In our first Equinox Training Series, Tier 3 Trainer Elish Le explained why lifting barefoot will get you stronger. With that knowledge, the most important lift that we perform barefoot, and possibly the most important lift we perform period, is the squat. The squat is a truly functional movement that plays a role in making our daily functional strength and mobility better. Additionally, when done properly, the squat engages almost every muscle in the body. Unfortunately, most people simply do not squat properly. Improper form when squatting is usually just ineffective, but ultimately it can be extremely dangerous.
This post, thanks to the help of Tier 3+ Equinox Trainer Kenny Lee, is aimed at giving you the basic steps for performing a clean and deep “Back Squat”. You’ll notice that Ken is not lifting barefoot, but instead is wearing a power lifting shoe aimed at providing maximum stability and support (more so that even being barefoot). First let’s watch as Kenny performs a couple reps of the squat and then we’ll break it down:
1. The Set-Up: When you walk up to the bar the first thing you want to do is make sure you’ve centered yourself on it. The bar should, traditionally, sit across the top of your traps. Next find a comfortable hand placement on the bar, and pull your elbows down, like you’re performing a lat pulldown, tightening your lats and pulling the bar tight to your traps.
2. The Stance: Now that the bar is centered and tight on your traps, it’s time to remove the weight from the rack and set your stance. The ideal stance should have your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and your hips pushed all the way forward. Many people start their stance with their hips all the way back, but starting and finishing your squat with your hips forward both helps maximize the engagement of your gluteus as well as prevent any potential stress on your lower back. The last part of the stance is to open your feet up just a bit. This helps you keep your weight on your heels throughout the squat, as well as aid your hips in opening up to allow for a full range of motion.
3. The Hips Move First: With your stance set and your elbows pulling your back tight, you’re ready to start the movement. The key to a clean squat is realizing that the first movement is not from the knee but from the hips. Your first move should be to slightly unlock your gluteus and push your hips backwards like you were about to sit down. The main purpose of this movement is to ensure that your weight moves backwards onto your heels, and forces you to engage your hamstrings and gluteus.
4. Getting Low: As you descend with the weight make sure that your weight is staying on your heels and your hips are opening up. As you continue downwards you want to keep your back tight and your chest up so that, again, the weight stays back and your knees stay behind your toes. When you’ve reached the bottom of the squat, you should look almost like you’re in a baseball catchers stance. Butt down near your heels, weight on your heels, hips open and chest up. When the weight is light enough, you should be able to sit in this position for a few seconds in what is known as a “pause squat”.
5. Coming Back Up: When you come back up the key is to repeat the range of motion you followed on your descent. Push from your heels and really engage your glutes and hamstrings. Keep your chest up to prevent from falling forward with the weight. If you begin to fall forward, you’ll normally notice your knees start leak forward in-front of your toes and you’ll feel your quads start to really engage. However, by staying back with your chest up you’ll be able to keep the weight over your hips, thereby forcing your biggest muscles, your hamstring and gluteus, maximally engaged and moving the weight upwards. Another small tip is to keep the pressure on the outside of your feet and push outward to prevent your knees from caving in as you push through the lift. As you finish the rep, make sure to push your hips all the way forward to the starting position. Before taking your next rep, pause for a split second to make sure you’re balanced and core is tight.
That’s it. It’s really not a complicated movement, but it’s one where you want to be precise and practiced in your movements before loading up on weight. Go back and watch Kenny’s squat technique again and you’ll see clearly all 5 of these steps to performing a solid and deep back squat.
Before I let you go, here are a few more tips to remember before going all in on your squat day:
1. Stretch before squatting. I don’t care how young you are or how strong you are, squatting is really REALLY taxing on the body. You need to be properly warmed up to prevent injury and to reach maximum performance.
2. Learn the movement without weight first: You really shouldn’t be squatting with significant weight until you can get down into a balanced squat (see below) without any weight. This means back straight, chest up, hips opened up, and your weight balanced on your feet (not rolling forward onto your toes).
3. Half reps don’t count: No one makes fun of people for not lifting enough weight, people laugh when you have bad form. Don’t worry about how much weight you’re lifting, focus on performing a deep and complete range of motion on the movement. If you can’t perform the squat with a full range of motion, the weight is too heavy.
4. Death to the Smith: Lastly, never squatin the Smith Machine. It prevents you from staying in a proper plane of motion, and, because you’re locked into a guided pulley system, it doesn’t allow all your small stabilizer muscles activate.