Squat 101


February 25, 2020

The squat.

The booty builder.

The quad destroyer.

It is one of the exercises that you love or hate.

Like my relationship with Hollyoaks and waking up early, over the last 10 years, I've felt both towards squatting.

It is also an exercise, similar to the deadlift that will help you build muscle from your traps to you calves.

It really is a full body movement recruiting numerous muscles as either a primary lifter (quads) or stabilising (rear delts and upper back).

Here I'm going to go through the basics of the squat, adapted from the wonderful guide of Greg Nucklous, How to squat the definitive guide.

This article will be delivered in 3 sections:

1. Getting set up correctly

2. Going down

3. Coming up

1. Getting set up correctly

1a. Getting the bar position correct on your back
- You want to find the right balance of stability and comfort here. The majority of people will prefer the bar resting over the largest part of your trap muscles.

- If you are doing high bar, then this will be over the traps directly but not on that little bone at the back and base of your neck. That will hurt.

- If you are doing low bar, then this will be 5-10 cm lower, resting on your rear deltoids

1b. Hand position, wrist and elbow position
- You want to ensure your get a repeatable view on where your hands are on the bar.

- A narrower hand position tends to be the go-to for most as it helps keep the shoulders tight and the chest up. If your feel pain in your hands or your wrists then move them wider.

- Focus on keeping your wrists straight during the lift as this will help to keep the bar stable on the traps.

- Again, elbow position will depend on comfort. Majority of people will pull them down and back. Greg Nucklous gives the cue "scratch your rib cage with your shoulders" - this helps to create tension in the lats and upper back, stabilising you for the lift.

1c. Walking out with the bar

- You should now be in a pretty stable position.

- Make sure you aren't having to half squat the bar to get it off the hooks, or the other extreme is going on your tip toes. Neither is productive so try to ensure you are able to walk the bar out comfortably.

- Getting your feet set under the bar is again a matter of preference. Personally, I like to get both feet under the bar before I lift it off because I find it gives me more balance.

- Start with your hips behind the bar, take a deep breath into your stomach and drive the bar off the hooks by thrusting your hips forward and tensing your glutes. It can help to be as aggressive as possible here.

- Take two to three steps back before you get stable. The key here is not to waste energy so get into a routine of which foot moves first and agree with yourself when you have a settled position.

Truth. Credit: https://imgflip.com/i/3qa2ym

1d. Width of stance
- Primarily this is going to be determined by comfort.

- I have utilised multiple different stances, and have found the most comfortable for me is just wider than shoulder width, toes at 30 degree angle facing outwards. This gives my booty enough room to sink into but doesn't leave my groins feeling destroyed after.

- But, you may prefer a much wider stance that you saw Vlad adopt in the video above.

- Key here is to try different stances (shoulder width apart, wider than shoulder width etc) and see what feels best for you.

- A lot of powerlifters tend to adopt wider stance because it limits the range of motion a little bit, allowing them to lift more. It also make the weight less of a burden on your back as you don't have to move your torso as much.

- Ben shows below a relatively narrow stance and that works well for him having squatted 180kg at 80kg bodyweight.

1e. Foot angle
- Your knees will give you the best indicator of how you should angle your feet.

- You are best seeing what natural squat position feels comfortable, ensuring your knees track roughly over your toes and not radically in front, and then adjusting your feet to enable that.

- 1f. Create some tension and pressure
- Key to bracing for the squat is going to be some intra-abdominal pressure, and ensuring your back is tight. This can be obtained by taking a deep breath into your belly, or by wearing a weight lifting belt.

- I use this belt BUT I didn't start using a belt until 5+ years squatting. Don't use it as an excuse for a weak core.

- There is no getting around it, once you get to some heavier loads you need your back to be strong enough to support the weight. Otherwise, you're going to crumble like a hobnob dipped in a mocha, which is not going to be fun for you.

Now you have the bar on your shoulders and are ready to go down. Key thing here is to create EVEN MORE TENSION.

That's right.

You need to get tenser than the Love Island 2019 final (oh I hate myself right now)...

1g. MORE tension
- Focus on "screwing your feet into the floor" as Greg puts it.

- Then, "spread the floor" trying to drive into the ground and push it outwards.

- Think about bending the bar across your shoulders which will create tension in the upper back.

Ben's narrower stance

2. Going down

Now you're set up, this is where the work begins.

If you're anything like me you will probably be feeling like the bar is crushing you to pieces and that you just want to go home, curl up on the couch and dive back into your favourite Netflix show (I'm a big Peep Show fan..)

That's ok.

It's heavy.

That's why you implement all the cues in step 1.

2a. How to start
- I like to imagine that I am back in the hunter gatherer days, roaming the African Savanna and that I need to use the toilet for a number 2.

- Sit back which means bending at your hips and pushing your bum out first and not your knees. Again think that you are sitting down to do your business but there is no toilet.

- This technique is good if you have stiff ankles and limited range of motion there.

NB. Try not to actually do your business as that may get you banned from most gyms and is generally considered poor form.

2b. Speed
- Generally, the best speed is to go down as quick as possible whilst in control of the bar.

- The faster descent, the more likely you are to get a little bit more bounce at the bottom. This will aid when you come back up too... think of a coiled spring.

2c. Depth

Can you change our minds? Credit: https://imgflip.com/i/3qa2ym

- A lot of people think that squatting below parrallel will be bad for their knees. However, a lot of evidence has found, well, no evidence for this really.

- Deeper squats add the benefit of more transfer to athletic pursuits and also help you gain more strength and muscle.

- That said, if you just wanna go parallel and no more, also cool but you aint getting the benefit of the bounce.

Rob in the hole.. This is a high bar position and a relatively narrow stance focussing on keeping my chest up and driving my feet through the floor

3. Coming up

No it's not that kind of coming up that you experienced at Glastonbury '14 when Kasabian were performing.

As Bill Ocean (and subsequently Ronan Keating in a moderate but no where near excellent cover) put it, When the Going Gets Tough the Tough get Going.

However good you are, you will have an easy part of your ascent and a sticking point.

Key is to just grind through that hard point and keep one word in mind: Explosion.

3a. Driving up from the hole
- Pull that bar into your traps, drive your traps against the bar and focus on pushing your feet through the floor

- Try to avoid leaning forwards here as you don't want to end up in a good morning position. That's not going to be fun for you or your lower back.

3b. Breaking through the sticking point
- When you reach the inevitable sticking point, don't panic.

- The biggest mistake people make here is rushing the lift and losing control.

- Focus on keeping the bar moving as quickly as possible (even if this is a real grind), driving the your traps into the bar and your hips forwards.

The beauty of hitting a PB squat knows now bounds.

It's sensational and anyone that knows how to squat will tip their preverbal caps to you in salutations. Or they may just carry on listening to the Pure Gym playlist and not show any regard what so ever. Either is fine.

Take this guide, apply it and watch your squat technique and weights lifted improve almost immediately.

What next?

Try the Gram Programme. This is our tried and tested method of losing fat or gaining muscle. We've distilled our combined 20 years of experience in and out of the gym to a set of simple, repeatable processes that are guaranteed to get results.

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