Nov 30, 2012

There are few exercises that truly epitomize the meaning of strength. Outside of deadlifts, squats are THE exercise to put slabs of muscle on your entire body and make you as strong as an angry rhino in heat.

I'm currently 7 weeks in on a 16 week experiment using a full body style 5/3/1 program. The program calls for squatting 3 days per week with one of those days being heavy (around 75-95% 1RM) and the other two days being light and fast (40-60% 1RM). After I finish this next week I will be transitioning into raising the percentages on my light days but I'll get into that at a later date.

Consistently having a loaded bar on your back teaches you a few things about yourself and about whether or not what you're doing needs to be corrected. Here are 7 things I've learned from squatting 3 days a week:

1.  Breathing is a science.

First of all, if you're not breathing correctly when you squat YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF. There is a bit of a science to doing it correctly. Don't just hold your breath. When you take a deep breath and keep it in your chest you don't get full use of your diaphragm. Your upper back becomes loose because your traps shrug up and you may lose the shelf created for the bar to lay on by pulling your shoulder blades together. Losing the shelf means the bar will become unsteady on your back and no one wants a wobbly bar on a squat descent.

The way to correct this is to breathe into your pelvis. This sounds strange but makes perfect sense. As you breathe in don't keep the air in your chest. Relax your core a bit and let the air expand your diaphragm until it feels like it's filling your stomach. As soon as you finish sucking in the air, tighten your core like you're bracing to be punched in the gut. Hold it the entire descent and slowly begin to release it as you rise up from the bottom. You want to be making a hissing sound.

2.  Keep everything tight.

No part of your body should be loose from the time you unrack the bar to the time you rack it. From the beginning you should have your upper back tight with the shoulder blades pulled back and down and arms forcefully pulling the bar down like in a lat pulldown.

Referring to the previous bulletin, brace your core by breathing into your pelvis and holding the air like you're about to be punched. As you descend keep your glutes tight and on the way up squeeze your glutes, quads, and hamstrings as hard as you can, forcefully drive your hips forward, and stand up. Don't be loose ... ever.

3.  Know your stance.

This is an often overlooked aspect of the squat. I can sit here and tell you that everyone should squat with their heels at shoulder width and toes pointed out slightly at 30-35 degrees but not everyone is built the same. This is due to mobility issues and/or anatomical differences (bone and muscle length). Figure out what the best stance is for YOU. You're going to have to play with this a little bit but once you get it stick with it.

4.  Have a good spotter.

Here's a scenario I personally went through. I was on my second to last set of back squats and was not feeling too confident because my previous set felt really friggin heavy. I enlisted the help of one of the regular lifters who I knew was a strong guy and had great form on his squats. Naturally I thought he would know how to spot me. Don't make assumptions. I got to the bottom of my squat, struggled for a millisecond on the ascent, and this guy decides to put his hands under my elbows and push up. You can guess what happened next. My entire body shot forward causing me to throw my butt back. Now that all the weight was being lifted by my lower back (which really didn't feel good) I ran out from under the bar and let the weight drop to the floor behind me. Luckily no one got hurt but that was a seriously bad situation. I would have made the lift but he spotted me all wrong. Take it from me and please make sure your spotter knows what the hell he's doing.

5.  Every rep counts.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Prefect practice makes perfect. Even if you have no weight on the bar set yourself up and perform the reps as though you had 1000lbs on it.

6.  Always warm up.

I used to hate warming up and I hardly ever did anything more than a couple warmup sets with the bar and light weight before I jumped into my working sets. The benefits of a solid warmup are astounding. You'll feel better and be able to lift more weight. Who doesn't want to lift more weight?

Refer to my other article to learn how to warm up properly.

7.  Work on your mobility.

If you can't get into a good squat position there's a reason for it. I really suggest you get yourself
screened or assessed by a qualified personal trainer or sports performance specialist. For those of you DIYers check out my go-to resource for mobility issues: Mobility WOD.

I hope I shed light on some things to keep in mind when you squat. Put some of these into use and tell me about it.

In Strength,
Franco Crincoli


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Franco Crincoli
I am a personal trainer, strength coach, and all around iron addict, with a philosophy deeply rooted in old school methods. My training has been influenced by strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, gymnasts, and the Golden Era bodybuilders. I believe in reaping the greatest rewards the simplest (not easiest) way possible and having fun doing it.
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