By: Louie Simmons
How to Do the Squat
What is good squat form?
What does it take to develop a great squat? First you must develop the
hips, hamstrings, spinal erectors, glutes, and abs. Without a strong posterior
chain (the muscles on the back of the body), you will not sit back into
the proper squat position. Thatís right. Sit back, never down. If the knees
go forward in the yielding phase, they could hit the floor and the hips
still would be above parallel.
I talk to strength coaches from major universities on how to squat. I tell
them that we have 24 guys who have squatted over 800 and six over 900 by
box squatting with a wide stance. Many times these coaches will reply,
I like Olympic squatting. One reason I guess is that Olympic squatting
is what they were brought up on. But why do powerlifters use a wider stance?
Because you use more muscle, and isnít that what weíre after on the sports
field? Only a wrestler would find himself in the weakest joint angles of
an Olympic squat. Thatís probably why there are no old, great Olympic lifters.
Their joints are gone.
When a prominent pro basketball coach said that Olympic squats were the
best for his players and that a two-times bodyweight squat was all an athlete
needs, I realized that a weak coach can only produce weak players. This
coach and many like him must have a huge library and a very small weight
room. Take Ben Johnson, for example. He squatted 620 at about 200 pounds.
Thatís three times bodyweight! Football players' careers are being shortened
not by the competition but by the fact that they are too frail compared
to 10 years ago. I saw Brett Favre come out of the locker room and squat
cold with the linemen using the same weight. That's like having five quarterbacks
protecting your quarterback, and that's bull.
Let's get to squat technique, starting with the feet. They should be pointed
straight forward. This forces the hip muscles into play. It is much harder
to break parallel because the hip extensors and flexors are put in a very
strong position for flexion. Turn the feet outward slightly if you are
not flexible or if you are very thick in the waist and upper thighs. If
you see someone who walks with their feet turned outward, they have weak
As far as shoes go, Converse Chuck Taylor's are
best. Don't have $100 shoes and a 10-cent squat.
When squatting, think about pushing your feet
out, not down. This will ensure that the hip muscles are working correctly.
Push your knees out the entire time, starting from when you are unracking
the bar. You should feel this in the hips. Next, start pushing the
glutes to the rear as thought you are searching for a hair that is too
far behind you. Arch the lower back and keep the chest up. Lean forwards
as much as necessary to keep the bar over your center of gravity.
To ensure correct bar placement, raise the chest
and pull the shoulder blades together, to place the bar back as far as
possible. This creates better leverage. However, if one carries the bar
too low, it causes the lifter to bend forward, destroying leverage.
What stance should you use? Everyone should box squat with a wide stance,
because this builds the all-important hip muscles. Thirty years ago, the
great Jim Williams said to train as wide as possible and pull your stance
in, to a point, to break parallel at meet time. If you watch a great squat
technician, you will notice that he bends only at the hips, the knees donít
go forward, and his back does not move.
While descending in the squat, never squat down. Always squat back! If
you push the glutes back, the knees will not go forward. In fact, if you
sit back far enough, the shins will be past vertical. This is only possible
with box squatting. And itís important because this causes a great stretch
reflex. Also, by forcing your knees apart, you are significantly increasing
your leverage, by shortening the distance between the hip and the knee
joint. If you pull your knees together, you increase this distance and
create poor leverage. In addition, this is a sign of weak hip muscles.
After breaking parallel, you must first push against the bar. After all,
the bar is what we are trying to raise. Unfortunately, you see many lifters
who push with their feet first. This causes you to bend forward Into a
good morning position, which is opposite of what you are trying to achieve,
in addition to being dangerous. When your back bends, you are likely to
miss a squat or get injured.
Most people think of squatting as a multi-joint muscular action. I see
it as flexion of the spinal erectors and hip flexors and slight flexion
of the knees. Itís much like trying to jump onto a high box; you flex as
much as possible in the beginning and hope you make it. Others push gradually
through the lift; just enough to accommodate the external force that is
As far as equipment, in a meet, wrap the knees toward the inside. This
means wrap one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. This helps to
stabilize them. Wear a suit that allows the knees to be forced outward
ad the glutes to be pushed out to the rear. Don't wear straps that are
too tight. This will cause you to bend over. In training wear a suit with
the straps down and a belt. This will help the technical aspects of squatting.
When someone must wear full gear for 3-4 weeks before a meet, their technical
skill is low.
To summarize, build the posterior chain: calves, hams, glutes, lower and
upper back. Strong abs are a must. They are what you lean on to descend
and push off of to ascend. Out of our top 100 squat-ters, four use an upright
back position. That means that 96% lean forward, with - of course - a great
arch. While descending, the glutes move first and the head and bar move
last. So, in the concentric phase, the opposite happens. You must push
against the bar first.
One workout per week must be devoted to speed (box squatting) and one for
maximal effort, with a variety of core exercises such as good mornings
and squatting with special bars that change your center of gravity.
To all strength coaches: the next time you have your athletes do Olympic
squats, ask yourself why. The joint angles are not advantageous for the
stretch reflex. If a lineman were to use that position on the field, he
would easily be pushed backward. The Olympic lifts require flexibility.
There are many drills better suited to increase flexibility. Everyone thinks
the Olympic lifts are so quick. While your cleans at 60% look fast, so
do our box squats at 60%. The athlete who can power clean 400 uses 240(60%).
The lifter who can squat 800 uses 480 (60%). Who do you really think would
be faster and stronger? Compared to a powerlifter, an Olympic lifter canít
squat with the Sunday paper. A kid that can hang clean 400 would look frail
to an 800 squatter. And donít forget, in Olympic lifting, as the bar is
raising, the lifter is lowering himself, making it appear that they are
moving the bar at great speed. Olympic lifting is the biggest bust in the
United States. We have not placed a single lifter on the "A" list, yet
strength coaches still advocate the Olympic lifts.
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without written consent. Copyright 2000 Louie Simmons.