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Squat Squats, Weight Lifting Squat, Powerlifting Squat, Bodybuilding Squat.
Car Squat, Truck Squat, Learn how to Squat article and information.

Article provided by Krista at www.Stumptuous.com

 

Squat or Squats.  This photo is on the Extreme side of Pro Level Competitive Powerlifting.
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learning the squat

part 1: debunking the myths

The squat is, perhaps, the single best exercise for leg strength and development. Squatting significantly strengthens the muscles responsible for knee and hip extension: quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles such as the torso musculature. The squatting motion and position is also the foundation for many other exercises, such as deadlifts, Olympic lifts, and even every day lifting tasks. I think it is a very worthwhile task to learn how to squat, and anyone who can get out of a chair can do it. It has benefits not just for your strength, but for balance, confidence, daily-life strength, cardiovascular capacity, and active flexibility.

Problem is, the squat is often taught incorrectly, and it's stigmatized as difficult and dangerous. People warn that it is bad for your knees and back, inappropriate for beginners (or anyone not a male collegiate athlete), too hard to learn, blah blah the sky is falling, etc. So, let's go through all the scary things we've heard about squatting, to debunk them one by one.

myth #1: squatting must not be done with a full range of motion or you will hurt your knees.

This is probably the worst myth of all. It's one of those "well known facts" which is mysteriously unsupported in the research (it's a well known fact that as soon as you say "it's a well known fact", you won't be able to back it up). According to this myth, full squats (a squat in which the knee joint is taken through a full range of motion, so that at the bottom the hamstrings make contact with the calves) are inherently dangerous, particularly to the knee joint.

While biomechanical research does support the fact that forces on the connective tissues of the knee increase with the knee angle, particularly on the posterior cruciate ligament, there is no evidence that these increased forces actually lead to injury. There is no direct evidence that full squatting causes or even exacerbates knee pain nor damage. I do not know of a single documented case where full squatting led directly to knee injury. Not one! Which is pretty amazing, considering that the clinical literature is positively littered with injury narratives. You'd think we'd see some evidence, but there is nothing, nada, zero. Studies of Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters, both of whom squat with heavy loads, show no increased risk of knee damage in either population. Olympic lifters, in particular, regularly drop to full depth under hundreds of pounds, perhaps as often a hundred times a week or more, for years, and yet their knees are healthier than those of people such as skiiers, jumpers, or runners. No study, short or long term, has ever shown an increase in knee laxity from deep squatting.

In fact, there is strong evidence that squatting actually improves knee stability! The increased strength, balance, and proprioception from regular squatting can make a substantial contribution to keeping knees healthy. Progressive overload (beginning with a light load, then increasing gradually as the trainee is able) assists in strengthening connective tissues and muscles surrounding the joint.

Most interesting to me is the problem with what is usually recommended as "safe": squatting to parallel. At parallel (where the thigh is parallel to the floor, higher than the depth of a full squat by about 30 degrees), the compressive forces on the patella (kneecap) are actually at their highest (Huberti & Hayes, Journal of Bone Joint Surgery, 1984: 715-724). Decelerating, stopping, and reversing direction at this angle can inspire significant knee pain in even healthy people, whereas full squats present no problem. Another exercise which is supposedly "safer" is the leg extension, even though patellar tension and shear forces on the knee joint are demonstrably higher with such an exercise (see sidebar).

It is worthwhile at this point to comment on the things that do cause knee injury. The primary causes of knee injury involve:

    a) twisting under a load

    b) too much load (for example, I heard of a guy who boasted that he could squat 800 lbs. He had never done it before, and couldn't even full squat half that much, but he decided that 800 was a good round number, and he was going to attempt to quarter squat it. Long story short, knee ligaments did not agree with his assessment)

    c) landing unevenly from a jump, especially with straightened rather than bent legs (this is a big problem for folks like basketball and volleyball players)

    d) being in a situation where one part of the leg is held stationary while the other is moving (for example, stepping in a gopher hole while running: shin stays in place while the thigh keeps moving)

    e) impact to the knee (such as a hit from the side or front in football)

    f) squatting in a Smith machine which does not allow proper shifts in weight through the movement, and results in shear on knee and spine

In other words, knee injury usually results from varus or valgus force (twisting of the joint in either direction), inappropriate loading, or forcible shear across the joint. It does not occur simply from taking the knee joint through a full range of motion, using correct technique, and using a weight which is appropriate to the abilities of the trainee.

why are leg extensions hard on the knee joint?

