Why Your Squat Sucks

By: Brian Carroll

In this three part series, I’m going to help you see five very common mistakes in each of the “big three” lifts, beginning with the squat. 

It is gaining popularity in the mainstream world, thanks to crossfit. I know a lot of people like to knock crossfit, but there are some very good aspects to the sport. I like to keep it positive, so there you have it. Crossfit is not all bad.

Beth Thomas wrote an article a while back regarding how 10/20/Life can be applied to CrossFit. It is forever a fantastic article for anyone is curious how 10/20/Life works for crossfitters.

Though I digress, back to my main point. Crossfit has brought the powerlifts 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, though the problem is 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.

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Main Lifting Cues

I cover this at length in my book 10/20/Life, however, some very common things I see which are completely over looked would 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 monkey and solidifying your foundation is the start to 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.

Shoes 

The cool thing now to do is wear a heeled oly shoe. While this can serve its purpose (someone what has a very close stance or bad hip mobility), blindly doing so will not be to your advantage. Having a flat shoe will really help your stability as you wont be likely to pitch onto your toes. Having a raised heel will also make the lift potentially 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 that he got a lot more overall leg and hip drive in the flat shoes. There is no “one shoe fits all” – it is largely dependent on you.

Programming The Squat

Sounds simple, right? Well, it can be. The best way that I’ve found to program for the squat is by attacking your weak points. Movments like close stance squats, explosive squats (think speed), pause squats, wide box squats and the like are what can make the difference in making your squat a strong point from a weak point. Attacking yoru 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 specific weakpoints and how to design your asssitnace 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 isand where you are in training.

Mentality

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 talk often about how having a mental checklist is a good idea. Thinking about the cues I list above and going through them in your mind is good, and talking your time is the right thing to do. Controlled and explosive, but calm and methodical.

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Staying Tight

Staying tight might be the most important aspect of a good squat. Being loose is not good for your health nor your power on the squat. Locking yourself in top to bottom is the key to generating power. I go over the cues above, but pusing your belly out and firm is important, as well as having the ablity 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, birddogs, 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 having to force 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 to a little mobility from time to time to ensure a health back and hips. Goblet squats in particular are great for this.

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These are the most common issues I see all over the 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 missing 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 anyway I can. As a powerlifter, we know theses 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 to who you listen to, and take advice from. There’s and expert around every corner.

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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