valsalva maneuver) (Note: This amount of air may change with the load magnitude). This technique prepares the spine, which is a flexible rod, to bear compressive load. The Valsalva maneuver also establishes “proximal stiffness” that enables more power development in the shoulders and hips, enhancing limb force output and velocity" - The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance
 

Key factors:

Spinal extension strength - our backs need to be strong enough to stay extended through the squat. New squatters will have to stay patent with this as it's generally a new contraction technique, a loaded barbell on the shoulders is a great teacher. In other words, keep your lower to upper back contracted and tense throughout the ascent and descent.

Intra-abdominal pressure - like the above, creating diaphragmatic pressure takes time to get comfortable with. Chris Duffin cues lifters to "inflate your obliques". Intra-abdominal pressure is higher when one takes a diaphragmatic breath vs breathing into the chest and shoulders.
 

AKA valsalva maneuver. Hold your breath like your forcefully exhaling while closing off your throat letting no air get out. 

More Notes: Pulling ribs down (without flexion in the spine) can be a helpful cue for some to create the desired pressure. All of this is not just about tensing your abs as studies show abdominal strength doesn’t have great impact in the squat. The abs help aid spinal flexors, when we squat we're trying to maintain spinal extension against the flexion moment imposed by the bar.
 

Without belt: brace as if your taking a punch. More here.

With belt: inflate torso, press against the belt. Read more here.
 

These studies measure activation of abdominal muscles in the squat and controversy to what many believe, the activation of the abs and other core muscles are low.  https://www.progressivefitness.net/blog/why-squats-and-deadlifts-arent-good-abs-exercises

 

Full body tension - what have we got so far?
 

Bar across shoulders, hand, elbow position, you've walked the bar out, know your stance width, and performed the Valsalva.
 

Cues to help get tighter:
The tighter we are the more in control of the bar we will be and we'll start this process at the floor.

 

Three points of contact with the floor - big toe, pinky toe, and heel with your weight distributed evenly across all points. Our goal here is to maintain the load in a vertical line over mid-foot. Hip tension is next, and using the cue "screw your feet into the ground works for many". With your feet planted imgaine screwing your toes outward while screwing your heels inward.
 

For myself I use the cue "separate the floor". I imagine that I am attempting to sperate the floor with my feet.
 

A set up check list:

  1. Bar position

  2. As narrow of grip as you can without discomfort with elbows down under the bar

  3. Walk the bar out using minimal steps and energy

  4. Get in desired stance and point toes out (based on stance width, comfort, hip abduction, and knee tracking)

  5. Valsalva maneuver - stomach expanding and push your core muscles against the belt

  6. Full body tension - screw your feet into the ground or separate the floor

 

Cues for descent
 

We want to break at the knee and hip simultaneously ideally taking our butt between the heels.

Sitting down and sitting back as cues:
 

Sitting down generally allows for more range of motion though the cue sitting down for folks with limited range of motion in the ankle can be challenging since there is more forward knee travel, generally.

Though for many powerlifters (who want to squat as much as possible) having a shorter range of motion is advantageous. Powerlifters just need to break "parallel". If using the cue sit back we like to think about sitting back into a chair which has less knee and ankle flexion.

Though research shows when comparing the two cues or styles the performance parameter is almost identical.
 

Speed of descent
 

Descent should be as fast as possible while maintaining total control of the bar. Stretch reflex is when your muscles stretch quickly and naturally contract with a bit more force for a moment when you reverse the movement aka "bounce". A speedier descent may help get a bit more stretch reflex out of the bottom of the squat though remaining rigidness is priority.

Descent Checklist:

1. Brace, screw feet into floor

2. Break at knees and hips simultaneously 

3. Push knees out 

4. Descend as fast as possible while maintaining rigidness and control

 

Depth: ATG, Below Parallel, Parallel, Above Parallel

When coaching new squatters I will tell them to push the knees out sit down or back and squat as low as possible. Due to the flexion of the knees and back some folks believe it will injure them. Not the case according to research. Sure, are the loads on your knees and back high? Yes though it seems likely the tendons, ligaments and spine will adapt. Pain is nuanced and with many factors; progressively overloading the skeleton is key here. Besides, the loads on those tissues in a squat are far below the maximum they can handle (assuming theres no pre-existing issue).

Bone, tendons, ligaments like muscles remodel, grow, and get stronger in response to training. 
 

Generally squatting as low as one can has more carryover in sports and help gain more strength then above parallel squats.
 

Depth for powerlifters - since weight on the bar matters for competitors there different goals here. and I will also add that if weight on the bar matters to recreational lifter, this section is for you, too. In other words, if total weight on the bar increases one compliancy, read here.
 

If you've proven to yourself you can squat deep with the cue sit down try widening your stance and think sit back. The wider the stance will naturally shorten the range of motion. You're looking for the widest stance possible that still allows you to break parallel.

Try these tips above, take what you like leave what you don't.

 

Moving on up or the Ascent 
 

The main issue here to discuss is the sticking point and for most people it happens about 1-5 inches just above parallel (middle of lift). I've yet to see people miss the lift once through the sticking point and just a few who get truly buried in the bottom.

Driving out of the bottom we want to be in as good as position as possible and ascend as efficiently as possible.
 

