Proper Form and Variation
Squats are an excellent exercise for laying the foundation of speed and power. Nearly every sport requires explosive power in the lower extremities for high levels of competition. The squat, when performed properly, will lay the foundation for explosive hips and thighs. Squats will also assist in developing strength in the abdominal and back musculature. This is important when relating power transfer from lower to upper extremity in sports that require upper body power.
Proper squat form begins, as do all training sessions, with proper flexibility development. Common areas of tightness that will result in poor squat mechanics are: hamstrings, gluteals, calves, chest, hip flexors, and spinal erectors. Poor flexibility in hamstrings, gluteals, and calves will make reaching the parallel difficult. Poor chest flexibility will result in a “humped” upper back. Poor spinal erector strength will result in an improper curvature of the spine. Poor flexibility in the hip flexors will make the athlete begin with too large of a lordotic curve in the lower back, increasing stress on the bones and joints of this area.
In addition to proper flexibility, the athlete needs to have developed a base of strength in all supporting structures. That is, the spinal erectors, abdominal muscles, quads, and hamstrings must have been trained to increase their strength.
Proper squat form also necessitates at least two spotters. One spotter, usually behind the lifter, will not be able to support the athlete if he/she has trouble completing the lift. The two spotters should take positions on either end of the bar. Two people will be able to grab the bar should trouble happen. The spotters should exhibit sufficient strength to control the weight that the lifter is using.
The lifter and spotters should position the bar three to five inches lower than the height of the lifter. The lifter then stands under the bar with the back and abdominal muscles tight and knees bent. The hands should be positioned on the bar slightly wider than the shoulders. The bar can rest either on the trapezius muscle (high bar) or in the middle of the shoulder blades (low bar). The shoulder blades should be retracted, and the chest tight. The head is positioned so that the eyes look straight ahead. Looking up will force the lifter into a sway back stance during the lift. The lifter then extends the knees, lifting the bar off of the rack.
The lifter then steps back, far enough so that the bar and weights will not hit the rack while performing the lift. The lifter should position their body in an athletic stance (feet slightly wider than shoulders with toes slightly pointed outward). This stance is universal to most team sports. Powerlifters may utilize a wider stance with the toes pointed outward more. A wider stance will require the lifter to do less work. A wider stance means that the depth of the descent is less, thus less work. A wider stance also predicates that the groin and hamstring muscles will be utilized more for stabilization more than in an athletic squat stance.
Slowly lower the body by flexing at the knees and hips. The torso is maintained in an erect position. Weight should be distributed over the middle of the foot, NOT on the balls of the feet or the heels. The heels should remain in contact with the floor at all times. Continue to lower hips until the tops of the thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep in mind that the knees should not protrude over the tips of the toes. Do not bounce at the bottom of the lift.
Slowly raise the bar by extending the hips and knees. The torso remains erect. The knees are aligned over the feet and do not pinch in or bow out. Continue until hips and knees are fully extended, and begin the next repetition. Do not accelerate the bar to the top of the movement. After completing the lift, move forward in the rack, squat down, flexing the hips and knees, resting the bar on the supports.
Breathing is a key component of proper squats. Inhalation should occur during downward movement. Exhalation should occur during the entire upward movement phase, especially through the sticking point.
Variations of the squat are almost limitless. The most common is front squats. These are performed with the same technique as back squats, however, the bar is supported on the anterior deltoids or on the biceps utilizing a elbows forward or crossed arm grip.
Other variations include:
Most of the above mentioned lifts are very complex in nature. They should only be performed with proper instruction and technique. They incorporate other movements with the squatting motion that some researchers feel translate into more sport-specific strength.
One note, box squats can be very dangerous. In this lift the athlete descends to a predetermined point, usually a box placed under the lifters butt. The lifter then touches the box with their butt and ascends. The problem arises when the athlete relaxes the legs a the bottom of the lift. This will place damaging forces on the knees when the lifter begins the upward phase.
©2000 - 2009 David Edell
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Last Update for AthleticAdvisor.com: 10/24/2009 12:09:35 AM