To understand why this is, it is helpful to understand the concept of shear. Shear in this case just refers to a horizontal force on the joint. Imagine two cans stacked on top of one another, and imagine that a piece of masking tape joins them. Then, imagine what happens if you hold the top can still while you push the bottom can to one side. Eventually that tape will snap. This is a simplistic description of what happens to the knee joint in a leg extension.

Here is a simple diagram that attempts to explain the difference between the squat and the leg extension. The black lines represent the thigh bone, shin bones, and knee joint (black circle). In a squat, as shown in the figure on the left, your feet are on the ground (hopefully), and the force of the load is transmitted downwards, along the length of the bones. In a leg extension machine, there is a pad against the front of your shin or ankle, and you press against it to move the weight. The foot swings upward in an arc. Thus, as you can see in the figure on the right, the pressure is coming across the shin bones, not along their length. This creates the problem in the knee joint as the shin is pressed backwards.

Leg extensions do have their place, usually in rehab. If the leg extension machine is used, it is wise to use a smaller range of motion, perhaps the top third of the movement (from slightly bent to fully straight leg), and light weight.

This is not to say that everyone can immediately leap into full squatting. It is essential to learn to squat in a way that meets your individual needs, and I'll discuss that in Part 3. It is common to have difficulty with a full range of motion in the beginning. If knee pain is felt during the squatting motion, there are a few possible reasons. First, it is important to rule out existing pathology. Some people may indeed have knees that are so damaged that they are unable to squat, but this is rare (and these people are probably walking with a cane). In particular, full squatting is contraindicated for someone with an acute posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury, but these types of injuries are uncommon and usually result from something like a car accident. Someone who has rehabilitated a PCL injury can attempt full squats with light loading, and see how it goes. With correct loading and technique, anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) and medial cruciate ligament (MCL) injuries generally don't present a problem. I know someone who is even missing an ACL on one knee, and has a reconstructed ACL on the other, and she squats quite happily.

Some people may have irritation in the joint due to things like patellofemoral syndrome, and the goal initially should be to squat in a pain-free range, while aiming to increase that range and strengthen the muscles around the joint. Some people may experience pain due to poor technique, which includes allowing the knees to cave in or twisting during the ascent. In this case, the trainer should again establish probable cause and direct attention to remedial work (such as stretching and additional strengthening) in conjunction with improving pain-free range of motion and correct technique. In Part 4 of this article, I suggest some stretches and assistance exercises to help you eliminate possible problems.

myth #2: squats hurt your back.

Probably this myth grew from someone who leaped into squatting too quickly, loaded up too much weight, rounded the back during the movement, and guess what, had an owie. In general, squats are excellent for strengthening the lower back and the restof the torso musculature. Simply standing upright with a squat bar on the back is a good challenge for folks who are new! In most people, the lower back will indeed be a weak link in the chain, but there are three simple solutions: first, squat light initially, progressing with weight only as you are able to handle it; second, use good technique at all times, which includes neutral spine; and third, include some additional lower back strengthening work in your program. I'll discuss this a bit more in Part 3 and Part 4.

Squatting may indeed be contraindicated for some people with particular types of spinal injuries, particularly folks in the acute phase of a herniated disk. While many people with disk herniations do continue to squat without pain (often with quite heavy loads), this is an area where it is important to figure out where your limits are. One limit to squatting with a back injury may be that it is inappropriate to use axial loading (in other words, to squat with the bar on your back). In this case, an excellent alternative is the Super Squats hip belt from Ironmind. It's a nylon belt that sits around your hips with the weight hanging from it. Feels weird at first, but very comfortable. Certainly worth investigating if you love squatting and hate to give it up!

myth #3: squatting is hard to learn, and only natural athletes should do it.

Bollocks to that! I've taught everyone from octogenarians to teenagers to squat. Babies already know how to squat; we just forget how. The squat is a very natural movement. Following some simple steps and cues, anyone can squat. We may not all be able to full squat hundreds of pounds like some Olympic lifters, but everyone can perform the squatting motion and eventually improve their range of motion, balance, and technique.

myth #4: squatting "bulks up" your legs and butt.

