Alright, so there you are standing, holding your fitness magazine with a list of pre-determined exercise activities….the question begs, “Do you know how to perform the exercise…correctly!!!?”
We want to make sure that all of our members are well educated in performing their exercises accurately - in order to minimise potential injury and maximise results, so we have put together the following pointers to ensure correct technique of some main exercises:
SQUATS: Squats are one of the main exercises used in the gym because of the number of muscle groups it requires to do the action. When performing a squat it is important to remember to:
- Take a deep breath in (this maintains pressure on the Thoracic region and prevents poor posture), and slightly tilt your pelvis forward to create a slight arch in your back.
- While maintaining a forward gaze, lift the bar off the rack.
- Take a step or two back from the rack and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart – keeping toes pointed slightly outwards and shoulder back.
- Start the downward phase of the exercise by breaking the angle between your knees and hips, keeping your weight on the heels of your feet squat down until you can squat no more, the deeper the better. Pause, clench your Glutes, and raise back to the starting position keep the chest as high as possible whilst maintaining the natural arch in your back. Be sure to exhale (scream & moan) as you raise up.
DEADLIFTS: Next Week……………..
…..Originally we were going to write a segment on deadlifts, however over the last week myself and several of my personal trainers have been asked by a HUGE amount of people about squat form. We have also had some people tell us that squatting full range is worse for the body compared to their partial squats! So, as our job (and passion) is all about educating those who are less educated in this field, and to ensure correct technique resulting in less injury, we have provided the following information derived from a vast array of sources and studies…….enjoy!
This is the first thing Mark teaches on a squat and it’s covered in Starting Strength. To this day, I use it as a warm up. This will not only get your knees pointed in the right direction, it will also help to stretch out.
- Without a bar, squat all the way down.
- Put your left elbow inside your left knee and your right elbow inside your right knee.
- Clasp your hands together between your knees.
- Your elbows will be pushing your knees outward and you’ll feel a stretch inside your thighs.
- Make sure that your feet are pointing in the same direction as your knees.
- Note the distance between your heels. If this isn’t exactly how wide your stance should be it’s damn close.
- If your hams aren’t touching your calves, stay in this position for a few seconds and stretch yourself out.
- Stand up, thinking about thrusting your tailbone first. Don’t push with the legs as much as you think about thrusting with the tailbone. This is the first movement out of the bottom of the squat.
- Get under the bar with your chest high and your upper and lower back tight.
- Grip the bar, ensuring your grip is balanced from left to right.
- Grip the bar as close to your shoulders as possible. This will test your shoulder, elbow and wrist joint flexibility. The closer your hands are (within reason, your hands shouldn’t touch your ears), the tighter your upper back will be, and the better the bar will sit on your back. Use a thumbless grip. You aren’t supporting the bar with your hands. You’re holding the bar DOWN against your back. Your wrist should NOT bend in either direction. It should be a straight line from your forearm across the wrist onto your hand.
- Place the bar on your back across the low portion of the traps and rear delts (low bar position). Elevate your elbows as high behind you as possible, while keeping your chest upright. If your pectorals are sore, you will feel this as a deep stretch in the pectorals and possibly delts.
- Inhale as deeply as possible, ensure your back is tight, bend down a bit and squat the bar out of the rack. Do NOT LEAN FORWARD and perform a good morning to get the bar out of the rack. You will lose tightness this way and, as a novice, expose yourself to injury.
- Stand fully upright with the bar across your lower traps and rear delts, and clear the bar from the rack in 3 steps:
- Take 1 step backward with one foot to clear the rack
- Take 1 step backward with the other (trail) foot so that your feet are even
- Take 1 step sideways with the trail foot so that you get your heels to proper stance width.
- Do NOT perform a “backward walk” with the bar. No more than 3 steps are necessary, total. Fidgeting with a few hundred pounds on your shoulders gets tiring. Squats are difficult enough as it is, no need to tire yourself needlessly prior to exercise execution with needless steps.
- Make necessary adjustments so that stance width is proper, i.e. heels at ~ shoulder width, feet pointed in a “neutral” manner, ~30 degrees outward. ~30 degrees is “neutral” because as you widen your stance, your toes need to point outward in order to maintain proper patellar alignment with the thigh bones (toes in line with knees). When your heels are at approximately shoulder width, your toes will need to be pointed ~30 degrees outward.
- Keep your chest high and the bar balanced above the midfoot, take a deep breath, hold it, and squat down all the way. Do not look up, do not look down, do not look side to side. Keep your eyes focused on a point that is ~ 6-10′ ahead of you on the floor, or if you have a wall close enough, focus on a point a few feet above the floor along the wall.
- 4 basics of execution:
- Sit back (stick your butt out!)
- Squat down (bending/flexing the knees)
- Balance the weight by keeping your chest and shoulders upright while your upper body leans forward slightly to keep the bar above the midfoot
- “Keep knees tight” – i.e. don’t relax your quads and simply “drop” into the bottom position, keep your thigh muscles tight throughout the motion
- Once you have squatted down all the way into “the hole”, without pausing or bouncing (more on this later), stand back up.
- As you raise out of “the hole”, you will be doing 3 basic things almost simultaneously:
- You will be pushing your butt upward
- You will be pushing your shoulders upward
- You will be extending your knees
- You will be forcefully contracting your upper and lower back muscles isometrically to maintain tightness in your torso
Do not begin to exhale (blow out) until you are near to completion of the repetition. This will cause you to lose tightness.
