Building Your Squat – The Basics – Brad Abbott

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Bread Abbott – @BMAbbott13

The squat is arguably the most important movement any athlete can do when strength training.  The movement requires nearly all muscle groups in the body to fire in unison in order to successfully and safely complete the lift, especially when approaching that 1RM range.  Now, most of us still are uncomfortable with our squats so we may find ourselves studying some of the more elite level squatters to pick up cues or techniques from them to apply to our own lifts. That is great, but what we must all remember is that no two athletes will squat the same.  We all have different builds with different strengths/weaknesses and react differently under stress.  I by no means consider myself a great squatter, but I’m here to share with you a small slice of information on what took me from a struggling 515# squat to a 640# squat in just over a year.

STANCE:  First, we need to establish a stance.  Our stance needs to allow us to be in a comfortable posture, while hitting depth with relative ease, and efficiently completing the movement while under load.   Keep in mind what your strengths/weaknesses may be when establishing your stance.  Also remember that, in theory, the bar path must remain over the middle of your feet throughout the lift.

Narrow Stance:  

  • More front-to-back travel of hips is required
  • More forward lean required
  • Requires higher ankle mobilty

Wide Stance:

  • Hips Remain closer to bar path
  • More upright posture is required
  • Requires higher hip mobility

For example, I personally feel very strong with an ultra wide stance, but due to poor hip mobility and weaknesses in my core, I am unable to hit depth without “dipping my chest” at the bottom of the movement so a super wide stance just isn’t practical for me.  I have my stance at just outside of shoulder width (still considered “wide” by most).  In that stance I am able to open my hips to hit depth with ease while remaining fairly upright throughout the movement.  If you have an extremely strong conventional deadlift, you may tend to be stronger with a more narrow stance allowing you to compensate with your posterior chain to complete the movement.    It can be a lot of trial and error until you find your stance, and this process may take a while, but it is important.

BAR PLACEMENT:  Bar placement is also crucial when establishing your squat.  Most of us know by now the difference between high and low bar placement.   Again, choosing what works for you will depend on your strengths/weaknesses.

High Bar:

  • Quad Dominant Movement
  • Requires Moderate Hip and Ankle Mobility
  • Easier to maintain upright posture and maintain stability

Low Bar:

  • Glute and Hip dominant movement
  • Requires more hip mobility, and less ankle mobility
  • Slight forward lean required

For a lot of lifters, bar placement comes down to comfort and your available shoulder/scapular mobility.  I recommend trying them both and training them both, but choosing which one is YOURS comes down to comfort and mobility.

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CUES:   Before executing your lift, take yourself through a series of cues to ensure every repetition is exactly the same for every set.  Squat your warmup sets just as you would your 1RM.  From your approach, to the walkout, to executing the lift, make sure it is all the same.  Your cues may be different than mine, but I will walk you through my cues to give you an idea.

  1. Establish bar position on back
  2. “Big Air”
  3. Unrack and walkout
  4. Externally rotate feet into floor and “spread the floor apart” (to engage glutes)
  5. Short breath out, then  big breath in to brace against belt
  6. Engage Lats and get “chest up”
  7. “Push Chin in”
  8. Open hips, and Execute the lift

Again, these are very simple cues, but I do run through them for every rep I take.  I might look a little silly walking out the 55# bar like it weights 600#, but I do it every time to get the practice reps in.

CONFIDENCE:   After establishing your stance, technique, cues, and getting comfortable… being executing the lift with confidence is the most important thing you can do.   Most of us aren’t going to load a weight we don’t feel we can lift, so be confident and execute the lift like you know you’re capable of and don’t let your mind play games with you.  This is something I still struggle with at times, but I’ve come a long way, and my lifts are starting to improve as my confidence improves.  You are all stronger than you think you are, you just need to find it.

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