If you've been paying attention to anything on this site, you should know that this is crap and you should know why, so I won't even waste time on it. If you don't like the bulk on your ass, honey, try laying off the Twinkies, not the squats.

myth #5: machines are just as effective as free weight squats.

Give this little experiment a try. Let's say you can leg press a certain amount, perhaps 200 lbs. Make sure your safety bars are set in the power cage, grab a spotter, and load up 1/2 of that amount on a squat bar. Try a full squat. I think you will find that leg press is to squats as dog poop is to Belgian truffles. Machines have their place, as I said, but a leg press isn't a squat and there's no sense pretending it is.

myth #6: squats require special equipment to perform, and you can't do it by yourself.

All you need for a squat at first is your own body. To add resistance, you can hold a pair of dumbbells, wear a weighted knapsack, hug a sandbag, put a barbell on your back, add reps or sets, or try them one-legged. Most folks opt to use a barbell on their back for convenience, and they perform squats in a power cage. A power cage has pins to remove the bar from, and safety bars to stop the bar below a certain point. So if you get stuck at the bottom, you just dump the bar on to the safety bars. Sometimes it makes a crashy sound if the safety bars are exposed steel, but other than that, no harm no foul! There's no need to train to failure anyway, but it does happen, and in a power cage, it happens safely, if a bit embarrassingly. If you don't have a power cage but you want to use a bar, try learning.

learning the squat

part 2: why squat?

In Part 1, I discussed the myth that people shouldn't learn to squat because they don't need to, or that machine leg exercises are a good enough substitute. Sure, machines can come in handy and they have their place, especially in rehab. But the skills gained from squatting cannot be matched by a machine. In this section, I'm going to discuss what the squat actually does for you.

First and foremost, the squat improves your strength. The prime movers in the squat are the muscles of the thighs, hips, and buttocks. However, many other muscles are involved as stabilizers and helpers. The back muscles must keep the spine in the correct position, pushing the chest out and retracting the shoulder blades, and holding the arch in the lower back tight. The muscles in the calves and feet must provide a steady foundation. The muscles of the torso, such as the abs and obliques, as well as the deeper muscles, must help provide a column of support (see my article on ab training). It's really a full body exercise. Squatting improves strength for activities such as cycling, running, and jumping, as well as daily-life activities.

Second, the squat improves your balance. Folding up under a load, and not falling over, challenges your body in a way that is unique. With practice, your balance improves. This is useful not only for folks who compete in sports requiring good balance, but also for people like seniors whose balance decreases with age.

Third, the squat can improve your endurance and work capacity. You might notice that after a set of squats, you're slurping oxygen like... ummm... let's not go there with that joke. Squats improve your ability to tolerate this type of workload. With the proper training protocol, squats will also improve your strength-endurance, which is great for folks competing in endurance sports. It has been shown that endurance activities hamper squatting performance, but not the other way around. So, what that means is that endurance activities like long distance running are contraindicated for athletes, such as powerlifters, who need to exert maximal strength in the squat, but the reverse is not true. Squats are not contraindicated for endurance athletes, and can, indeed, help to improve endurance performance.

Fourth, the squat can improve your functional mobility and active flexibility. In other words, it can improve your range of motion. Many folks find when they begin squatting that achieving full depth is difficult. This is normal, and with careful attention to stretching, it can be easily overcome. But the squat itself can be an active stretch! The simple act of squatting to full depth extends and maintains a larger range of motion.

Finally, using the squat to develop all of these abilities has numerous practical applications in daily life: picking up a child, bags of groceries, manual labour in the garden, getting out of a chair, improving overall mobility, etc. I'd like to share two stories that were posted on misc.fitness.weights years ago.

My neighbours wanted to redo their back yard so they rented this monsterous roto-tiller. It was so damn big it was delivered on a flat bed and they used a crane to download it. Well stupid me, I decide to borrow it. I'm out back tilling away to make room for next spring's garden when I get to a particularly hard piece of earth. Here I am, Mr. Suit and Tie, in only shorts and shoes, covered head to toe in dust. The contraption has like a 50 hp motor, huge self propelled wheels, reverse, etc. I decide to back up.

