Squatting is one of the most productive if not the best exercises out there (it’s called the King of Exercises by many). It is one of the most difficult to learn as well. If you are new to this exercise, please take several training sessions practicing with an empty bar.
First Things First.
The first thing to discuss is not foot position or width of stance, but proper trunk position.This is the proper position of the spine for the squat. IOW, your head is pulled back; your chest is raised; and you have a slight arch in your lower back. At no time during the squat should you bend over at the low back or look down.
Now, the best way to do squats is in a power rack or cage (a large rectangular rack with cross-drilled holes) so you can adjust the pins where if you have to bale, you can set the bar down without any harm.
Many people use towels or padding under the bar. Others feel this leads to some instability because the weight is “teeter tottering” on a small area on your back. If the bar is hurting you either need to add some trapezius mass, place the bar a little further down your back (it should be just above or below the sharp ridge on your scapula (shoulder blade).
Now step up to the bar. Place your hands about the same width as a bench press (unless you are doing the shoulder breaker wide-grip variety) and make sure you are even on the bar before unracking. Take a deep breath, step under the bar and unrack it. Place your feet shoulder width or slightly farther apart.
Use the “practice” sessions to get a width that fits you.Learn this way and then learn the variations if you like. After you have the width right, turn your feet out at roughly a 45 degree angle. Adjust the width if need be. Now you are ready to squat.
Take a deep breath, contract your abs and descend. It should feel like you are sitting back on a chair behind you; not going straight down. Keep your knees in line with your feet. DO NOT LET YOUR KNEES BOW IN anytime during the lift!
Keep the load light enough so you won’t do this and gradually build up. Many people say to try to keep your shin at a 90 degree angle to the ground. This is impossible with the regular stance squat and is only possible by a few using the wide-stance variety. Try to keep your knees from going out past your toes.
Don’t give up on reaching parallel too quick. Also, to go even close to parallel, you have to bend over at the hip (not the spine, of course). However, you should always be more upright than bent over. Two methods of determining your shin/back position and depth is to either have an attentive and adept person monitor you from the side and/or use a video camera placed to the side and close enough to determine all angles. After you have descended to the bottom position, reverse your direction immediately (don’t bounce at the bottom) and drive upwards. Try and pull your back up (hip extension) as hard as possible during the ascent.
Come back to a standing position, take a breath or two (or many 8^) and descend again. Remember the soldier position between reps as well. Make each rep it’s own little lift. IOW, make each one count even on your warm-ups. If you maintain good form in your warm-ups, you’ll likely retain it for the work sets.
Belts Or Knee Wraps
Should you wear a belt or knee wraps? The former helps to stabilize the spine by increasing intra-abdominal pressure and the latter is just a way of elevating more weight. Especially if you are getting started with the squat, go without either. Use your abdomen as the brace instead of outside help. The knee wraps serve no use except to the powerlifter who wants a bigger max. They may impede the growth of structures around the knee or even cause some harm if used chronically.
The most productive exercises are the most painful. It’s a fact of life. If you squat with proper technique, you probably won’t be injured and you’ll make terrific headway towards your goals. Learn to be aggressive and focus your complete attention on the task at hand.
Good luck and happy training!
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