Believe it or not, but once upon a time I hated to squat in any way.
Bodyweight squats? No thank you.
Barbell back squat? No sir.
Loaded front squat? Pass.
Fast forward 10 years later and I’m preaching the Good Gospel of Squats like a good meathead disciple. The squat appears in all my clients’ programming and my own workouts on a daily basis, in all its glorious variations.
Regardless of level or experience, there’s always something to improve upon in the squat. Different demands in training will unveil imbalances or weaknesses that went unnoticed before. Since incorporating heavy squats into my training the past two years, I’ve also uncovered movement dysfunctions in my squat pattern: butt wink, knees caving in, issues with squat depth, hips shooting out…..it’s a long laundry list of issues.
As trainers and coaches, we want to address movement dysfunctions with patience and empathy. Telling a client “that was a terrible squat” will a) get you punched in the face or b) decrease the likelihood that client will ever enjoy or improve the squat. If you’re addressing a form fix on your own, as I am, it’s imperative that we act as our own coach – with patience and empathy – and only address 1-2 dysfunctions at a time (Sometimes fixing one thing corrects another).
Here are my current weaknesses and how I’m tackling them one squat at a time:
Knees Caving In
Also known as knee valgus, the knees caving in issue is very common among beginning and experienced lifters. As the barbell gets heavier, the body compensates by pushing the knees in during the upward phase of the squat. Experts have yet to determine the exact cause for this, and given that every person is structured differently, trying to pin point a single root cause implies we’re all built the same. I consulted with my friend and strength coach Mike Anderson in Ohio about this and he suggested my weak gluteus medius might be to blame. Well, duh, why didn’t I think of that?
Let’s get geeky for a second….
Our glutes are a large muscle group made up of three distinct muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The gluteus medius controls the movement of the hip and inserts at the femur. Without diving too deep into the science, a weakness in this muscle makes perfect sense, causing the inner thigh to compensate and pull the knees in.
Before squatting with heavy loads, I’ve made these drills a key part of my warm-up:
– Lateral banded walks
– Bodyweight squat with the band above my knees
– Barbell squat with a band (light load) above my knees
I’ve seen quite a difference in my squat since adding these to my warm-up. Not only does the band help fire up my glutes for heavy squatting, but doing so right before loading the barbell reinforces the “knees out” position during the upward phase. It’s a great tactile cue that jolts my brain and my booty to turn “on” when I need it. If the squat is an accessory lift for the day, I do a few banded squats just before as a reminder of how I want my muscles to feel during the movement.
Hips shooting out
This is the bane of my existence. I like to call it the “Miley Cyrus Squat Twerk” because on the way up, it looks like I’m about to start twerking each time my hips shoot up in the air.
Others call it the “good morning squat” but personally, my version is way more fun, if I do say so myself.
Research suggests weak quads are to blame for this. I train my posterior chain a lot – glutes and hamstrings take a beating in workouts because a.) I like big butts and I cannot lie and 2.) I’m Brazilian. A nice backside is important to well, my entire cultural identity. So sue me.
With this knowledge I can tweak my training to include more quad-dominant exercises like:
– Front squats
– Bulgarian split squats
– Seated leg extensions (body building style)
I know I need these exercises more because I generally loathe doing any of them. Just like the squat in my early days, the more I hated it, the more I needed it. Kind of like eating broccoli as a kid. I dig all vegetables now.
Another drill one can incorporate is this cool one from Tony Gentilcore: the barbell rolling squat, which sounds like a fun amusement park ride rather than an exercise.
The goal of training is to train. The goal of movement ‘therapy’ is to address a weakness and move on. Don’t get so caught up with mobility and corrective drills that it interferes with the training itself. In a month or two, reassess the squat and address the next weakness.
What makes a great, strong squat is consistent action over a long period of time. Not sexy but that’s the beauty of strength training – the work never stops.
I’m a “Masters Age” (50+) recreationally competing weightlifter (i.e. I compete in the snatch, clean and jerk) and have been working on my non-barbell squat mobility, everything from prying goblet squats a few times a week, to working on how long I can sit ass-to-grass in a bodyweight squat.
I’m up to 5 minutes?
It’s completely messed with my barbell squat mechanics because now I’m hitting a much deeper depth.
I can now barbell front squat with full hamstrings to calves with my toros upright. But I can’t get out of the hole unless I drop the weights by about 25% from my usual 5-8 RM.
It feels like my squat has more hip action in play now, but it’s at ranges I’m not used to. And my ankle, too.
My mobility is killing my gains!
Where do I start to rebuild?
Hi David – without seeing how you move, your injury/training history etc. I can’t say for sure exactly where you should begin. Nevertheless, I can give you some ideas. First, why do you want to squat ass to grass? If it’s for the purpose of Olympic Weightligting then it makes total sense to have that kind of range but it’s not necessary for general strength building. Consider if this is appropriate for your goal!The other thing to consider are your ankles, torso and femur length. Lack of ROM in the ankles will hinder your squat depth. Finally, if you’re having trouble coming out of the hole, then you’re right to drop the weights. I would suggest doing pause squats of 2-5 seconds to help you build your strength in that bottom position using 65-80% of 1RM.