The back squat is one of the most common exercises prescribed in any strength conditioning, fitness, or rehabilitation program. Some swear by the squat while others avoid it because it’s intimidating, technical, and in the beginning, uncomfortable. However with effort and persistence, the squat can be mastered and become one of the most enjoyable exercises in your routine.
Before the Squat
Before you even get under the bar, there are several things to consider. Are you appropriately dressed? Do you have the proper footwear? Do you have much experience squatting or should you consult a personal trainer or kinesiologist?
After addressing those concerns, the next thing to do is to warm up and stretch. Go for a five to ten minute run on the treadmill or a jog around the track. Afterwards, spend five minutes stretching your quads, hamstrings, hips, and calves. Most often the biggest problem with someone’s squat is that they have not warmed up and stretched properly.
Another common mistake, even before getting under the bar, is adding an inappropriate amount of weight. Many individuals confidently add weight without much consideration to technique and form. Not only can disregarding technique and form lead to acute injury, but squatting too much weight can lead to muscle imbalances, which can result in long-term biomechanical problems. So, before you aggressively add plates, consider starting with the bar.
One last tip before you step under the bar, make sure the J-hooks (the hooks that hold the barbell up) are set to the proper height. You do not want have the J-hooks set too low and have to exert a lot of effort in pushing the bar up during your lift off. You also do not want the hooks set too high. Setting the hooks too high can lead to having to stand on your tippy toes to unrack the bar
Starting the Squat
When you get under the bar and are ready to lift the bar from the J-hooks, remember to center the bar on your back. An uncentered bar will distribute the weight unequally over your back and legs. Not only can this lead to an acute injury, but if consistently performed, an uncentered bar can lead to muscle imbalances, injury, and chronic pain.
The next thing to consider before you lift off is your posture. Poor posture can translate into poor squatting form. People who have poor posture tend to do several things. One thing that they do is lift off with a sunken chest and rounded shoulders. Always keep your chest out and your shoulders back. Another mistake people make is having your back rounded while lifting off. So, before lifting the bar off of the rack, keep your back straight, spread your chest wide, keep your shoulders back, hold your chin up, and look directly forward.
The last thing to consider is your lift off during unracking. While lifting the bar off of the squat rack, push off with both feet in inline with one another. You will not be as stable if you attempt to lift off with one foot in front of the other. The staggered-stance lift off is very unstable, and can put a lot of strain on one side of the body, which can lead to an acute injury or muscle imbalances. Lift off with both feet together.
During the Squat
Standing with the bar centered in-between your trapezius and your shoulder blades, while keeping your chest up and inflating your belly with a big breath, squat down by bending your knees and hips at the same time. Keep in mind that your back should stay neutral throughout the entire squat.
Several major things to lookout for during the squat are if your heels are coming off the ground on the way down, if your back rounds at any point, and whether your knees buckle inward on the way down or on the way back up.
If your heels are coming off of the ground on the way down, it may mean that you need to spend more time stretching. Spending more time stretching your calve muscles, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings will help all aspects of your squat. On the other hand, keeping a neutral back and keeping your knees moving in line with your toes throughout the squat takes effort and practice. A curved back or buckling knees may be hard habits to break because of a lifetime of improper bending and kneeling.
To achieve proper technique and form with back squats takes a lot of work. It’s not something that is going to come over night. It can take months or even years to tune in your squat. Squatting also involves a lot of warm up and stretching to get those muscles primed. Don’t give up. And remember, if you’re having difficulty obtaining correct technique and form, consider consulting a kinesiology or a personal training for expert advice.