Tips and cues if you will for initiating the ascent. Push the floor away, drive your traps back into the bar. What we don’t want to do is finding ourselves in a good-morning position when at the sticking point. Gravity wants to push the bar straight down therefor it wants to fold us forward (spinal and hip flexion moment) so we want to drive our traps back into the bar keeping our spine rigid.

 

Ascent Checklist:

1. Out of the hole maintain intra-abdominal pressure

2. Push floor away (leg press floor)
3. Keep knees out

3. Drive traps into bar while driving hips in
4. Don't rush

 

More on the sticking point:

Don’t panic and rush. Often times if one rushes or panics their hips rise without the bar moving leaving them in a good morning position and the net effect is finding themselves in a less mechanically advantageous position. Be patient, don't rush and continue with cues such as drive your traps into the bar while getting the hips under the bar.  "shoulder's back, hips forward" is your friend here.
 

Though there is variability the sticking point happens just above parallel when the bar slows down which proves the demands are high. At the sticking point of the squat,  muscular effort of the hip extensors is higher than muscular effort of the quads. In other words, when you miss the literature suggests it's unlikely it was your quads that wasn't strong enough but rather likely "more" quad which generally helps distribute the load.

Another note: unless the squat (or any other lift) is programmed to not be a competition style lift e.g. tempo, paused we should be moving the weight as fast we can while maintaining complete control of the bar. Explode comes to mind here…

 

 Resistance Training and Safety:
 

As a Fitness Director and strength coach often I heard that squats, specifically is "bad for knees". Often this opinion came up with doctors, chiropractors, P.T. and other various health professionals even though they haven't dissected this movement enough to validate their idea.   

The likely train of thought behind this repetitive criticism of squats is that many of the patients these health professionals see present certain knee issues that likely result from overuse and repeated impacting of the joint. Recreational sports that are agility dependent like tennis, soccer, basketball and the like compromise the knees. 

I personally have never witnessed someone collapsing from an acute knee injury though I have watched inadequate squats day-in and day-out throughout my time as a coach and athlete. Resistance training has proven as we will read throughout this guide to be the optimal approach for injury reduction. More here.

Sure, it is possible that someone could damage a ligament, meniscus, tendon, or other vulnerable structure during this (or any) movement though because of the lack of frequency we're moving on. Resistance training and competitive weightlifting has the lowest rate of injury per hour of almost any other activity, this is hard information for those in the training realm to ignore. Do see below.

From Hamill, B. “Relative Safeety of Weightlifting and Weight Training”
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Studies dating back to 1970's:

  • This study showed that powerlifters and weightlifters both have more developed soft tissue (tighter knees) that non trained controls. - Chandler and Stone 1991

  • 1994 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine - showed that the hamstring’s involvement in the squat plays a role in protecting the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) - Manariello, Backus, and Parker

  • 1978 study in Research Quaterly - "low back muscles are used primarily in an isometric function, that is they simply stabilize the spine and trunk, and not shorter or lengthen under load. This effectively trains these muscles in their proper function, thereby making the squat a functional exercise for the back as well as the legs" - McLaughlin, Lardner, and Dillman

 

  • (Read this here.What we know is that healthy spinal discs and connective tissues in the back and knees can handle loads much greater that you'll squat. Tissues, tendons, and ligaments also get stronger and remodel in response to resistance training.
    Read
    this.


Pediatric Resistance Training: Benefits, Concerns, and Program Design Considerations

 

Neural adaptation to resistance training.

 

Final notes:


Why no one's squat looks the same. Depending on the reasoning for squatting, people will develop different squat styles. A non-competitive adult wanting to get stronger (e.g. CEO, geriatric, everyone in between) is not the same reason as a competitor. Powerlifters want to squat as much weight as they can therefor will typically choose a style that limits the range of motion while still going below parallel. Though anatomical reasons are real too from different anatomy in the hip, femur, and pelvis to name a few. 
 

Aspects of the squat that are up to you: 

1. bar position 

2. hand position 

3. elbow position (for back squats) 

4. head position 

5. stance width 

6. foot angle 

7. sitting back vs. sitting down 

8. degree of forward knee travel etc. 

9. footwear (as long as it has a solid sole) 

10. squatting with a belt or not

 

Aspects to try and avoid:

  1. Knee cave

  2. Spine rounding (flexion)

Conclusion

The main purpose of this article is to show that Resistance training, specifically squatting is for everyone, with a secondary aim to educate on a deeper level using robust data and clinical research. Thank you for reading this guide! My hope is that this read was insightful and either motivates you to start resistance training, encourages you to keep researching, or if you are already resistance training, further advances your journey.

Do visit our online coaching section if you are interested in form checks and or custom programming, cheers!

Thank you all for the continued support via encouragement, sharing, and continuing to follow.

Happy Training,

Frankie Vincent

Checklist:

Set Up:

  1. Efficient walkout. < 4 steps

  2. Bar firmly in place on back

  3. Brace. Breath into abdomen

  4. Flat wrists though if extended with no pain, keep on keeping on

 

Lift:

  1. Flat firm feet

  2. Bar over or near mid-foot with heavy weights

  3. Depth and knee tracking.

  4. Spinal extension through the lift

  5. Walk all the way to rack not "searching" for hooks

  6. Celebrate

 

References