Most people will need to think about forcing their knees to stay outward during the up and down motion of the squat. It almost feels unnatural for the novice trainee to keep his knees tracking along the proper “groove” when the motion is very new. Your knees, technically, should track at the same angle that your toes do. Yes, powerlifters, you keep your legs wide and point your toes forward because this tightens your hips on the way down and up from the hole, but we’re not talking about that. Figure 56, pg. 56, Starting Strength demonstrates this graphically and gives an excellent explanation.
Some amount of forward lean is natural, and in fact, is necessary. It is impossible, with a free weight barbell, to keep your upper body at a 90 degree angle to the floor. You cannot maintain any form of balance this way and if you try, you will fall onto your rump.
The bar, as it rests on your back, must remain above the midfoot area throughout the range of motion. It is common for a new trainee to lean back too far or, more commonly, lean forward too far. However, some amount of forward lean IS NECESSARY in order to keep the bar over your midfoot. The lower on your back you hold the bar, the more forward lean will be necessary.
The problem is that people have a tendency to lean so far forward that their heels come off the ground, or they end up putting far too much stress on the glutes and lower back and their squat turns into an impromptu good morning. Keep the bar tracking above the midfoot area, and you will be fine, as long as you don’t round your back.
This is the infamous “butt wink,” This stems from hamstring tightness pulling your lumbar spine at the bottom position. Weak spinal erectors and tight hamstrings are the most frequent culprits. It’s actually not a huge issue unless it is severe and will often be present to some extent in all trainees. It’s worth noting that butt wink is more severe when there is less weight on the bar rather than more. In other words, just because you are witnessing major butt winking when you do a bodyweight squat, does not mean it’s the same when expressed under a loaded barbell.
Things you can do to reduce butt wink:
- Work on calf and hamstring flexibility
- Do NOT go up on your tiptoes
- Stretch your hamstrings
- Do a better job of warming up
- Stretch your hamstrings.
Be sure to do these stretches AFTER your workout, not before, as pre-workout stretching can actually weaken your muscles.
Squats are not only not “bad for the knees”, they are, in fact, good for the knees. Properly performed, they evenly and proportionately strengthen all muscles which stabilize and control the knee (in addition to strengthening the muscles of the hip and posterior chain, upper back, shoulder girdle, etc.). When the hips are lowered in a controlled fashion below the level of the top of the patella, full hip flexion has occurred, and this will activate the hamstrings and glutes. In doing so, the hamstrings are stretched at the bottom of the motion and they pull the tibia backwards (toward da’ butt) which counteracts the forward-pulling force the quadriceps apply during the motion. As a result, the stress on the knee tendons is lessened since the hamstrings assist the patellar tendon in stabilization of the knee. A muscle supporting a tendon which supports the kneecap is going to be better than the tendon having to take up the entirety of the strain by itself..
Think about Olympic lifters. They squat VERY deep (almost ridiculously deep) all the time, frequently 5 or 6 times weekly, with very heavy weight. If deep squats were so bad for their knees, they wouldn’t be able to squat that deep, that often, and that heavy.
Partial squats, however, will NOT activate the hamstrings, and the amount of shearing force on the patellar tendon increases exponentially. What WILL happen if you do partial squats is that your quadriceps will become disproportionately strong as compared to your hamstrings, and the following are likely results:
- In partial squats, the hamstrings aren’t activated, which means the patellar tendon takes up all the strain/stress/pull during squats. As a result, fatigue and damage to the tendon can accumulate because tendons recover MUCH slower than muscles. Any type of action involving knee bend can then cause further stress and strain during daily activity. This is asking for trouble. If the hamstring is strong, it drastically reduces the amount of stress on the patellar tendon. Full squats make the hamstrings strong. Partial squats allow the hamstrings to become weak. Weak hamstrings are bad Bad BAD.
- Partial squats develop the quads and neglect the hamstrings. Weak hamstrings coupled with strong quads result in hamstring pulls while sprinting, starting or stopping suddenly, playing sports, etc.. They frequently occur as the result of muscular imbalances across the knee joint. Strong quadriceps and weaker hamstrings result in a knee joint that is unstable during rapid acceleration and slowing, and the hamstrings are unable to counteract the powerful forces that occur during sudden stops and starts. In other words, you do a sprint with extra-strong quads and weak hammies, and you are begging for a pulled hamstring because your hamstring isn’t as strong as the quads and isn’t able to perform an adequate eccentric contraction to keep your knee joint from hyperextending during a sprint. As a result, you strain the hamstring because, although it isn’t strong enough to do the job, it will hurt itself trying.
- In sports, your acceleration will be weak, as will your jumping ability, as a result of underdeveloped hamstrings and hips. Poor speed/acceleration = poor performance
- You will end up using stupidly heavy weights in the partial squat due to the mechanical advantage afforded by partial squats, and you put your back and even shoulder girdle at risk due to the extreme loading of the spine.
If it’s too heavy to squat below parallel, it’s too heavy to have on the back.– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 18
And most importantly: Everytime you squat above parallel, Rip drowns a kitten in milk.
Don’t be afraid of the squat. Learn to embrace it.
Having said that, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and we’ll assume you are part of the 1/4 that isn’t afraid of the squat. Determine what your goals are. If you want to get as big as possible, all over, then you will most definitely want to become a master of the squat. Your physical structure might not be ideal for the squat. You may have zero aspirations of becoming a powerlifting squat champion. You might not really give a flying fig how much you squat.
But if you SERIOUSLY want to be as large as you possibly can, all over, then yes, you will squat, even if you already have big legs.
There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning as the correctly performed full squat.– Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength, pg. 19
Squats spur full body growth when combined with full body training much better than full body training without squats. If you want to look like some Abercrombie model, then find another program and enjoy your nice, easy training style. If you are serious about adding muscle to your frame, then get under the damn bar and make it happen.
The above article is derived from Rippetoe, M. (2007). Starting strength. USA