By now you have guessed that I am trying to create enthusiasm for more participation in powerlifting. Well, you're right, I am tired of being the only powerlifter in every gym where I train. So...here is my lesson on the SQUAT. I would like to start by saying there is no single best way to squat for everyone! There are about as many variations as body types. Also let me say that the squats when done with good form WILL NOT DAMAGE THE KNEE. It will only strengthen the knee. So, now there are no excuses. Not only is the squat prescribed every day to rehabilitate knee injuries but also to prevent knee injury when training for sports.
With the power squat we are utilizing the low bar placement not the high bar placement (not putting down high bar). With this lift the bar should be placed about 1 1/2 inches below the tops of the deltoids, low on the traps and just above the rear deltoid. With this position, the bar will travel in a straight line from the hips, which is best for leverage. Of course there are some lifters that can keep the body erect with the bar in a high position but it isn't easy. It is my opinion that more weight can be handled and better control can be maintained with the low bar placement. Low bar lifters will have more gluteal and erector development and high bar lifters will have more quadriceps development.
This a personal choice, but remember, the more work you have to do getting the bar in and out of the rack, the less you will be able to do when you squat the weight. Use as little movement as necessary getting out of the rack with the weight. Every time you have to take a step backward you are using up valuable energy. Not to mention having to return the weight once you are done. The squat rack always looks like it is further away once you have finished a heavy set.
Hand placement can effect one's performance. With a narrower grip, more upper body synergistics are brought into play. This includes the traps, rhomboidus, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres major and minor, and the lats. Wider hand placements are usually used by those with less flexibility or gripping problems. Bar control is lessened as the hands are placed wider apart.
The head position is the one point most experts agree on! The head should be up, the shoulders back and the chest out. This will keep the spine in an erect position avoiding injury and not compromising leverage. t has been observed in many sports, that the body tends to lean in the direction in which the eyes are pointed. When looking down, one tends to lean forward. It works best to find an imaginary spot about eye level when standing erect and keep the eyes fixed on this spot during descent and ascent.
The stance is an area no one agrees on. There are good squatters with a narrow stance as well as good squatters with a wide stance. The best suggestion is to start about shoulder's width and find a comfortable stance where you can perform a squat with good form using no weight. Experiment! Toes, however should be pointed outward at about a 45 degree angle. This helps to distribute the weight a little more evenly and also gives you a better base. The weight when squatting should be about 75% on the heel of the foot.
Jogging and running shoes are not the best for weight lifter's. A good high top basketball shoe with good arch support is adequate. Squatting in jogging or running shoes will allow lateral shifting of the weight and possible injury to the ankle. Shoes with higher heels or blocks under the heels will isolate the quads and can indirectly reduce optimal strength gains.
Speed of descent and ascent is usually a by-product of the lifter's body build and athletic skills. Always make sure the weight is controlled on descent as well as ascent.
It is suggested that you go no further than just below parallel. That means where the top of the thigh (where it joins the hip) goes below the top of the knee. It is suspected that going beyond this point places unnecessary stress on the patellar ligament and the cartilage of the knee. If you do train lower than parallel (which is not suggested), use extreme control, DO NOT bounce off the bottom.
The belt is utilized to maintain lumbar integrity throughout descent and ascent. Get a belt that is as wide in the front as in the back. Refrain from wearing a belt during lighter sets. Try to only wear a belt for near-maximal and maximal sets or the heavy work sets. The beltless sets allow the deep adominal muscles to receive a training stimulus without placeing excessive compressive forces on the spine disks. The lifting belt should be worn as low on the hips as possible. It is not necessary to have it super tight, but just snug. This will enable the abdominal muscles to maintain adequate pressure to keep the spine in proper position.
Knee wraps are not only a necessity for safety they are an aid in squatting with heavier weights. Knee wraps accomplish this by adding a tremendous amount of support and spring to the bottom of the squat enabling you to train with heavier weights. Knee wraps actually help you get out of the hole. Training with heavier weights stimulates more muscle growth, which will eventually lead to new personal bests. There are many different brands of knee wraps from which to choose, so experiment with different brands until you find the one that best suits your needs.
How To Properly Use Knee Wraps: To get optimal results from your knee wraps, they must be put on correctly. First, start with pre-rolled wraps. The leg should be straight and locked out. Then start wrapping just below the knee and spiral upward about two wrap widths above the knee. If you wrap with a bent knee you will not have the necessary tightness, so make sure you are getting the wraps on tightly. You should have wrap left over by the time you get to the top of the knee. Use the remaining to wrap the knee for extra support. Tuck the loose end of the wrap in on the front of the leg just above the knee. Leave the loose end showing too. During competition this will give the illusion of extra depth to the judges.
When To Use Knee Wraps: You should avoid using the knee wraps until you are doing heavy sets of five repetitions. Start out with an old pair and gradually add newer knee wraps as the weight goes up and the repetitions decrease. The heavier the weight the more tightness is desired. So obviously, you would wrap tighter for a heavy single than you would for a set of five reps. It is advisable to buy a couple of new pair of knee wraps each year. As you use your knee wraps, they will gradually lose their tightness. Save the old ones for back ups and to be used with the lighter weights.
Lifting suits are another necessity for big squats. They are not only a safety aid but they actually enable training with heavier weights by adding extra support to the hips and glutes. There are many different brands of lifting suits on the market. Try several different brands until you have found a suit that you like. I personally have found that the brands with the locking legs work best. This feature will prevent the bottom of the suit from sliding up on the leg when you squatting, thus losing some support.
When To Use A Lifting Suit: I believe you should use a lifting suit in about the same manner as you would the knee wraps. Once you start getting into the sets of five repetitions, put on a suit. I like to use three different suits. One that is a little loose fitting, one that is tight fitting, and a contest suit that is a size or two too small. Just like the knee wraps, the squat suit should get tighter as the weights go up and the repetitions go down. Therefore, use the loose fitting suit for the sets of five and the contest suit for your heaviest sets and contest. The heavier the weight the more support that will be needed. The straps of the lifting suit should be left down until single repetitions are done.
Warning: Always check you squat suit for tears or runners. Do not squat in a suit that may possibly rip or "blow out." When the suit blows out all support will suddenly be lost. This could possibly cause you to completely loose control of the bar and even fall with the weight. The chance of injury is not worth the price of a new suit.
Many lifters use a magnesium carbonate chalk when attempting heavy squats. It is recommended that the hands and shoulders be lightly chalked to prevent any slipping of the bar.
Remember control is always a vital factor if you wish to maintain body joint integrity!
Now you are ready to squat! So get set. Get the bar in position. Keep the shoulders back, the chest out and lift the weight out of the racks. Take one step back. Look straight ahead, take a deep breath, and squat. Remember to keep the hips down and the body and head up. Squat back as if you were sitting on a chair, keeping most of the weight on your heels. Let out a mighty yell and squat the weight back up.
Here's a link to a calculator that will help you plan a periodized workout specifically for the squat. Click here.
MS, RD, CSCS, MSS
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Sport Nutrition Consultant