The Satan machine takes off backwards in a lurch. By the time I get my hand off the throttle lever it's too late. The handles are about 3 feet long. They pass me, and push me into the 6' chain link fence. The reverse lever and the throttle lever are about 2' long. I'm pushing forward for my life, while simultaneously trying to reach behind me to get a hold of the disengage lever which is now torn off of the handle and stretched to the max. I'm of course losing the battle. The two levers in the middle, (the throttle and reverse lever), are pushing into my stomach, slowly raising the engine power, and more fully engaging the reverse clutch. Now I'm getting smashed into the fence, being impalled by two steel rods without any sort of protective caps, and having my feet nipped at by the tines that are spinning at an astonishing speed.

I take my feet off the ground and contort in a manner to get them onto the machine in a way to try and push back. My left upper thigh is now being jabbed by the sharp corner of one of the control boxes in which the HOT hydraulic fluid runs through. The pain of the corner was more than the searing cooked flesh I am now experiencing.

By now I'm totally smashed into the fence. The fence starts to tear away from the posts it's anchored to, one at a time. As the roto-tiller gains ground the parts I'm being impaled with along with the front raises off of the ground. Its comin up at me and I'm stuck like an idiot about to be the first man in the local news to be roto'd to death. The entire time I'm thinking of Mike Mentzer and his fanatic negative and static strength beliefs. That SOB better be right, I'm thinking, as I pray to God my wife isn't the one who finds me ground up into hamburger and garden mulch.

The rototiller advances further, and more fence rips off of posts. By now I'm seriously considering intentionaly impaling myself so I can reach the filter which the hydraulic fluid passes through, to unscrew it and hopefully get patched up by the medics later on. I can't reach. My legs are totally ruined. I'm pushing with every last ounce of will I possess just trying to keep it from advancing further... The two rods are now pushing my stomach so far in I can't really breathe. The corner of the metal box is pushed about 4 inches into by upper thigh and is smashed into the bone. It was well over 350 to 400 degrees. By now I'm thinking I'd better yell for help and the fuckin hell with embarrassment.

So I yell, "HEEEEEEEELLLLP" at the top of my lungs. Which actually wasn't very loud since I couldn't breathe. I keep yelling until the neighbors all start running like madmen in a stampede. My neighbour across the street, who is in her 80s, sprints across in what must have been a 4.1 40 speed and climbs the fence on the other side of the house, runs around the back of the house, and shuts the damn thing off. The other neighbors arrive and it takes 8 of them to pull the fucker back far enough just to get my feet near the ground. My legs were so fried from pushing so hard for so long that I couldn't even hold myself up. They drag me into my house and my sweet lovely 80 yr old neighbor gets me 3 shots of peppermint schnapps out of the freezer. God I love her.

The moral of the story: squat.

I had problems with my knees that were answered by Dr.Squat. And I tell you what. If the answers hadn't helped me overcome my bad knees in training I most certainly would have been dead. Without question. I now sport a weird looking dollar sized scar on my thigh. And newfound respect for Mentzer. When I returned to the gym a week later I squatted 405 for the first time in my life. Seriously though, I would be dead if it were not for heavy squats. No shit, or hyperbole, or exaggerating. I would have been dead before I ever got a chance to yell for help.

The second story comes to us from the mighty Squatto, aka Stephen Mulholland of Northern Ireland.

It's 8:30 in the evening now, and all is calm in Castle Squatto, but the past hour has been...interesting. It's Hallowe'en, and my youngest two boys, 5 and 2 (unusual names, I know, but they're easy to spell) wanted to go out trick or treating. So, one was dressed up as a vampire, the other as a ghost. We smeared them with makeup, put on the little dressing-up things, and off we went. The boys collected a big bag of sweets off the neighbours, and we wandered back home to fire up the fireworks.

We came back home, and locked the front door as we came in, then we headed through the kitchen into our small back garden to let off the fireworks. Being mindful of the boys' safety, I told them to stand well back while I set off the fireworks. So, as the boys came out through the back door, the eldest one closed the door behind him, so that the light from the kitchen wouldn't lessen his little innocent's pleasure at watching the fireworks.

