You hear it all the time…The squat is one of the most important exercises you can do. Perhaps even THE most important.
YET, most people still aren’t doing them! If you think your leg press and leg curls are a good substitute for the squat, then you better keep reading…
Maybe you associate the squat with the thought of the professional powerlifter setting 1,000 pounds across his shoulders and exerting so much pressure that blood comes out of his nose. Maybe you’ve heard squats are bad for your knees and back. Or maybe you’re just afraid to look like a dork in a crowded gym because you’re not even sure how to unrack the damned bar. If you’re first starting out I would suggest you check out beginners workout as well.
Whatever your excuses, it’s time to lay them to rest. Absent a medical restriction, the squat is a mandatory weapon in your fitness arsenal. I didn’t go wishy-washy. I didn’t say maybe. I said MANDATORY.
Mark Rippetoe echoes much of what I say when it comes to the squat…
“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 enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand, and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat.” – Mark Rippetoe
Learn How To Squat – Start With The Basics
#1 Learn the mechanics with bodyweight only
What are the mechanics?
You might ask yourself do squats really work? Well yes of course…
Feet about shoulder width apart, toes turned out about 30 – 45 degrees. Shoulders back, chest high, and tight lumbar curve. Break at the hip first and descend until your hip crease is below your knees ensuring that your knees track your toes and your weight stays on your heels. Stand up tall at the top of the motion and fully open the hip. That’s the squat in a nutshell.
I recommend using no additional weight with the squat until you are proficient with the technique described above. Notice I said proficient and not perfect. If you are dedicated to your training, you will make subtle adjustments to your squat technique for years to come. The movement does not need to be completely mastered before weight is added, but safety must be maintained.
What are the key points of safety?
Skeletal alignment is most important: a nice tight spine position and the knees tracking the toes. Next develop range of motion. Poor range of motion is usually a factor of flexibility or just simply being unfamiliar with the movement. Once you can maintain good posture and knee positioning as well as hit good depth (at least parallel) with the squat, it’s time to add some weight.
As an aside, don’t believe any of the bullshit you hear about squatting being bad for your knees. Here’s another quote from Coach Rip that suits this perfectly…
” Anyone who says that full squats are “bad for the knees” has, with that statement, demonstrated conclusively that they are not entitled to an opinion about the matter. People who know nothing about a topic, especially a very technical one that requires specific training, knowledge, and experience, are not due an opinion about that topic and are better served by being quiet when it is asked about or discussed. For example, when brain surgery, or string theory, or the NFL draft, or women’s dress sizes, or white wine is being discussed, I remain quiet, odd though that may seem. But seldom is this the case when orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, or nurses are asked about full squats.” – Mark Rippetoe
Got that? Squat deep!
#2 Add The Weight Slowly
Start with just the bar. Or even a broom stick or dowel rod if you want to be extra safe. Having a bar across your shoulders will change the movement slightly, especially if you were keeping your hands in front of you for balance with the bodyweight only version of the squat (video above).
If you are new to the squat, err on the side of caution until you get comfortable with the movement. Break out those little two-and-a-half pound plates that you never use and increase the weight slowly.
But do increase the weight as your comfort with the movement grows. Adding weight to the bar will often improve your technique as the increased resistance will force your body into the most efficient plane of movement. And that’s really all good technique is: the most safe and efficient method to get the task done.
#3 Get A Coach (Even If It’s Yourself)
The best way to improve your squat is to get with a knowledgeable coach or trainer. Under their watchful eye, they can give you cues to let you know when you have the movement dialed in. They can also let you know when you are veering into unsafe territory.
But hey, you might be thinking you can’t afford a trainer. Well how expensive is languishing in the gym with poor results for months or years on end? Or worse – how expensive is blowing your knee or rupturing a disk because you were too cheap to pay for a trainer? Hire a qualified trainer for one hour and ask him to teach you the squat, deadlift, shoulder press and bench press. It will be the best $70-$100 you’ve ever spent at a gym…
If that’s out of your price range find someone who is a good powerlifter at your gym… Most powerlifters will actually know the squat better than a lot of globo gym trainers will.
That being said, I know that there are those of you who truly may be in a financial state that coaching is not an option. For you I recommend video taping your technique and comparing it against video that can be easily obtained on YouTube or even on my blog here…. But then don’t you have to BUY a video camera? Borrow one, damn it. Quit making excuses and either hire a coach or figure out how to get yourself on film.
I know stepping under that bar can be intimidating at first. But I promise you that taking the time to learn the proper squat technique is some of the best time you can spend towards improving your fitness.
What are some questions you have about the squat? Let me know in the comments below….
And if anyone mentions the Smith machine, I swear I’m going to smack you with a power rack all the way from Columbus, Ohio.
Here’s a few more resources you might like on the squat…