Teaching the Squat

I have been going to Force Training Seminars, either to help Dave or to do them on my own, for almost 3 years and one of the hardest things to do is get someone to squat correctly. Every city has a different set of challenges. For example, the mid-west is famous for the “The Advanced Hip Thrusters” while those in the southern United States fall victim to the “Sit WAYYY Too Far Back” syndrome. While each seminar poses a different set of problems, some of the simplest things in squatting are often overlooked. Too many times people will read an article and get confused at some of the terms or they will overemphasize one small detail. I will try to break the squat down to help those that are having problems or are having difficulty coaching their athletes.

1. Get into an athletic stance: For most people this is very easy. Most have played a sport and almost every sport position is the same. If you played volleyball, get into a position as if you were ready to receive a serve. If you played baseball or softball, get into the same stance as you would as a shortstop. If you played football, the stance of a middle linebacker will suffice. All of these positions are the same; butt and hips are pushed slightly back, knees are bent, lower back is arched, head is up, weight is evenly distributed on the feet, upper back is pulled together, toes are slightly pointed out and the mid-section is tight. Notice that each of these positions are slightly wider than shoulder width; if you are any narrower in any of these sports than you will compromise lateral speed and will be pushed over. Also, I hope that I played against you as were surely on your ass and back most of the game.
2. From this position, place your weight on your toes, pivot on them and move your heels out. After this, redistribute your weight on your heels, pivot on your heels and turn your toes back to the original angle. If you have any rhythm at all then this will look similar to a dance move. This will take your stance a bit wider than normal and put you into an ideal squat position. With some experimentation, you will find that you may have to go back to the original stance or even go wider; whatever the case begin with this and experiment. Everyone will have a slightly different stance.


3. Place your hands on your thighs and side them down to just above your knees. This position should be the same as if you were taking a breather between wind-sprints or something similar. This is a very basic position. No one takes a breather between sprints or in a basketball game with their weight on their toes. They will grab their shorts, push their glutes back, rest their upper body on their hands and drop their head. Sound familiar? If you have any trouble picturing this position then take a look at football players in a huddle or a basketball player during free-throws. They look almost the same. From this position, simply raise your head, arch your upper and lower back and place your hands as if they were on a barbell. This is the exact position you want to be in when you perform a squat.

4. At this point, your hips and glutes should be pushed back, your lower and upper back is arched, head straight ahead, bodyweight on your heels and your mid-section is held tight. If you are not in this position, repeat the first 3 steps and make sure you are in this position.
5. Begin your squat descent by leading your body down with your hips and glutes. Maintain the arch in your lower and upper back. If you are having a problem sitting back into the squat, you may have to lean your forward. This is not dangerous as long as you keep your upper and lower back arched. About 60-70% of the weight should be distributed on your heels.
6. When you are about half way down, begin pushing your knees out and opening up your groin. This is what has been called “spreading the floor” but I have found that the term “open your groin” or “show your groin” or “open the knees” to be better terms when teaching people how to squat. Also, by pushing your knees out and opening your groin, you will have an easier time reaching parallel and will reach it quicker. Now the weight will be shifted to your heels and the sides of your feet.
7. For many people, once they sit back into the squat and open the hips, at this point they can simply squat down. Once your body is in perfect position, opening the hips will allow them to hit parallel without pushing back. This may be difficult to see when you read this, but try it out on a box with someone watching your knees. If you do it correctly then your knees will not move (they will remain over your ankles) when you squat down. The key is learning how and when to open you groin. This will take practice and some more practice; this is something that you will not get correct after a few tries, so be patient.
8. Hip flexibility and mobility is one key in squatting correctly, so this may be your limiting factor. If you are having problems with hip flexibility and mobility I highly recommend getting the Parisi Warm up Method on DVD. This video highlights many of the hip mobility and flexibility exercises that will prepare you for squatting correctly. Also, it is a great for conditioning and overall body preparation.

Now let’s say that even these 8 steps are too confusing for your athletes or too much to consider. What I have found is that there are three definitive things that will help your squat. If you concentrate on these three things, or emphasize them over and over again to your athletes, I guarantee that they will become better squatters. If you are a coach do not make things more complicated than they have to be. Simplify everything and you will be surprised at how much better your athletes will lift. Have the athlete get into whatever stance they are comfortable in. Unless they are much too wide or their heels are touching, don’t fight it. Just let them be comfortable.

1. Squeeze the bar. While you are sitting at your computer, drop your hands down at your sides and squeeze them into a fist. Squeeze as hard as you possibly can. What happened to your entire body? It got tight! This is one of the hardest things for an athlete to realize when he lifts and squeezing the bar takes care of it. This simple maneuver is one of the easiest ways to combat a difficult problem. This is one of the first things I ever learned when I began lifting and can’t believe that coaches leave this out. Squeezing the bar/dumbbell should happen on every set of every lift. If you are a coach and are not emphasizing this, I highly recommend you begin.
2. Arch your upper back. If you arch your upper back, and I mean as hard as you can, you will put your head, your low back and glutes in the proper position. This starting position is so important and by simply pulling your upper back together and arching you are taking care of a difficult problem very easily. Again, this will apply to most every lift and not just the squat.
3. Get your ass down: Nothing is worse than walking into a Division I weight room and seeing a bunch of great athletes quarter squatting. The bar weight is too heavy for the athletes mid-section, their knees begin to buckle in and the potential for injury is a high as the coaches IQ is low. What a disgrace to the profession and how embarrassing for the administration and the coaches. How could they ever be so reckless and hire this strength coach? Also, it’s a shame for the athletes that they are being exposed to such non-sense. Now you can argue with me about sitting back and spreading the floor…whatever, just get your ass down. The next question will be “Should I have my athletes squat to parallel or below?” If you are not box squatting, then have them go as low as possible because if you tell your athletes parallel then they will eventually start cutting their squats. Tell them to squat as low as possible and then come back up. It’s that simple.

Though not as manly as Glenn Buechlein, Jim is constantly striving for a high level of machismo.  When you are not looking, he is eating your nachos.  He is also 100% certain that the earth revolves around the first six albums of Black Sabbath.  And Dio is NOT Black Sabbath.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.

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About the Author

Jim was employed as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Kentucky, where he worked with several different teams including football and baseball. He played football and graduated from the University of Arizona where he earned three letters. Jim’s best lifts include a 1000 lbs squat, a 675 lbs bench press, 700 lbs deadlift, and a 2375 total in the 275 lbs class. View Jim’s Training Log HERE