We were locked out. The back door locks when it's closed, unless we click the little clicky thingie to prevent it locking automatically.

So, we wandered round the house, in the vain hope that there's an open window. Hope was cruelly dashed to the cold road. We were still fucking locked out, it was freezing, and starting to rain. 2 was terrified of all the bangs and flashes of the neighbours' fireworks, while 5 was suitably upset for having locked us all out.

There was no way in, no keys hidden outside, nothing. The door is a solid, thick pine door. It was time. I'd kept my powers secret from my family, but they had to know; there was no other way.

"Stand back", I cried. I lifted my left foot, and, with my mighty Squatto thigh, drove it at the back door.

The fucking thing practically exploded. Doorframe, hinges, bits of the lock, all were blasted into the kitchen. I heard a "Holy Shit" from my next-door neighbour, who was watching from his garden.

I've spent the last hour fixing the door and frame enough to prevent anyone walking in.

It was worth it. The soreness, the almost-vomiting, the 20 reps, the low reps, the front squats, all worth it, just to explode a door with one kick.

Squats ROCK.

Okay, hopefully I've convinced you, and you are going to join the proud, the few, the bootylicious, the squatters! On to the instructions and tips!

learning the squat

part 3: how to squat

All right! Now we get to the fun part! Time to learn the Queen of Exercises, the squat (although maybe the Olympic lifts should be the Queen of Exercises, and the squat should be the Princess of Exercises, but not like a Lady Di sort of princess with all the bulimia and stuff; perhaps republicans would prefer the Prime Minister of Exercises or at the very least Minister of Finance since everyone knows the bean counters run the show anyway, but I digress).

I strongly recommend proceeding in the order given. Different people will progress more quickly through, but it's wise to always start with no weight at all, using only bodyweight for resistance. The first few times you try this, you will very likely experience stiffness and/or soreness in your legs for the next day (or next few days). You may waddle like a penguin as you attempt to move around without actually bending your legs. You may make noises vaguely approximating "uuhhaauuggghh" when you try to get off the toilet. This is normal and will get better.

 

Step 1. This part is optional, and is suggested for beginners, older folks, inactive folks, and anyone who's a little bit timid about balance in the beginning. Perform Steps 2-5 while holding on to a sturdy railing, counter, or chair. Once you get confident about performing these types of squats, then cut the apron strings and do them as shown below, with hands held out in front. You can also try Steps 2-5 first with a partial range of motion, and just work on balance by working on increasing depth.

 

Step 2. To squat using your own bodyweight, you'll want to hold your arms out from your body to help with balance, sort of like a B-movie zombie, as in the picture to the left.

From top to bottom, here's how your body should be arranged at the start of a squat. Your head is looking forward. Take a deep breath, pushing chest up and out. Note that shoulders come back a bit and there is a natural arch in your lower back. That's the spinal position you try and keep through the movement. Your feet assume a stance that is approximately shoulder width or slightly wider. Toes may be pointed out slightly if you prefer; many folks find that much more comfortable than toes pointing forward. In either case, whichever toe direction you choose, your knees should follow the same direction through the movement (i.e. don't point toes out, then have knees travel inwards).

 

Step 3. Sit back and down like you're sitting into a chair that's not there. Head keeps looking straight ahead of you, or very slightly upwards if you prefer. Your upper body will naturally bend forward a bit to keep you balanced; simply allow it to bend from the hips (not from the waist) wherever it wants to go. Keep lower back slightly arched and do not allow it to round as you descend. Think about keeping your shins roughly perpendicular to the floor and your knees roughly behind your toes. Longer legged folks or folks using a narrower stance may find that shins tilt forward a bit; this is fine as long as the butt stays behind the hips.

 

Step 4. You may find initially that you need to cut the movement short and can only go part of the way down before your form begins to degrade. This is perfectly fine. Just make it a goal to work on increasing squat depth. I provide flexibility tips in Step 4. Now, bodyweight-only squats differ from regular squats with a bar in that the lower back does often round out slightly at the bottom. Since the spine isn't supporting any additional weight, this doesn't pose a problem. However, once you add a bar, you must concentrate on keeping that lower back from tucking under. At the bottom of the squat, hamstrings make contact with the calves. Resist the temptation to relax in this position, unless you are deliberately stretching. Relaxing at the bottom of a squat will relax the supporting muscles of the torso, which is a bad thing when you have weight on your back. It will also make it more difficult to get up out of the squat. If you do pause at the bottom, just remember to keep everything tight and not relax. Also resist the temptation to look down. The wider your foot stance, the more difficult it is to hit full depth. With a very wide stance, you will be limited by the structure of the hip joint, whereas with a narrower stance, full depth will be much easier.

