The Ultimate Guide to Progressing Your Squat
From the time you were a baby to this very day, the “squat” is an exercise that says a lot about how you move. Being an efficient and effective squatter can help you develop “functional” strength, help you stay limber, and ultimately, help you stay healthier as most human movement demands some form of squatting.
Whether you can still “squat like a baby,” (watch a baby squat, they are the best squatters in the world) or have the toughest time squatting down to or off of your couch, there are ways to make yourself a better squatter.
Here are the three progressions that I have come up with that have helped just about all of my clients whether a first timer in the gym or a fitness vet
1. BODYWEIGHT SQUAT:
GOAL: The goal here is to squat below parallel with the dowel situated directly the head. Chest should be tall, and knees should track over feet.
ISSUES: Most people have either an ankle mobility issue, a core issue, or both when we see a squat on day one. This usually results in a “hunched” forward motion with knees directly over ankles, butt is “up,” and chest is “down.”
FIX: Test ankle mobility (shown in video), and elevate heels if needed. If ankle mobility is not issue, it is probably a core issue causing a faulty squat pattern. The simple fix here is to change center of gravity and move hands from overhead to infront of chest. If this still doesn’t clear up the squat, perform both heel elevation and repositioning of hands.
2. GOBLET SQUAT:
GOAL: The goal is to again squat below parallel, with chest tall, and knees tracking over feet. The positioning of a kettlebell or dumbbell at the chest challenges posture while not only developing lower body strength, but also challenging major core and hip stability to keep torso upright.
ISSUES: Some people may be efficient at squatting their bodyweight, but lack motor control with a heavier weight. The same hunched forward action may occur.
FIX: Either lower the weight, or improve glute functioning with an ankle band around tops of knees. The use of the ankle band forces you to push your knees “out.” This is important because this action (abduction, and external rotation) are functions of your glutes. When you get your glutes to work the way they are meant to work you will squat better.
3. FRONT SQUAT or SAFETY BAR SQUAT:
A quick note that is important to make is that not everyone should be front or safety bar squatting. A lot of my clients and athletes only bodyweight or goblet squat, especially those with long femurs as it is simply harder for them to squat below parallel. The important question to ask is, “how will this exercise benefit my client?” Often, these exercises are best for athletes looking to gain more strength or other clients that are healthy enough to perform these exercises and still benefit from them. If it wont help away from the gym, don’t do it.
GOAL: The goal with a front squat is to (again) squat below parallel and maintain torso positioning with elbows pointing directly forward throughout the motion. Front squats are hard to beat from a structural standpoint. They demand great hip mobility, demand unbelievable core stability, and challenge your posture. Who doesn’t need that? I love this exercise for a lot of my hockey athletes as these are areas I see lacking functionality in most skaters. Another benefit is that the weak link in this exercise is your shoulders as opposed to your back when performing a back squat. When you combine the risk/reward of this exercise, the front squat wins.
The goal with the safety bar is to maintain the same squat depth, while preventing the torso to “collapse.” The external load of the safety bar places the weight so far back that it leaves your lower back out of the equation. It develops incredible strength as it demands more from hips and core from preventing the bar from dumping forward. I like this exercise especially for those that have issues getting into a front rack position, or those atheltes that need to save their shoulders (overhead throwing atheltes.) Both exercises challenge lower body strength, and hip/core control. I like using a mix between the two depending on which one fits the athlete or client better.
ISSUES: Some issues with the front squat are related to shoulder and wrist mobility causing you to dump your elbows and whole torso forward. There are not many issues when performing a safety bar squat. If you can bodyweight, goblet, and front squat, using the safety bar should be cake for you other than the fact that substantial weight with this bar demands brute strength.
FIX: If you have limitations while performing front squats through either your wrists or shoulders change your grip to a “mixed” grip. This demands less mobility and is easier to wrap your arms around the bar. While it may feel awkward at first, it is just as effective. There are no other fixes for the safety bar. Hand placement is easy. Just don’t let the bar dump you forward!
Using this guide will help anyone squat better. It is a continual process! Even if you have been squatting with a bar for years, getting back to a body weight squat can improve everything. Remember, GRIP IT AND RIP IT!!!