11 Jan Why Your Squat Sucks
By: Brian Carroll
In this three-part series, I will help you see five prevalent mistakes in each “big three” lift, beginning with the squat. You can read why your bench sucks HERE.
The squat is gaining popularity in the mainstream world, thanks to CrossFit. Many people like to knock CrossFit, but the sport has some excellent aspects. I like to keep it positive, so there you have it. Crossfit is not all bad.
Though I digress, back to my main point, Crossfit has brought the power lifts, squat (sometimes bench), and the deadlift to the mainstream public. Do you hear that? It’s not just cool to press anymore. Everyone is squatting, but too many people are not getting coached properly. As a result, they have no idea about main lifting cues, form, what shoes to wear, how to program, the mentality, and staying tight.
Main Lifting Cues
I cover this at length in my book 10/20/Life. However, some widespread things I see completely overlooked would be lifters locking their form in. This is HUGE. Sitting back, not down, into a squat with a hip hinge is crucial to squatting with power. Gripping the floor like a monkey and solidifying your foundation is the start of a big and powerful squat. Bending the bar with your lats as your pull your elbows down and locking your back in will create leverage gains that will blow your mind. Looking up and not down – basically where the wall would meet the ceiling. This is not only good and healthy posture, ala Dr. Mcgill, but will give you the best leverage with neural drive. I always see so-called experts miss the most common things, like pulling elbows down and not being tight with an arch.
The cool thing now to do is wear a heeled oly shoe. While this can serve its purpose (someone with a very close stance or bad hip mobility), blindly doing so will not be your advantage. A flat shoe will help your stability as you won’t be likely to pitch onto your toes. A raised heel will also make the lift more quad dominant and take away some glute and ham/hip drive. Is this always the case? No. There is not always a rule of thumb with a lot of things. See what I did there? Never say never; it usually always depends. World record holder and powerlifting great Al Caslow would begin his squat cycle in heeled shoes and then move into flat chucks when the weights got heavy. He felt he got a lot more overall leg and hip drive in the flat shoes. There are no “one shoe fits all” – it is largely dependent on you.
Programming The Squat
Sounds simple, right? Well, it can be. I’ve found the best way to program for the squat is by attacking your weak points. Movements like close stance squats, explosive squats (think speed), pause squats, wide box squats, and the like can make the difference in making your squat a strong point from a weak point. Attacking your weak points is key to improving. Knowing where you are lacking is paramount in becoming a better lifter. I go into great detail regarding how to attack your weak points and design your assistance work according to what you need. 10/20/Life makes life easier with your assistance. I prefer lower reps (1-5)on the main movement (squat: competition style) and higher reps assistance work (4-12), depending on what the movement is and where you are in training.
The mentality when approaching the bar is huge. It can make or break a lift. You have to conquer the weight before you even feel it. Knowing that you own the weight before you even do it. Confidence, but not being cocky. You have to respect the weight, but you should not have an unhealthy fear. I often talk about how having a mental checklist is a good idea. Thinking about the abovementioned cues and going through them in your mind is good, and taking your time is the right thing to do. Controlled and explosive, but calm and methodical.
Staying tight might be the most important aspect of a good squat. Being loose is not good for your health or your squat power. Locking yourself from top to bottom is the key to generating power. I go over the cues above, but pushing your belly out and firm is important, as well as having the ability to generate the tightness and stiffness necessary. A stiff core is crucial. The McGill “Big 3” is the best for this. Rolling planks, McGill crunches, bird dogs, stir the pots, and KB swings will do the trick. Use the cues above to stay as tight as possible. Another thing you don’t want is to have super loose hips. A little bit of tight hip is a good thing! If you can get down in the squat without forcing it down to depth, then don’t stretch. Tightness is part of what helps you explode and create power. On the flip side of the coin, you may have too little mobility from time to time to ensure a healthy back and hips. Goblet squats, in particular, are great for this.
These are the most common issues I see all over social media, plastered everywhere. My purpose with this is to help you become a better, stronger lifter. One little correction could make the difference between a new squat record or miss badly. With lifting big, the little things sometimes count the most. With more people lifting, more people will be doing it wrong. My job is to help in any way I can. As a powerlifter, we know these lifts best. It is our craft, and it is our job, to help as many people as we can and to try and help everyone get as strong as possible while minimizing injury as much as possible. Stay tuned for my follow-up on the bench and the deadlift. Be very careful who you listen to, and take advice from. There’s an expert around every corner.