 

Step 5. Push through the heels to ascend from the squat. Think about driving your heels right into the floor. Do not allow your weight to tip forward on to the toes. Keep looking forward or slightly up, and keep back tight. Do not twist. If your knees cave in on the ascent, think about pushing them outwards as you come up. The ascent from the squat should be a smooth "unfolding" of the body. The chest comes up first, followed by the hips. Do not allow the hips to "pop up" first.

 

Step 6. Once you've mastered Steps 2-5, and can do a few sets of several reps each, then you can proceed to trying out a broomstick. Squatting with a broomstick is a good intermediate step between bodyweight-only squatting, and squatting with a barbell. It teaches you correct bar position without imposing much of an additional demand.

Many people place the bar too high, resting it on the base of their neck. To find the top limit of where the bar should sit, bend your head forward and feel the back of the neck. Feel that bony bump at the base of the neck? The bar should never, ever sit on that or above it. Rather, the bar sits below the bumpy bit, on the "meat shelf" formed by the trapezius muscles of the upper back. Your traps are the muscles that hunch your shoulders up. When you retract your shoulder blades, as in Step 2, there's a little shelf of muscle that is formed on the upper back, and that's where the bar sits. Initially you may find that your shoulder flexibility limits your comfort in holding the bar. Try taking a wider grip on the bar. Over time, and with stretching, this problem should disappear.

Practice squatting with the broomstick using the same form you did for Steps 2-5, with the exception of making sure the lower back does not round at the bottom. Once you can do 3 sets of about 15 reps per set with a broomstick, then move to a light barbell. If your gym has only the regular barbells, which weigh 45 lbs., then build a stronger base of broomstick squats, say 3 or 4 sets x 20-25 reps, before you attempt the full sized bar (if you wanna go for it without achieving that base, then by all means be my guest, but I would prefer that you err on the side of safety and stay injury free... there's lots of time to add weight).

The picture below is your basic power cage. You can see that the "cage" moniker comes from the four vertical bars that enclose it. The bar ("a") sits on pins ("b") set just below your shoulder height. To get the bar on your back, face the bar (so in the picture you'd face the left). Step forward, duck your head under the bar and bend your knees slightly. Position the bar on your back, straighten your legs, and lift the bar off the pins. The bar should be low enough so that you have to crouch slightly to get under it, and that the bar lifts off the pins when you're standing straight. Safety bars ("c") are set just under the bottom level of where the bar would be at the bottom of your squat. My lovely assistant and web server mistress Alaina ("d") is demonstrating how to set them, and giving the thumbs up ("e"). Notice her lovely legs ("f"), thanks to years of squatting. She's the one, by the way, with one missing ACL and one reconstructed ACL. If you ever meet her, ask her how each of those injuries happened. They involve youthful stupidity, delusions of being Pele, and trying to do this.

Once they get a bit more confident about squatting with a full sized bar, the next question people have is, "What's a reasonable goal?" Full squatting will require that you use somewhat less weight than a partial squat (which, by the way, usually means that if people boast about their squat weight, they're probably just doing a butt bounce instead of the full movement, so feel free to make fun of them for their hubris, and then perhaps challenge them to a squat-off using your rules). For a beginner, simply performing a full squat with good technique, using the full sized 45 lb. bar is often a major achievement. Where you go from there will depend on a lot of things: your age, your inherent ability (some folks are just plain stronger, and that's how it is), your training schedule, your recovery ability, etc. But in general terms, a good long term goal for a beginner is to full squat her bodyweight. Along the way to this goal are many mini-goals: squatting half bodyweight, three quarters of bodyweight, etc. Your progress will be individual to you. Once you can full squat bodyweight, then keep on truckin', and set as many long term goals as you like.

