By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
The ability to squat safely and effectively is an important arrow in the lifter's quiver- properly performed, squats dramatically improve your strength, power, mobility, lean bodymass, and as my friend Father John Peck might add, a big squat also improves your "gym cred." The downside? Only one: if you're long of limb, they can be difficult to master. Here then, are 7 tips that have served me well in my 20+ years of teaching the squat:
1) Weightlifting Shoes:
Only those with ideal leverages can squat well without proper footwear. My clients are almost uniformly amazed at how much better they can squat with proper lifting shoes. You'll get more depth and better stability. Instantly.
If you watch any weightlifting meet at the National level or higher, you'll never see an athlete wearing any other type of shoe- ever. In my experience, about 7 out of 10 "problem squatters" find their cure through better shoe selection alone.
2) Warm-Up With "Wall Balls:"
I first discovered this drill through the Cross Fit community, and we use it extensively as a warm-up at Bed & Barbell. I find it to be not only the least "invasive" way to warm up the whole body, but also a great way to hone squat mechanics prior to getting under the bar.
Your initial reps can/should be shallow- as you start warming up, start sinking the squats deeper and deeper. Try 3 sets of 10 reps using a progressively heavier ball with each set.
3) Overhead Squats:
If back squats are currently the most difficult drill you do with a bar, overhead squats might move them down to second place. No need to go heavy with these- a wooden dowel or a 25-pound aluminum bar will be plenty for most people at the beginning.
Overheads are fantastic for thoracic mobility an also for teaching how to "sit between your feet" as opposed to "folding over."
Try overheads as a secondary warm-up drill, done after wall-balls. If you've always had mobility issues on squats, you'd be stunned at the difference proper shoes, wall-balls, and overheads will make. And I've still got 4 more tips to go!
4) Wall Squats:
I learned this drill from my friend Pavel Tsatsouline. It's a great way to improve hip mobility and to learn how to push the knees outward during the squat. The video below shows you how- use the wall squat as a warm-up drill or as a discrete practice drill.
5) Front Squats:
The primary value of front squats is that they teach you how to stay more upright. The video I've included below shows how to assume an Olympic style "shelf" which is more stable than crossing your arms. Front squats can be used as a way to incorporate variety into your lower-body program, and/or as a dynamic warm-up for back squats.
6) The Wet Ice Cube:
Here's the greatest cue for learning low back "set:" Stand normally and vividly imagine how your posture would change if someone came up behind you and touched your low back with a wet ice cube. You'll find that your low back arches big-time, and simultaneously, your chest pushes forward and up, while your shoulders pull down and back. That's the position you're looking for.
7) Box Squats:
I'm not referring to the infamous Westside Barbell box squats here, but rather, using a box or a bench as a target that you touch with your glutes at the bottom of your squat. This not only helps beginners to link "the known to the unknown," it also helps to regulate consistent depth and offers feedback on bilateral symmetry.
Simply descend under full control, touch the box lightly, and ascend back to the starting position. Note: you can also use a box with overhead and front squats.
Now Go Apply These Tips!
If you never thought you could achieve a great squat position, I challenge you to apply all of these tips simultaneously. I promise you'll surprise yourself.
About The Author
Charles Staley...world-class strength/performance coach...his colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results.
Click here to visit Charles' site and grab your 5 FREE videos that will show you how to literally FORCE your body to build muscle, lose fat and gain strength with "Escalating Density Training," Charles' revolutionary, time-saving approach to lifting that focuses on performance NOT pain.