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5 Thoughts on Squats

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

Tips and tricks that may improve your squat

Here are 5 thoughts I have about squatting.

Now before you keep going, these thoughts relate to those that do not compete in barbell based sports like powerlifting or Crossfit. These sports have different technical components to them that won’t be discussed here.


Squatting comes with specific adaptations that need to be tailored to your goals, sport, and yourself.


Thought #1: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SQUAT TO GET BIG LEGS!!!


I know that may seem counter intuitive, to start a post on squatting thoughts by telling everyone you don’t have to do them. But, it is the truth. Squats can be very hard for some people.

Weather it is from an old injury, they are difficult for you based on your body type, they have never felt good when doing them, or you flat out just don’t like them; remember you do have other options.

The exercise by itself doesn’t make you stronger or make your muscles adapt. Progressive overload, consistency, stressing the body, and effort are what makes you stronger and grow big muscles.

That being said, if you want to build big legs, and squats aren’t doing it for you, consider some of these options.

  1. Leg press

  2. Hack squat

  3. Pendulum squat

When programmed accordingly, these can make your legs massive and strong!


Thought #2: in squats, the hips should be appearing to move up and down.


An analogy I use a lot is squat as if you are in an elevator.


One of the most common faults that people do in squatting is the will do the classic “butt back and chest up”. Now this may or may not be bad for you. Pain, injury, and discomfort are all complex things and are different for everyone. However, we also don’t want to have our squats look like a deadlift or a good morning. We want our squats to look squatty.


The “butt back chest up” mindset has the tendency to increase our torso angle and place unwanted stress to our lower backs, and increase the work performed by our hips (1,2,3). Depending what your goals are, this more forward lean may be okay for you. For example, the low bar back squat used in powerlifting, is more of a hip dominant squat with a more forward torso angle. But this is advantageous for these athletes in order to lift enormous amounts of weight.


Squatting with “chest up ad butt back” may however, lead us to pushing our center of mass forward. This change can alter the leverages of our leg muscles, and over time may lead to uncomfortable squats for some.


By keeping the squats more vertical, we better align our ribs, spine, and pelvis. This position has the potential to reduce the work placed on the lower back, hip flexors, and may even feel a little better on the knees as well.


Now how do you do keep a more vertical squat you ask?


One way is to simply add a heel wedge under your foot. The heel wedge will help our center of mass shift back so we feel more of our heel to attain this position. It will also allow more ankle movement to occur, which will help the knees move forward towards (and potentially over) the toes.

This is a very simple trick, and if you don’t have access to a ramp or wedge, small plates will do in the meantime.


The second way is to switch up your squatting implement (keep reading).


Thought #3: using a different implement can improve your squat technique.


A lot of people only know the back squat. Though not inherently bad, if that is all you know, you may be missing out on some great squatting variations.


There are many ways to squat each with different benefits. For example, if I am having a hard time keeping a vertical squat, I may choose one of the following options.

These are some of my favorite variations for the clients that I work with. The weight being held in front will shift our center of mass back so we can feel our heel and abs better. This shift back is important for squatting because it helps us stay vertical in our torso so we can maintain a more elevator like squat.


Other variations like low bar back squatting or overhead squats, are more specific for barbell athletes like power lifters and CrossFit athletes. But they to can benefit from switching it up once in a while.

Choose the option that is best suited for you and your goals.


Thought #4


Knees can go over the toes!


Yes you heard that right! There has been a big shift in how we look at movement and how the body works. There are some trends that were once a gold standard, that are now being re-considered. And weather or not the knees should go over the toes is one of them.


You may have heard that this is bad for your knees, however, there is research that tells us that if you don’t have any pre-existing issues, the stress that occurs at the knee are within tolerable limits (1,2,3).

By allowing the knees to go over the toes, it puts more work on our quads, it helps us maintain a more upright position with our spine and torso, and keeps the implement we are using better centered over our base of support (the midfoot) (3). Thus, allowing us to move more vertically, which can help avoid unwanted stress to our hips and lower back (1).


Thus, if you are someone that experiences back and or hip discomfort while squatting, it may be beneficial to allow those knee to move forward (1,2).


Thought #5: be a PUSHER coming out of the bottom.


One of the best ways to feel your legs more in squatting is to think about PUSHING into the floor. A lot of people may rise out of the bottom of a squat. However, this may not be the best strategy to recruit our quads and glutes; and it may bring in more of our lower back than we would like.


That being said, the next time you squat, push through your whole foot, as if you are pushing the earth beneath you. This is something a lot of people missing, but in my opinion, it is essential for all lower body lifts. Eccentrics and tempo squats that slow the movement down will definitely help with this!

In summary, leg strength and size are important for overall health. Although squats are a great exercise for the legs, they are not for everyone.


The biggest thing to remember is that you do not have to squat to get strong and big legs, find what works best for you and your body, challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid to try some new exercises or squat variations!


References

  1. Comfort P, Mcmahon JJ, Suchomel TJ. Optimizing Squat Technique—Revisited. Strength & Conditioning Journal 2018;40(6):68–74.

2. Fry Andrewc, Smith Jchadwick, Schilling Briank. Effect Of Knee Position On Hip And Knee Torques During The Barbell Squat. The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research 2003;17(4):629.

3. Lorenzetti S, Gülay T, Stoop M, Et Al. Comparison Of The Angles And Corresponding Moments In The Knee And Hip During Restricted And Unrestricted Squats. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research 2012;26(10):2829–36.

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