In Part 4, I will cover some tips and tricks for improving your squat technique and correcting problems.

learning the squat

part 4: tips and tricks

Few people can knock off a perfect squat on the first try, or even the first several tries. Learning the basics of a squat is relatively simple, but perfecting the technique takes time and practice. Technique must always take precedence over weight. Don't be scared of adding weight once you get the hang of things, but never add weight that you can't handle. Don't cut the depth to be able to add more weight, either. Santa is watching and he frowns on bad little girls who cheat. Never let your ego get in the way of using good form.

squat stance

In the beginning you will likely be focusing on not falling over, so you won't be terribly concerned with your squat stance. However, eventually you may be interested in experimenting with squat stances. Perhaps you want to find the one which is most advantageous for you, or you are thinking of competing in powerlifting. Whatever your reason, it is helpful to know what each stance involves. Bear in mind that everyone is different, and there's lots of room for variation. There are no hard and fast rules about which one is right for you. For example, many people with longer legs find that they prefer a wider stance, and it makes it easier for them to hit full depth, but there are exceptions, such as my giraffe-legged husband who can do a rather astonishing narrow stance squat.

Here are the two basic back squat stances. Since I took these shots at home, and since my husband persists in being unreasonable about my idea to remove all of the living room furniture and install a complete home gym in its place, I am demonstrating this with my trusty broomstick.

The wide stance, low bar squat is the powerlifting style squat. Feet are placed quite wide apart, and toes are often turned out. The bar sits low on the traps. It puts people with strong hamstrings, glutes, and hips at an advantage, since hip extension provides much of the drive. The wider your foot placement, the harder it will be to hit depth, since the hip joint will eventually limit how far down you can go (compare my depth at the bottom of the wide-stance and narrow-stance squats). Powerlifters use this style because it helps them hit parallel but no lower, and a lot of weight can be moved this way. It looks like I'm really hyperextending my back in the photo on the left, but I've just started sitting back into the descent a bit.

The narrow stance, high bar squat is the one that I use. The bar sits relatively higher up on the traps, and the feet are roughly shoulder width apart. Full depth is easily achieved as long as hamstrings are flexible and lower back is strong. Toes may travel slightly beyond knees, but it's not usually a problem. This stance is good for people with strong quads, and/or for people who also perform Olympic lifts. Knee extension is more significant in this squat than in the wide stance style, which means that more work is done by the quads.

squatting stretches

Here are some stretches that will help you squat more easily, effectively and correctly. All stretches should be executed after a good warmup. Since these stretches are intended as remedial work for the squat, you can break the "no static stretching before weights" rule and do them before you squat, as well as after.

The best squat stretch of all is squatting (there's a zen truth in there somewhere). To do this stretch, simply squat down and sit there in the squat position for 3-5 seconds, letting your own weight push you into the stretch. Ascend as normal, then repeat. Do this a few times every day, or every workout, and within a couple of weeks this should be a piece of cake. You can also put a bar on your back for this one, and the added weight will also help to push you further into the stretch. To get a deeper hip stretch from this, squat down with no weight on your back, then once you are at the bottom, take your elbows and use them to push your knees outwards. Hold for 5 seconds, then ascend. Repeat as desired.

Tight hamstrings are often to blame for rounding out the lower back at the bottom. Many people stretch hamstrings incorrectly, using stretches such as the sit-and-reach stretch (not to be confused with the sit-and-spin), where they bend from the waist. It's much more effective to stretch the hamstrings while bending from the hip. For a beginner stretch, simply bend forward from the hips, keeping an arch in the lower back, as shown in the picture on the left. Once you've gotten good at this, progress to the deeper stretch shown in the middle picture, with foot elevated on a step, bench, or chair. Keep bending from the hips, not the waist, and push butt back as your upper body leans down. You can also stretch the hamstrings while lying down, using a towel looped around your calf, as shown in the picture on the right.

