How to Do the Squat
What is good squat form? What does it take to develop a great squat? First you must develop the hips, hamstrings, spinal erectors, glutes, and abs. Without a strong posterior chain (the muscles on the back of the body), you will not sit back into the proper squat position. That’s right. Sit back, never down. If the knees go forward in the yielding phase, they could hit the floor and the hips still would be above parallel.
I talk to strength coaches from major universities on how to squat. I tell them that we have 24 guys who have squatted over 800 and six over 900 by box squatting with a wide stance. Many times these coaches will reply, I like Olympic squatting. One reason I guess is that Olympic squatting is what they were brought up on. But why do powerlifters use a wider stance? Because you use more muscle, and isn’t that what we’re after on the sports field? Only a wrestler would find himself in the weakest joint angles of an Olympic squat. That’s probably why there are no old, great Olympic lifters. Their joints are gone.
When a prominent pro basketball coach said that Olympic squats were the best for his players and that a two-times bodyweight squat was all an athlete needs, I realized that a weak coach can only produce weak players. This coach and many like him must have a huge library and a very small weight room. Take Ben Johnson, for example. He squatted 620 at about 200 pounds. That’s three times bodyweight! Football players' careers are being shortened not by the competition but by the fact that they are too frail compared to 10 years ago. I saw Brett Favre come out of the locker room and squat cold with the linemen using the same weight. That's like having five quarterbacks protecting your quarterback, and that's bull.
Let's get to squat technique, starting with the feet. They should be pointed straight forward. This forces the hip muscles into play. It is much harder to break parallel because the hip extensors and flexors are put in a very strong position for flexion. Turn the feet outward slightly if you are not flexible or if you are very thick in the waist and upper thighs. If you see someone who walks with their feet turned outward, they have weak hamstrings.
As far as shoes go, Converse Chuck Taylor's are best. Don't have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.
When squatting, think about pushing your feet out, not down. This will ensure that the hip muscles are working correctly. Push your knees out the entire time, starting from when you are unracking the bar. You should feel this in the hips. Next, start pushing the glutes to the rear as thought you are searching for a hair that is too far behind you. Arch the lower back and keep the chest up. Lean forwards as much as necessary to keep the bar over your center of gravity.
To ensure correct bar placement, raise the chest and pull the shoulder blades together, to place the bar back as far as possible. This creates better leverage. However, if one carries the bar too low, it causes the lifter to bend forward, destroying leverage.
What stance should you use? Everyone should box squat with a wide stance, because this builds the all-important hip muscles. Thirty years ago, the great Jim Williams said to train as wide as possible and pull your stance in, to a point, to break parallel at meet time. If you watch a great squat technician, you will notice that he bends only at the hips, the knees don’t go forward, and his back does not move.
While descending in the squat, never squat down. Always squat back! If you push the glutes back, the knees will not go forward. In fact, if you sit back far enough, the shins will be past vertical. This is only possible with box squatting. And it’s important because this causes a great stretch reflex. Also, by forcing your knees apart, you are significantly increasing your leverage, by shortening the distance between the hip and the knee joint. If you pull your knees together, you increase this distance and create poor leverage. In addition, this is a sign of weak hip muscles.
After breaking parallel, you must first push against the bar. After all, the bar is what we are trying to raise. Unfortunately, you see many lifters who push with their feet first. This causes you to bend forward Into a good morning position, which is opposite of what you are trying to achieve, in addition to being dangerous. When your back bends, you are likely to miss a squat or get injured.
Most people think of squatting as a multi-joint muscular action. I see it as flexion of the spinal erectors and hip flexors and slight flexion of the knees. It’s much like trying to jump onto a high box; you flex as much as possible in the beginning and hope you make it. Others push gradually through the lift; just enough to accommodate the external force that is being applied.
As far as equipment, in a meet, wrap the knees toward the inside. This means wrap one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. This helps to stabilize them. Wear a suit that allows the knees to be forced outward ad the glutes to be pushed out to the rear. Don't wear straps that are too tight. This will cause you to bend over. In training wear a suit with the straps down and a belt. This will help the technical aspects of squatting. When someone must wear full gear for 3-4 weeks before a meet, their technical skill is low.
To summarize, build the posterior chain: calves, hams, glutes, lower and upper back. Strong abs are a must. They are what you lean on to descend and push off of to ascend. Out of our top 100 squat-ters, four use an upright back position. That means that 96% lean forward, with - of course - a great arch. While descending, the glutes move first and the head and bar move last. So, in the concentric phase, the opposite happens. You must push against the bar first.
One workout per week must be devoted to speed (box squatting) and one for maximal effort, with a variety of core exercises such as good mornings and squatting with special bars that change your center of gravity.
To all strength coaches: the next time you have your athletes do Olympic squats, ask yourself why. The joint angles are not advantageous for the stretch reflex. If a lineman were to use that position on the field, he would easily be pushed backward. The Olympic lifts require flexibility. There are many drills better suited to increase flexibility. Everyone thinks the Olympic lifts are so quick. While your cleans at 60% look fast, so do our box squats at 60%. The athlete who can power clean 400 uses 240(60%). The lifter who can squat 800 uses 480 (60%). Who do you really think would be faster and stronger? Compared to a powerlifter, an Olympic lifter can’t squat with the Sunday paper. A kid that can hang clean 400 would look frail to an 800 squatter. And don’t forget, in Olympic lifting, as the bar is raising, the lifter is lowering himself, making it appear that they are moving the bar at great speed. Olympic lifting is the biggest bust in the United States. We have not placed a single lifter on the "A" list, yet strength coaches still advocate the Olympic lifts.