I began doing squats when I was 15 years old. And two decades later I feel I have found the right "groove" for my body when performing the squat! So don't feel bad if you haven't gotten the squat down. It's not very often you have a weight balancing across your traps and are "happily" compelled to squat up and down. The position is awkward and places the body in a precarious position. My squat groove isn't always there if I [want to] do squats every time. So I don't force my body to do something it doesn't or to place it in a position where it doesn't want to be. For that reason - to maintain that groove - I found out I can't do squats when I feel like it, but only when my body responds to that groove (that perhaps goes for all exercises).
When I don't squat for 2-3 weeks and then go back to it, the groove is always there and strength gains continue. Not only that but more importantly is that I stay interested and motivated. It is important when performing squats you feel comfortable and your groove is conforming to correct squat execution.
Is the squat for you? It has also been noted in literature that squats isn't for everyone because their are those in which their body mechanics are structured differently, thereby, making a squatting position dangerous since their bodies cannot accommodate. For example, long limbs, joint immobility and even having "flat feet" (like myself). Flat feet places additional stress on the joints and lower back. However, do not limit yourself to your own body-mechanics. If you do you will not reach your full and realized potential. When I include squats in my routine it is almost always first (unless I am pre-exhausting with leg extensions first) and always used for increasing power, strength and mass.
Squat Tools - Use but do not Abuse!
Wear a lifting belt. A lifting belt keeps your back supported, tight and in line with the rest of your body. It's your back support for executing this terrific exercise. Training smart means training safe. Wear a lifting belt - on your first set - and then take it off on your last couple of sets (that is, if you are pyramiding your training in Reverse)! BUT do not abuse this tool along with other fine tools, e.g., lifting straps and knee wraps. If you rely on lifting tools to assist lift the weight, rather than your stabilizers, they will become weak, vulnerable and you will become prone to injury!
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Place your feet flat on the floor. Some will use a block to place under their heels. No. It's either feet flat on the floor or no squats at all. Placing a block under your heels actually places more (not less) pressure on the knees since a block forces the body to lean forward. Placing a block under your heels comes from the old school of thought (70s) and you are kidding yourself it is safer and thinking you can handle heavier poundages. Take a foot stance that feels comfortable for you - usually shoulder width. For a conventional or "bodybuilding" feet and knee placement point your feet and toes forward to help stabilize your body. Make sure your knees remain over your toes at all times! This conventional stance of pointing the toes forward and keeping the knees aligned over your toes throughout the range of motion will help emphasize your thighs and not your knees. If you have long legs you might consider taking a "powerlifting" wide stance with toes pointed out while keeping the knees aligned over your toes. This stance will not only utilize your thighs but your hips as well.
Next, place the bar over your trapezius muscle, not over your neck. The bar should be placed as far back as possible on the traps for the weight to be distributed properly for a safe execution. Place your hands around the bar and take a grip comfortable for you to help keep the weight balanced and stabilized. Now thrust your hips forward (do not stick your butt out), pull in your abdominals, and keep your lower back in a near neutral position (a slightly arched back might be unavoidable) - as much as possible. Like in bent-over barbell rows tighten your whole body when you perform the squat. Not only will your legs and hips assist lifting the weight but your whole body will: chest, abs, arms and back. Like with any exercise you perform make sure your whole body is tight and stable. This is the key to performing more reps with a lot of weight!
Controlling Your Movements
In a controlled manner slowly lower yourself (hips or butt first) down and back (not forward) to a near or parallel (not below parallel) position. The weight should be distributed on your upper thighs and the heels or balls of your feet, neither your toes nor your knees. But don't go so far back where you lose balance and fall over backwards! From this weight distribution push up off your heels and lift the weight utilizing everything in your body while maintaining good, proper and safe form: your upper thighs, calves, hamstrings, lower back, chest, back, arms and abs - most every part in the whole body except your knees! Throughout the whole movement your back should be between a 90 and 45-degree angle for safe execution.
Do not lock out at the top in an effort to continue to build continuous tension in your thighs. If you wish to lock out at the top of the movement make sure you flex your thighs hard for a pause for peak contraction. If rest is inescapable during the set then by all means rest! But don't rest too long as this will create additional stress on the lower back and begin to tighten up. Rest at the top of the movement near completion of the set to catch your breath so you can crank out more reps!
Keeping the upper body tight and secure is the big key to improving squats or any other squat exercise ? even leg presses. During a maximum set of squats your breathing will be heavy, your body will be tight and your quads will be shaking, like a trembling tremor quake! After you've squatted your first or two sets, whether with heavy weight, low reps or light weight, high reps you will be gasping for air, taking you 5 or more minutes to catch your breath! You can accelerate your cardio to the MAX in only one or two sets of squats if you are tight, secure and focused! People don't know what they are missing without squatting - build muscle, burn fat & increase cardio at the same time!
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Copyright ? 1997-2001 Randy M. Herring
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