     
 

Tight hips can be stretched out with this version of the classic yoga pigeon pose. To get into this pose, sit on the floor with your left knee bent in front of you (knee bent about 90 degrees; don't overbend), and the right leg straight-ish in front of you. Roll on to your left butt cheek, and swing the right leg back as far as it will go. In the beginning it probably won't go very far, and you'll have to keep the right knee bent. Roll back towards the center so that weight is evenly distributed. The farther you roll to the right, the deeper the stretch in the front of your right hip. Sit up straight, push chest out, and press right hip forward. The farther up you sit, the more you'll feel the stretch in the front of your right hip. The farther forward you lean, the more you'll feel the stretch in the outside of the left hip. I like to do this as a two-step stretch: get into position, then stretch first in the upright position shown, followed by leaning forward (you can go as far down as resting your forehead on the floor, if you like). Repeat on other side of course. I like this stretch a lot because it's a good one-two punch. You stretch out the outside of one hip, and the front of the other. Don't forget to breathe deeply and relax for this one, because it's a deep stretch.

If this stretch is too much for you at first, try a simpler stretch for the outside of your hip. Sit on floor with both legs out in front of you. Bring left knee towards your chest, and cross your left foot over your right thigh. Hug the left knee to the chest and hold for several seconds. Repeat on other side.

For the front of the hip, try the stretch shown to the right. Step forward with one leg, keeping upper body upright and tucking pelvis under very slightly. Drop rear knee straight down until a stretch is felt in the front of the hip. You may find that you need to tuck the pelvis under a fair bit to make this stretch happen. Keep front shin and rear thigh approximately vertical, and do not hyperextend the lower back. If you like, you can hold a railing for balance during this stretch.

   

If you find that your heels are rising off the floor while descending, you likely have tight calves. First, make sure that you are using a full range of motion for your calf exercises, getting the heel all the way down on the descent. You can even pause at the bottom of each rep if you like, letting the heel sink down.

   

Second, try the following stretches. Stand facing a wall. Place hands on wall, slide one foot back, press heel down, as shown in picture to left. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then bend knee and continue pressing down on heel, as shown in the right hand picture.

Another good stretch is to stand on a step, holding a railing. Slide one foot off the step, so that the heel is off the step while the toes are still on the step. Press that heel down and hold for 10-30 seconds.

Pain on the outside of the knee is often alleviated by stretching the iliotibial band, which is a long strip of mostly connective tissue that runs down the thigh from hip to knee. Though the tissue spans the length of the thigh, it is most often felt in the knee area, outside and just above. Runners especially are likely to be familiar with the pain of IT band irritation. This knee pain is actually relieved by stretching hip abductor muscles, the glutes and the tensor fascia latae. The hip stretches described above will help, as will this stretch. Cross left leg over right as shown, straighten both legs, then push hip out to the right like Mae West workin' it.

Another handy tip for self-treating knee pain is massage with a rolling pin. While seated watching TV or whatever, stretch your leg out in front of you and rest it on your coffee table, footstool, or helpful golden retriever. Take the rolling pin and roll it down the length of your thigh, working in small areas about 6" square. Use gentle pressure at first, then increase. Work along the entire thigh, wherever there is soft tissue, particularly along the outside. This rolling pin massage also feels great on the front of your shins. If you don't have a rolling pin handy, try just using your thumbs to work along the outside of the thigh from the knee upwards, making small circles about 1-2" in diameter, and using a firm pressure. Do this self-massage for several minutes, once or twice a day.

therapeutic squatting variations

The squat itself can be modified to correct problems in technique. A common problem is allowing the knees to cave inwards. This can signify, in part, a weakness in hip abductors, but it can also be just poor learned form. To un-learn this as well as focus on strengthening hips, try this trick. Take a piece of elastic tubing or exercise bands (you don't have to use this; you can use any piece of cord you have lying around, but the elastic stuff works really well). Tie it into a loop, then place the loop around your knees while standing. The loop should be long enough so that it allows you to stand normally, but short enough that you have to press your knees outwards to keep it from falling down. Then, using light weight, execute your squat as normal, making sure to press knees outwards throughout.

Knee pain can sometimes be treated using this squat modification. Squat as normal, but hold a basketball or soccer ball between your knees. You'll have to focus on pressing inwards or the ball will drop. This is often prescribed by physiotherapists who identify a hip abductor or vastus medialis weakness.

 

Squat Squats, Weight Lifting Squat, Powerlifting Squat, Bodybuilding Squat.
Car Squat, Truck Squat, Learn how to Squat article and information.

Article provided by Krista at www.Stumptuous.com

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