This episode of TuneUp Tuesday covers way to assess yourself to find out why you may have excessive trunk lean in the squat. As well as ways to improve your technique.
A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar on optimizing the big three (bench press, squat and deadlift) at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechhio are two smart dudes and offered a ton of value.
Greg and Tony's seminar is geared towards the powerlifter but did a great job making this applicable to all walks of life. I am by no means a powerlifter, yet I love to use the big three in my workouts and in my clients programming.
The information provided gave me greater insight into the programming and cueing of these exercises. The best part of the seminar is the hands on portion - in which we actually got to lift and get coached by both Greg, Tony and Miguel. Getting insight into your bad habits as a lifter, as well as watching them coach several others gives you invaluable education you can't get elsewhere.
I highly recommend anyone interested in powerlifting or weight training, whether a trainer or someone who is an avid fan of exercises - this is a must course.
Here are some take aways from the seminar:
When it comes to program design for any client, powerlifter or not, you must address the needs of the lifter. What are the prerequisite movements to be successful at the exercise? What limitations do the currently have? What's their training age? etc..
Secondly, when it comes to programming the big three, there are three things we must take into consideration.
- They are all saggital plane movements
- They are all bilateral movements
- They are all extension based movements
Therefore, constant programming of these lifts will create postural and movement changes due to the repetitive nature and loading of these patterns.
Greg and Tony talk about a great concept called "covering your basis". Due to the facts above, we address the repetitive nature of these exercises through corrective exercises and our warm-ups.
I have already been a proponent of using the warm-up to address movement concerns of the athlete at hand so this was music to my ears. Having a warm-up designed to prepare the body for the demands of that day is key to owning that session.
Start from the ground up using a few drills to address movement concerns and prep for the major workouts of the day. For example, work on scap stability or thoracic extension before bench press.
Technique is the one thing as coaches that we have control over. So not learning how to coach and cue is doing a disservice to your clients or yourself. They mention that "crappy technique puts a ceiling on your training." This is absolutely vital. Poor technique not only puts a ceiling on training, but causes bad habits and increases chance for injury. Learn how to coach these well, so you can set your clients and yourself up for success in the future.
- Bar and wrist over elbows
- Leg Drive
- If you use a flat footed stance, your leg drive is similar to pushing yourself up the bench.
- If you prefer heels up, then your leg drive is trying to drive your feet into the ground and squeezing the bench with your thighs.
- The leg drive serves a couple of purposes. One, to develop more power throughout the entire body. Two, to assist in maintaining your bar path.
- Pull your shoulder blades into your back pockets. This will add more passive stability to the shoulders, but also will help you maintain your thoracic extension - which is crucial to shortening the motion and maintaining bar path.
- Bar lined up over shoe strings
- Arm pits in front of bar
- Wedge yourself into the bar
- What this means is that you are trying to take tension out of bar. In order to do so you pull the weight of the bar off the floor by dropping your butt and raising your chest. Once you feel the bars weight in your back, you know you're ready to drive through the floor.
- Greg and Tony used two terms to describe your squat technique:
- Don't be a stripper
- And Don't Pop-Lock and Drop - but rather Lock, Drop and Pop
- What this means is you don't want to arch your back on the decent. You want to maintain a belt buckle up, ribs down posture throughout the entire set. So, A - lock in the torso position, B - drop into the bottom of the squat and C - pop back to the top.
- Greg and Tony used two terms to describe your squat technique:
Another thing they mention, and I think we all forget this often, is fitness is dependent on the goal/sport at hand. A golfer and a Cross-fitter require two very different training stimuli to reach their goal. But does a golfer need to be crushed by a Workout of the Day (WOD) everyday in order to effectively hit a ball 300 yards down a fairway? No, it can actually hinder their performance. Point being, know your athlete and find their goals, and as Dan John says "keep the goal the goal."
All in all, this seminar blew away my expectations and I highly recommend you attend. The work done at CSP is top notch and you can learn a lot from these fine gentlemen.
