280716 Settling into the deep athletic squat position

280716 Settling into the deep athletic squat position
By Danny M. O’Dell M.A., CSCS*D

Oftentimes trainees come into the gym saying they are squatting X hundreds of pounds, usually for reps.

For instance, one young man told me over the phone that he was doing 800 for six reps. Based on this, and after his warm up that consisted of a few arm swings, he got under the bar with 145 pounds. He went down eight to ten inches and then came back up. When told the depth was too high he then went to near parallel, when he started back up, his knees buckled inward. He was unable to control this dangerous valgus movement.

We never tried 235 for fear of injury. His bench press and dead lift were as dismal. He never came back to the gym again. The last I heard he was back in the commercial gym with everyone telling him how strong he was.

Little do they know that before they are allowed to train with the rest of the lifters they have to demonstrate actual proficiency in the squat.

Some handle this requirement well and continue to train; others aren’t as receptive to coaching. These people leave after one or two sessions and go on their way to other less demanding gyms.

This is a dead end step because in most cases these gyms don’t have qualified professionals who know how to squat or worse yet are teaching high squats.

In fairness to these people, many have never learned the right way to squat or if they have, have met resistance from their companies/trainees when insisting on deep, full range of motion, below parallel squats. Even a review of the literature reveals a deep division amongst trainers as to how far down a squat should go before starting back up again.

Explosivelyfit strength training athletes are strong believers in full depth squats. One of the ways this is taught is by starting out with only the trainees’ body.

One of the clearest explanations of how to find the correct bottom position comes from Starting Strength, excellent book by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore available through Aasgaard Company, or Amazon.

Let’s look at how they describe it. Starting out with correct foot positioning with the heels at shoulder and the toes pointed outward about 30º to 45º. The next move is to get into the bottom position of the squat. Do this without a bar so the learning curve is easier. Go as low as possible. In coaching terms, BTF, aka butt to floor!

Once in this position make sure that your feet have remained in the same spot and your heels haven’t shifted. Now put both palms together and your elbows on the inside of the knees; push outward and shove those knees out to the sides.

Stay here for five to ten seconds or longer if possible. This is a good starting point for the athletic squat position. Notice the term athletic squat position. This is NOT the powerlift position which has the feet is much wider.

If you find that being in this position tires you out, then your flexibility needs some work. In that case, stand up and rest then get back into it again. You have to have good flexibility in order to squat well.

After you are able to remain down without tiring out start noticing how your body feels in this position.

Look at your upper legs; are they in line, i.e. parallel with your feet or do they deviate in or out? Are your feet flat on the floor, where are your knees? Are they behind or in front of the toes on each foot? For the athletic stance, they should be a bit in front of the toes.

One critical aspect of the squat is keeping the back in its anatomically correct position, i.e. one of natural lordosis and kyphosis[1], neither of which is exaggerated to an extreme.

The back must be kept as tight as possible by the strong muscles surrounding it on all sides. Only a neophyte allows their back to round over when performing the squat. A rounded back is an open invitation to a career ending low back injury.

In the down position, the back is inclined to about 45º. This keeps the bar centered over the mid portion of the feet.
________________________________________ [1] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003278.htm Kyphotic curves refer to the outward curve of the thoracic spine (at the level of the ribs). Lordotic curves refer to the inward curve of the lumbar spine (just above the buttocks)

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