Getting It Right & Getting It Tight: How to Set Up Tight for the Squat

Dain Soppelsa 10/20/Life, Articles, Powerlifting, Quick Tips, Squat, Strength Training

By Dain Soppelsa

Something that I’ve learned since I started utilizing the 10/20/Life principles is that it’s worth taking extra time when setting up for my squats and focusing on getting my body tight. I used to just set my feet, grab the bar, set my shoulders and go. The whole process took maybe 15-20 seconds start to finish. I didn’t put too much thought into setting up at all. I’ve had issues with losing my form on my descent and losing my upper back tightness due to this. I have realized within the last couple of years or so, that it makes a huge difference if I really focus on my set-up before unracking the bar and starting the movement.

I didn’t even know what tight actually was until recently. I overheard one of my training partners telling another training partner about how someone had asked him about setting up for the squat. He told them that it’s not just tightness in a few parts of your body, but it’s an overall body tightness. It’s pulling everything towards you and just getting crazy tight. That really struck home with me and got me thinking about the importance of your set-up before even unracking the bar. I now know what it feels like to be tight and it’s definitely an entire body event.

It’s very important to start from the top down when squatting and getting everything tight in order of parts that touch the bar. Everything is connected like a chain; one link to another. I would compare it to making sure the foundation of your house is built solid before building the rest of the house. It wouldn’t matter how solid of a house you constructed if the foundation wasn’t solid. In comparison, you can’t expect to get tight during your squat if you don’t start out tight.

The first thing I do when I approach the bar is set my hands. I don’t just put them on the bar, I really squeeze the bar and twist my hands down and around it. You should always focus on squeezing the bar hard. Your knuckles should be white. Everyone has a preference for where to put their hands on the bar, but wherever you put them, you must grab the bar with purpose every time you do it.

The next thing I do after getting my hands in place is to set my shoulders. I used to set my feet first and I had many problems with my balance, which I believe was due to not having my feet in the right spot. I believe it makes more sense to set your shoulders before you set your feet as they come between your hands and feet on your body. It doesn’t make sense to skip your shoulders and set them afterwards. So now, I set my shoulders before I set my feet. I put one foot forward and wedge my shoulders under the bar. I don’t stop there though. I push my shoulders out in front of the bar and pull backwards until the bar hits that sweet spot between my traps and shoulders.

Once my shoulders are set, I will then set my feet. I used to set my feet too far back, which I believe was due to setting them before setting my shoulders. Now, I pull my feet underneath me after my shoulders are set and push against the bar, this helps make sure my feet are in a good spot directly underneath the bar. You should be able to feel it if the bar wants to go forwards, or backwards when you push against it. You can make the necessary adjustments if it’s not quite right. Don’t be shy about resetting your feet if they aren’t right. It can make all the difference in the world. It could be the difference between a good squat and a miss.

After my feet are set correctly the next step is to pull my elbows down and lock them into place. I never thought about where my elbows were until I started using the 10/20/Life cues. I understand that this is very important for getting a good lifter’s wedge and a tight back before the unrack. If your elbows aren’t down, this can cause your upper back to flatten out and you will round over when you start the lift. That’s a spot you don’t want to be in. So, make sure your elbows are down. Pull down on the bar once your elbows are set and make sure everything is locked in place.

At this point, your hands, shoulders, feet, back and elbows should be set. You will be able to tell if you are tight or not. Another thing that I’ve learned recently is that if you aren’t in serious discomfort, or even some pain, then you are absolutely not tight enough. Think about everything being as tight as possible every time. You should squeeze and pull everything together until you know you are tight enough. Once you feel what real tightness is, it will be easy to tell if you aren’t tight enough in the future and there will be no doubt in your mind about when it’s right.

I’ve done it the wrong way. Take my advice, so you don’t have to miss squats from being loose. It’s worth the extra time and effort to get the proper set-up before you start your squat. If you don’t get a proper set-up, it won’t really matter how strong you are, or how well your meet prep went. Strength only overcomes poor technique to a certain point. Even if you are strong enough to get away with being loose for a while, you aren’t going to fully lift to your potential if your technique isn’t dialed in properly. So take the time and really focus on getting tight before you squat and watch your personal records fall.

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Dain Soppelsa

Dain Soppelsa

Dain comes to the PowerRackStrength Team with many years of competitive experience. He started competing in southwest Michigan in 2001 and has primarily lifted multi-ply since then. He has totaled pro in 3 weight classes; 2304@275, 2435@308 and 2500@SHW. His best lifts include a 1060 squat, 800 bench and 715 deadlift.