Jeromy Bryk – @Bryk_Squuaadd
The very first step to achieving a big number on any lift is the comprehension of how much detail actually goes into the movement. When your goal is to get the most weight on the bar as possible, perfecting technique and attention to detail become that much more important as the slightest miscue can mean losing anywhere from 20-50 lbs off of the bar at minimum! While this goes for any movement, for the sake of this article I will be focusing on some of my favorite cues that can help you improve your squat immediately once implemented correctly!
1. External Rotation of The Hips: Perhaps the most important squat cue of them all. This is accomplished first by “twisting” our feet into the floor as if our feet are corkscrews when setting our squat stance before beginning descent. You will know you have properly corkscrewed your feet into the floor when you can feel tension in your glutes and hamstrings after twisting your feet. When I was learning this cue, I liked to practice by twisting my feet into the floor and running a hand down the back of my hamstring to feel the tension built up in the muscle.
External rotation in the hips properly engages the glutes and hamstrings. If external rotation is left out of the movement, these muscles are unable to be recruited which is a mistake you cannot afford if planning on moving the most weight that you can on a squat!
2. Brace Yourself: When you’ve got 3x your body weight on your shoulders you had better be braced. A major mistake most lifters make at some point is not bracing properly, which causes us to lose the full body tightness needed to support a heavy weight. Bracing properly involves several steps and starts with taking a deep breath and squeezing the bar as hard as you can with your hands and pressing hard against the bar upper back as you unrack the weight, all while tensing your core like you are going to take a punch. If you walk out the weight, repeat this process again before beginning your descent. Its important to remember to hold this tightness throughout the entirety of the lift from start to finish, do not let any power leak out! Every bit of tightness you lose from your brace equate to pounds off the bar.
3. Break At The Hips First: I learned this one from one of the first squat videos I watched from Zach on YouTube a couple of years ago, and it made an instant difference in my squat. Essentially, you want your hips going back to be the first movement that you make when beginning your descent into a squat as if you are sitting down on a bench, toilet, etc whatever else you can sit down on.
This accomplishes two things: 1). Puts the weight back on your glutes (largest muscles in the entire body, why wouldn’t you want the weight there?) and 2.) Takes pressure off of the knees. A lot of beginners, myself included, have made the mistake of breaking at the knees first in the squat, which not only overloads the knees with pressure, but also pitches the body forward pushing the weight over our toes leaving us in an extremely vulnerable position with a heavy load on our back.
Break at the hips first and put the weight on the strongest muscles in your body.
4. “Pull” Yourself Into the Hole:
I find this one to be especially useful if you squat in wraps, like I do. I like to envision myself pulling the weight down with me under control until I hit my depth, allowing the tension to build to a peak at the bottom of the squat before using that tension to pop myself back up. This is very similar to the technique that lifters in squat suits use! Personally, I always found it hard to utilize my wraps to the best of their ability before I learned this cue, as I used to divebomb my squats (rapidly descending with little control) leaving me hoping to catch the rebound at the bottom, if this failed I was screwed. I have found that pulling myself into the hole gives me better control over the weight itself and allows me to get more pounds out of my wraps than I would divebombing my squats.
- Create an Upper Back Shelf: By squeezing your shoulder blades together, much like you would in the bench press set up, you will set up a “shelf” with your traps and rear delts for the weight to sit comfortable on. Creating this upper back tightness not only locks the bar in to your upper back, I also find it helpful to cue the full body tightness needed to execute a big squat! Drive your upper back and traps into the bar as hard as you can and unrack the weight. If this is done properly the bar should feel nearly weightless upon the unrack.
- Let the Weight Settle: Once the weight gets heavy enough, you’ll be faced with the bar “whipping” or bouncing up and down once its unracked, especially if you’re like me and walk your squats out. Take your time and let the weight settle and come to a rest before beginning the squat. Its important to stay braced, maintaining full body tightness and squeeze the bar as hard as you can, as the bar whip can cause the weight to slip out of position on your back. By letting the weight settle you maintain control over the weight and help put yourself in the best position to finish the lift!
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