Troubleshoot Your Back Squat

STACK Expert John Cissik offers some technical pointers for the Squat, a few exercises to help you, and a sample program.

The Back Squat is one of the most important exercises for athletes. It requires the upper body and core to stabilize the weight, develops the lower body, and strengthens bones and joints, all in a way that is transferable to sports performance. The strength this exercise builds is critical to performance on jumping, sprinting and agility. It even helps with throwing and kicking.

With that in mind, here are some technical pointers for the Squat, along with a few exercises to help you and a sample program.

Technical Pointers

Several common mistakes can really limit your ability to be successful with this exercise. These include:

  • Being on your toes: Ideally when you perform the Squat, you need to keep your weight on the middle of your feet or your heels. If your weight is on your toes, you tend to lift your heels when you Squat. This is not a good idea for at least two reasons. It throws the weight forward onto your knees and it throws off your balance.
  • Squatting with your knees first: One of the reasons you can have your weight on your toes during the Squat is because the technique itself sets you off balance. A lot of beginners try to Squat by pushing their knees forward. A better way is to focus the exercise on your hips. This is done when you start the Squat by pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to flex as you descend.
  • Letting your hips move faster than your shoulders: When you stand up from the Squat, your hips and shoulders need to move up at the same speed. A common mistake is to let your hips move up first. This pitches you forward and turns the exercise into a Good Morning.
Learn how to hold the barbell during your Squat.

Exercises to Help Your Squat

The first thing to keep in mind with Squatting is that if you want to get better at it, you have to do it. But there are some exercises that can address weak areas and technique flaws:

  • Bench/Box Squats: Bench/Box Squats are a great way to reinforce the movement of your hips and the need to keep your weight off your toes. To perform these, place a box or bench behind you. Set up just like you were going to perform a regular Squat. Squat until your hips touch the bench. Without pausing or bouncing, stand up.
  • Eccentric Squats: This exercise strengthens your descent and makes you more explosive coming out of the bottom position. It's performed exactly like a regular Squat, only you take 10 slow seconds to descend. Once you reach the bottom position, you explode up. It's important to practice good technique during this exercise. Normally it is done for three to six repetitions, as it is very tiring. Start with 40-50 percent of your Back Squat.
  • Good Mornings: This is a great exercise to assist your Squat by strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Stand with the bar on the back of your shoulders. With your feet hip-width apart, unlock your knees. From this position, keeping your knees straight but soft, push your hips back and lean forward as far as you can with good technique. Reverse direction.

Workout Plan

This sample week of workouts will help you improve your Squat. It consists of two days of workouts and a minimum of two days rest between the first and the second session.

Day One:

  • Back Squats: 5x6-10@70-80%
  • Eccentric Squats: 3x3-6@40-50%
  • Good Mornings: 3x6-10
  • Reverse Hyperextensions: 3x12-15
  • Standing Calf Raises: 3x6-10

Day Two:

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