Move Well, Stay Strong
Do you struggle with your squat technique?
Is it difficult to get to the bottom of the squat?
Do your feet turn out at a certain depth?
Do you experience early butt wink?
Do squats cause you pain or stiffness?
Have you plateaued?
In my experience, many people begin exercising or attempt a new fitness goal (such as running a marathon or doing a handstand) without the proper prerequisite movement required to do said task.
The squat may seem like a basic movement (I mean we learn how to do it as a baby), but many people train the squat and can't do a good one with their body weight.
If this is you, there are 2 areas you should focus your mobility training on to ensure you can get "ass to grass":
1) Hip Flexion - In order to get parallel or lower in your squat, you need adequate hip flexion range of motion. If you cannot actively flex your hip a minimum of 90 degrees, and preferably a hell of a lot more, then you will struggle squatting.
Why does it need to be active?
Lack of active control means you are unable to control that part of a range of motion. If you go lower then what you can actively control you will be supported by passive structures (ie. ligaments and tendons and not your muscles.) This will cause you to have to compensate to finish the movement.
Try this drill to improve your hip flexion.
- Pull your knee actively towards your chest.
- Put your hands on your knees.
- Push your knee into your hands as hard as you can (resist with your hands and don't let your leg move).
- Hold the contraction for 10 seconds.
- After 10 seconds, pull your knee into your chest (without the help of your hands) for 10 more seconds.
- Repeat this process 2-3 times.
2) Ankle Dorsiflexion - When descending into a squat our ankles go into dorsiflexion (lifting your foot up towards your shin bone). If there is a limitation here, you will have to compensate in order to get deep into your squat.
Here are some signs of lack of dorsiflexion: early butt wink, turning out your feet, trunk falling forward and/or your knees pointing inward.
How much dorsiflexion do you need? About 5 inches. Check out my blog post here about how to test and improve your ankle mobility.
If these areas are severely limited, you shouldn't load your squat. There are plenty of other exercises out there that can help you attain a training effect.
By improving these two aspects of your mobility, you will see improved movement capabilities and better ability to squat. This will allow you to safely and efficiently squat so you can continue to build upon your fitness goals.
Move Well, Stay Strong!
Your form sucks.
You're trying to lift more weight then you can handle.
You've injured your knee doing something that was not squatting.
You're a combination of the three scenarios above.
It is unfortunate that the same myth continues to slap me in the face on a daily basis. I feel like I'm surrounded by it day in and day out at the clinic, with a potential client and/or a novice trainee under my guidance. "My knees hurt when I squat". My teeth cringe and my blood pressure rises every time I hear this said to me.
If your knees hurt when you squat, it is time we stop blaming the squats for the pain and start looking into why our knees are bothering us. We have been squatting since we were babies, why is it that all of a sudden squatting is the culprit behind our pain?
If "squats hurt you", here are a couple of things you might want to look into to figure out why you may be having pain.
- You lack full ankle dorsiflexion.
- That is the ability to point your foot towards your head. If you lack dorsiflexion, you will have to compensate at other joints to make up the lack or range. This often comes from the knees, or the low back (and possibly both).
- You lack core stability.
- Whether the abdominal wall, the lats or the hip musculature is weak, (all of these make up the core) abnormal forces will be transmitted through joints rather then through contracting muscles and tendons. This will cause excessive shearing at the knees and even the low back, which overtime can cause pain and dysfunction.
- Transverse/Frontal plane deviations.
- As athletes, gym-goers and sedentary individuals, we train and live mostly in the sagittal-plane (think front and back movement like walking). Squatting is a sagittal-plane movement. Often time when some one squats, we see them sit more towards one leg than the other or rotate their bodies. This is common especially when someone is trying to lift a weight that is too heavy for them. This becomes a sure fire way to cause an angry knee or low back.
Watch the video below to see how I teach the squat and how it may help you squat pain free.
Leave some feedback in the comments section and let me know if this helps!
Until Next Time.