Becoming stronger and more athletic starts with these three tips for improving your squat.
When OneResult contacted me about writing an article I was flattered to say the least. I thought, what would I most like to say to young, up-and-coming, athletes? Almost without hesitation, the first topic I wanted to address was squat technique. But how could I do this without writing the Encyclopedia Squattanica? After considering the myriad problems my new, incoming athletes display, I narrowed the list down to three areas: equipment, flexibility, and technique. Take these three points under consideration and your squat will improve, you’ll become a better athlete, and most importantly, you’ll decrease your chances of getting injured.
First off, can we agree that back squats get a generally bad rap? How many times have you heard that, “they’ll hurt your back, hurt your knees, stunt you growth, etc.?” Research has proven these charges are false. Feel free to read through these links for more detailed information:
Now, on to some simple strategies for bigger, better, and safer squats.
1. GET A PAIR of WEIGHTLIFTING SHOES!
Every sport has shoes designed to optimize performance. Tennis, track, and basketball all have their own specialized footwear that address the specific demands of their respective sports. Weightlifting is no different. Make the investment in a pair of weightlifting shoes and you won’t regret it.
Don’t have the money for a pair? Then be prepared to possibly take time off due to back and / or knee injuries. Weightlifting shoes will improve technique and safety, especially in an athlete with flexibility issues. I ‘ve heard some coaches and athletes say, “I don’t want to become dependent on them.” The bottom line is, these shoes improve your leverage and stability, which will allow you to lift heavier weights, enabling you to stay strong throughout the season.
In the short term, athletes report feeling stable, “connected,” and more balanced when squatting with weightlifting shoes.
In the long term, as technique and flexibility improve, lower body strength and power development is maximized.
2. GET MORE FLEXIBLE (so you can get low, and I mean LOW)!
So much could be written about the importance of flexibility but I want to keep it short and simple, as Coach Brookreson has already made some great points about the importance of flexibility. In order to maximize the benefits of the back squat (and its variations) you should go through the greatest range of motion possible, safely. That means hamstrings and calves should touch. This is a huge distance for most athletes to cover, and the biggest hindrance to making this happen is lack of flexibility. The 4 most problematic areas in my experience are: hamstrings, groin, hip rotators, and ankles.
Make sure to stretch these areas briefly before, during, and after your squat workout. Avoid extended static stretching before and during lifting sessions as recent research shows in may reduce maximal force and power production.
3. WHEN IN DOUBT, PUSH THE KNEES OUT (learn to activate your glutes)!
I have coached many athletes with strong glutes who can’t seem to activate them. Noted spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill coined the term, “gluteal-amnesia,” to describe this phenomenon.
This results in technical issues while performing the back squat. Among those issues is an inward collapse, or valgus movement, of the knee. When the knees buckle in, stress is placed on multiple knee structures including the patellar tendon, the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and menisci (cartilage).
Here are 2 great exercises to help the gluteal group, especially the gluteus medius, get reactivated and firing again, in turn reducing undue stress on the knee joint. I learned these from a great coach and physical therapist named Ernest Roy,
1. 1-Leg Hip Extensions with flexed knee:
This exercise is basically a 1-leg reverse hyperextension performed on a glute-ham bench. Please see photos. When first performing this exercise you may not need any resistance. Performing hip extension while the knee is flexed may be quite challenging initially. As your “amnesia” improves you can use a micro or mini Jump Stretch band for added resistance.
2. Hip Hikes:
This exercise is performed while standing on a plyometric box, lifting block, or stair. Begin with 1 leg hanging below the top of the box. Keep in mind this is due to the hip dropping, not the support leg’s knee bending. The athlete then “hikes” the hip up so both hip bones are straight or in line with each other. Additional resistance such as a dumbbell may be used to increase intensity. Please see the photos below.
Know that this is not an exhaustive list of potential issues dealt with while performing the squat exercise, but rather a list of the most common ones I see in a majority of my athletes. With some hard work, dedication (and weightlifting shoes!) your lower body strength, squat form, and power will improve, which will increase your athleticism and decrease your chance of injury.
And 1R, assuming you’re now going to get after it, here are three supplements we at OneResult recommend to help you properly recover from squat day: