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Brute Force Strength Training Review – The Squat

Last week I took a look at a friend’s deadlifts (Jamie Orr, Red Deer, Canada). This week he sent me a video of his latest squat session:

JO:  Hey Ken,  appreciated the pointers last time on the DL. When/if you have time could you look at my squat? This one is 405 REALLY happy with first rep. Will send another at 365lbs, I feel the form is better. I am on a bit of a high today, I was pretty happy with these last sets. As I said, due to a year of crossfit “air squats” I was pretty happy getting 405. Seriously, I have done 3 weeks of leg press to get used to heavy leg workouts and yesterday was my first real squat day in over a year.

 I know I step back too far, and I think my head dips.

 Thanks, Jamie

 

Your squats actually look better than your deadlifts. They are very sound. On the ‘Crappy to Great Scale’, they are a solid ‘Ok’. I would give you a ‘Good’, but they are slightly high, and I don’t care if everything else is perfect, I’m not giving a Good to a high squat. We’ll get to that though.

Before you step under the bar…

Let’s start with your shoes. They look like standard runners, right? When you hit about 315lbs the heels start compressing, which can really screw with your stability. If you’re not competing, you don’t need an expensive pair of squat shoes (although I absolutely love mine), but you do need to replace the runners. Some options:

  • Squat without shoes – better than using runners, but you won’t have any ankle or foot support.
  • Wrestling shoes or Converse ‘Chucks’ – descent stability, and flat soles that won’t compress. Chucks are probably the better choice, as wrestling shoes have a very narrow sole that will give you less stability. They’re also a bit less expensive.
  • Hiking boots – I used to really like squatting in boots. Your heels are a bit higher, great ankle support, and just plain solid. When you plant your foot, it is planted. They’re not, however, legal in competition.

 Setting up…

You rush your setup. As soon as the bar comes out of the rack, you’re running back to squat. A good setup positions you for a great squat.

Pointers on setting up:

  • You do have proper bar placement for heavy squats. It’s resting on your delts, not your traps, which is a good position for power.
  • I would prefer the rack height slightly lower. That can be difficult, depending on the type of rack you have because the next position down is likely too low. I like the rack set up where the bar comes in about halfway between the nipples and top of the pecs when you step up to the bar. You may see if the gym has any extra floor mats (solid flooring mats, not something that will compress under your weight), to bring you up another inch or so.
  • Before lifting out of the rack, drive your hips forward so they are directly underneath the bar. This allows you to use all leg drive to unrack the bar, reducing lower back work, and makes the bar feel considerably lighter coming out of the rack.
  • Slow your setup down, control it coming out of the rack, just as you do your reps:
    • Take a deep breath into your chest, drive your hips forward and raise the bar straight up. Lock out before stepping back.
    • Take one short step straight back, next foot moves back even with the first and out to the side, toes pointed out. First foot moves straight out, and toes point out (two step walkout is slightly different).
    • Lock back out, and take small breaths until you’re ready to begin the first rep.
  • I would recommend a slightly narrower stance – 1-2″. Although ‘’wide stance’ is commonly considered a powerlifting stance, I don’t necessarily recommend a wide stance in most cases. I think you’ll get more power out of your glutes and hams by bringing your stance in a bit. Wide stance make sense in certain situations:
    • If you’re squatting in federations that allow heavy lifting duty gear and use of monolift, the shorter range of motion can lead to bigger numbers.
    • If you have proportionately long thighs, a narrower stance will force your hips to shift farther backwards, and cause you to lean. A wider stance can alleviate this.
  • You do point your toes out – which is good. This allows your knees to track outward, making it much easier to drop below parallel.
  • You’re not completely locked out before starting your first rep. You’re leaning slightly forward, and your knees aren’t locked out.

 Squatting…

Your squats doo look pretty strong, only a couple of minor things I saw:

You lean forward slightly. It’s not too bad, but this will make hitting depth harder. A couple things that may help you reduce your lean:

  • Keep your head up. I didn’t notice an exaggerated head dip, but your body will follow your eyes – if you are looking down you will have a greater tendency to lean. Squatting in front of a mirror can exacerbate the problem. The motion in the mirror draws your attention, making it more difficult to keep your head up.
  • Breathing – since your spotter makes the comment ‘take that breath and hold it’ I assume your breathing isn’t perfect. Breathe in deeply before starting your descent, and hold it until you’re on your way back up. I like to begin exhaling in a controlled fashion once I’ve passed the ‘sticking point’. Breath control can be very important for stability. Keeping your chest full of air and your abs tight can give you upper body stability and reduce your tendency to lean.
  • When I see high squats and leaning, I watch the knees. If you allow them to cave inward, your hips shift backwards. This forces you to lean in compensation and miss depth. Your knees look like they stay out through the reps – which is good.

Squat is slightly high

  • Depth isn’t too bad, but about 1-2″ above parallel. You have plenty of strength at a good weight – don’t be afraid to sink they weight. Fixing the leaning mentioned above will make hitting depth much easier.

All in all, a very OK squats at a pretty heavy weight. I looked at the 365lb squats as well. Although the lighter squats were executed more explosively, your 405lb squats were just as solid as your 365lb squats. I don’t really have additional comments on the other video.

Recommendations for next week:

  • Fix all the setup issues I mentioned. You should be able to do that perfectly on every set – you have the time to think about everything you do during setup.
  • Set up so you’re not looking at the mirror while you squat.
  • Bring your feet in 2″. Watch your feet as you walk out, and place them just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Control your breathing throughout each rep of each set.
  • Pick a spot on the ceiling, and keep your head up, eyes on that spot throughout each rep of every set.

For more information, here is a complete walk through of (power) squatting technique.

If you have a lift you’d like reviewed, leave a comment with a link to a video of your lift.




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