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Exercise Break-down: Squats

This is my favorite exercise. At least 4 or 5 times in my training history over the past 6 years i’ve looked at my squat and had to re-start it from scratch just because i wasn’t going deep enough. Each time you drop the weight by whatever is required and relearn the technique. I still need to add depth to my heaviest squats and at some point will need to drop the weight 50kg and make sure i nail it. If there is any doubt about the depth then it’s not deep enough.
The Squat
What it is: Basically, in its most basic form, the squat is standing up from a sitting position. When a baby learns to walk it crawls around, falls on its arse, puts its feet underneath itself and from here, when it is strong enough, it stands…. using a textbook ass to grass squat. This exercise SHOULD be the staple of everyones workout. There is NO excuse. They can be made easy for beginners by doing squats with a swiss ball behind you against a wall supporting your lower back and doing partial reps OR it can be made obscenely difficult by banging on the plates, adding chains, adding bands and squatting to the floor.

I rest my case.

Difficulty rating: They should be easy to learn. Its called standing up. But somehow when people try to squat, body parts go flying everywhere as they over think it. Sit backwards as if you are sitting on a toilet, weight through your heels, back in a neutral position. I’m not going to go into it. There are people who can do that for you in the gym but heres a link to an excellent website EXRX: Squat.

6/10 Not an easy one to ace but if you can sit like that baby above then squatting is just standing up. However these days not many people can so you need to learn from scratch.

Amazing Rating: This is the most amazing exercise ever conceived. It is the purest exercise in terms of functionality (in my humble opinion) probably just ahead of the deadlift. You are standing up from a sitting position, arguably you have to do this before you can lift something off the floor (i.e. deadlift). This is a debate in itself: Which is the most functional exercise? Squat or deadlift? What even is function!?!?! (Mind = blown).

10/10 If training was real life then this would be sex. ’nuff said.

Versatile rating: Its quite versatile, there are many variations (see below) and you can can adapt it to any program. Even body weight variations can be extremely challenging (pistol squats anyone?).

10/10 Anyone could and everyone should.

Cross over rating: Think running, think jumping, think cycling, scrummaging, even deadlifting (in westside barbell they dont tend to train deads often as the crossover with squats is so high).

10/10 Name an athlete who doesnt squat as staple… (and if they don’t they’d gain benefit from it).

There are infinite variations. These are the basic ones. Anything else is just fluff and decoration. Yes, squatting on a swiss ball exists but its pointless, im sure you can squat with cables somehow, dont bother. I’m not going to go into the technique, look em up on google or ask me in the gym.

Overhead Squat
Ultimate in full body flexibility and core. To get a body weight squat (thats your body weight on the bar) with ass to floor and with the bar over head is a measure of elite core strength and flexibility.

Strongman squat, the upper back will curve over slightly with this variation and you have the opportunity to go really low. The bar rests in the cusp of your arms between bicep and forearm and this will hurt to start but remember when back squatting hurt your traps?? You’ll get over it. Great for core as well as you fight to stay upright with the weight so low down your body. Harder then a back squat and possibly harder then a front squat as well if a bit less precarious.

You could get away with just doing these. Staple of olympic lifting. Again an opportunity to go balls out to the floor. Big core strength in keeping upright which you have to do. For this reason there seems to be more tension on the quads and less on glutes and adductors. Definitely worth including in your inventory.

Back (powerlifting/ sumo/ BB/ olympic)
Ahhh, the back squat. So many variations. The bar can be low (powerlifting), it can be high (olympic), you can go sumo (powerlifting) or you can go narrow stance (bodybuilding). It’s worth mixing them up. The lower bar means you can lift more and you bring lower back into it more. Sumo stance brings adductors and glutes into it and body building stance is more isolated giving you the sweep in your outer quads that you see in body builders.

Another test of leg strength but also of balance and flexibility. People argue that you shouldn’t even bother squatting with a bar until you can do body weight pistol squats. Why do you need to add weight before you can squat ‘yourself’? These are brutally hard and can be made easier by squatting while standing on a bench. This means your other leg can stay off the ground with less difficulty.

As mentioned above, with all of these, lets actually do some reps to parallel and below instead of just unracking the bar.

Going below parallel: This is an easy one. Go below parallel. Ass to grass is an extremely stable position. The LEAST stable position is at parallel. When a doctor wants to test the patency of the cruiciate ligaments in the knee he will conduct a drawer test with the knee at 90˚. He wants the knee as unstable as possible so no other anatomical structures interfere with the test. When the knee is fully flexed everything is tight so maximally stable. Also, people can squat more to parallel then they can to the floor. So more weight in a less stable position is more precarious then going to the floor. At the very least vary both into your workout (parallel and floor). Worst case scenario you won’t even go to parallel. This isn’t a squat, this is unracking the bar. Here is a very interesting article called the third world squat. You are born squatting to the floor (see baby above) then you forget as you learn to sit in a chair (which is horrendous for your poor hamstrings as well).

Knees in front of toes: You are always taught to keep knees behind the toes. This is a good teaching point as newbies tend to fling their knees forward, weight in their toes as they attempt a squat. However, once you have got the squat down and your weight is going through your heels, your knees are ALLOWED to go past your toes. Chances are if you have been squatting for a long time with good technique they do to a degree. This is fine. It all depends on the length of the femur and other bones and is individual. Here is a reference to a forum that covers this in more depth: The myth of knees in front of toes. The actually paper that this is based on is below:

Fry AC, Smith JC, Schilling BK. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):629-33.

Just paste it into google and you’ll get the abstract as the top result.

To sum up the article, you only need ask yourself… SQUAT MUCH?

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