The Squat is without a doubt one of the most beneficial movements you can perform. For improving athletic performance, promoting muscle gain and increasing overall strength—plus the abundance of positive hormonal adaptations that result from squatting heavy with good form—you'd be hard pressed to find a movement that delivers more bang for its buck.
Unfortunately, most people sacrifice performance and risk injury before even beginning their set by haphazardly approaching the bar and setting up without much attention to detail.
Going through a mental set-up checklist as you set up your Squat can make or break your set. Take the time to do it properly with these three Squat setup tips.
1. Create Tension
No part of your body should be relaxed while squatting or while setting up to squat. Think you're tight enough? Think again. Getting tight and creating tension increases stability during the Squat. It also eliminates potential energy leaks in terms of transferring energy and force from the ground up through the core and upper body, helping you to move more weight.
Whether you are squatting with a high- or low-bar position, create a shelf for the bar with your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades together hard. Grab the bar with a tight "white-knuckle" grip and pull it down on your back, pointing your elbows toward the ground. This activates the lats and thoracolumbar fascia. This should feel analogous to the tension in your lats when you perform a Pull-Up.
Another integral part of creating tension is getting a significant amount of air into your belly through diaphragmatic breathing. This engages the core and helps maintain stiffness through the midsection. Get your air once before un-racking and again before descending.
2. Step Back
Don't make the mistake of taking a walk with the bar on your back before you squat. Set up directly under the bar with your feet parallel and don't take more than 2 or 3 steps back after you un-rack. The more steps you take, and the more time you spend with the bar on your back, the more energy is wasted before you even start the set.
Once you have established proper foot position, grab the ground with your feet and screw them into the floor. Spread the floor apart by creating outward tension with your feet and legs.
3. Pelvis Position
To keep your back healthy and maximize squatting potential, it is critical to maintain the proper position through your lower back and pelvis. Avoid starting the lift in what's called anterior pelvic tilt.
This creates false stability in the lower back and disengages the core, creating an immense energy leak by forcing the lower back to compensate and take on the brunt of the load. It's also a common cause of lower back rounding and tucking under while squatting.
Initiate the Squat through the hips by engaging your core, controlling your spine and pushing your hips back. Doing so will engage your hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree, making it easier to hit a proper depth, reducing injury risk and making for an overall stronger, more efficient lift.
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