“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi
There are many different ways the squat is taught and standards that are put forth. Let’s address the two you might be most familiar with:
In Powerlifting, many use the “low bar” back squat (the bar typically resting across the middle of the shoulder blades) down to a “parallel” depth (defined as the crease of the hip falling below the top of the knee). This lower position of the barbell requires the athlete to lean forward to a greater degree compared to the high bar variation in order to remain in balance (when viewed from the side, this equates to the barbell over the middle of the foot). This creates a greater hinging motion about the hips, increasing leverage and theoretically the ability to lift more weight. This technique is desirable if the goal is to lift the most weight in competition, or perhaps a friendly gym battle amongst Powerlifters.
In CrossFit, a more upright position is desired through all squat variations performed since it is more supportive for where the bar or object is typically sitting (variations include wall balls, thrusters, front squats, overhead squats, goblet squats, etc.). This is more efficient for the high rep tasks this fitness methodology demands. But, in regards to depth, CrossFit aims to uphold the same standard as in Powerlifting; specifically worded within this setting (as many of you have heard an endless number of times): “hip crease below knee.”
A few other general cues and concepts for the squat that typically go along with these two disciplines include:
- “heels” – When learning to squat, many don’t know, or have the awareness to keep their heels on the ground. So, “keep the heels down” is an efficient and effective cue to get that point across, and then “heels” as a continual reminder. Taking it further, some coaches will use this cue with the goal of getting more pressure on the heel than the ball of the foot or the toes, even asking the athlete to wiggle their toes.
- “pushing the butt back” – Used to ensure the athlete initiates the squat with the hips breaking first and engages the hamstrings, glutes, and low back of the posterior chain.
- “keeping shins as vertical as possible” – Used to encourage and maintain posterior engagement/development, it is also often said that letting the knees travel forward of the toes is “bad” for the knees.
Each of these squat variations and teaching cues have legitimate purpose and intended benefit within each discipline. But like any technique that is taught for just about anything, the perception can be that they are THE one and only way, and unfortunately many coaches teach them as such.
I’m here to tell you, the way you have been teaching or executing the squat is different than the way I’ll be pushing you to squat for the best benefit of your Olympic lifts. For example, let’s revisit the above:
- I’ll express the importance of staying grounded with the entire foot throughout a squat so that it’s more transferable to the reception of a snatch and a clean, as well as within the pull (from floor to hip) of these Olympic lifts (aside from finishing extension with a heel lift, and any shift of the feet to adjust for the catch).
- I’ll be showing and describing a straighter drop of the hips (seen in the majority of elite Olympic lifters when they squat to align more closely with the drop and pull under the bar).
- I will encourage end-range of motion in the ankle (and knee) to aid in achieving the lowest depth possible.
I’ve observed a disconnect throughout the years: among the growing number of athletes who are performing the Olympic lifts on a regular basis, as well as the coaches that are teaching them to do so (for a number of different purposes including sport-specific competition, school/college/professional athletics, and recreation), I believe what is being taught/executed in the squat and what these coaches/athletes desire to happen within the reception portion of the Olympic lifts, does not match up. I believe this holds true for any and every squat they are teaching/performing.
Powerlifting and CrossFit are not the only contributors to an anti-full-depth squat (check out this article by Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University about the history of the fear of deep squatting); the fitness world is full of trainers that preach and teach the “DO NOTS” of the squat (e.g., “don’t squat lower than a parallel depth,” and “don’t let your knees push forward past your toes,” etc.) which is pretty much the opposite of everything we want for the Olympic squat, whether you are performing a back squat, a front squat, or an overhead squat.
Here is another one of those statements I want you to think about very carefully: Anything and everything you do in your squat will either negatively or positively affect your Olympic lifts. Specifically, the reception portion yes, but it can also leave holes in your technique/pull prior to the reception, and/or lend to faults/hesitations. (This is not to say that an Olympic lifter cannot or should not use any of these other variations; specifically, in some cases they might help to offset certain weaknesses or imbalances, but we’ll discuss this more later).
Here is what needs to be considered: What is the purpose of the squat variation that you are being taught and/or that you are currently using, and what are your goals? After this careful examination, does the specific squat variation and technique actually have purpose AND does it match up with the goal(s) that you have? Of equal importance, are you executing it with quality and with purpose toward those goals?
The full range of motion squat that I’ll be teaching has a very strong and meaningful purpose: improving your Olympic lifts. If you have goals with the Olympic lifts – if you are reading this, surely you do (even if you consider yourself a CrossFitter, you are in fact an Olympic lifter and likely have a strong desire to improve) – you need to read the next few sentences very carefully. Squatting like an Olympic lifter (as low and upright as possible, with a solid and more specific foot position, and ideally of immaculate overall quality) has as its main purpose preparing and benefitting your snatch and clean reception and the ascent thereafter to stand and complete the lift. This is another one of those statements that I’d rather not be taken lightly so let me state it again: Individuals doing the Olympic lifts on a regular basis should be squatting to a true and literal full range of motion for best preparation of the receiving portion of the snatch and clean, and greatest benefit for the lift as a whole.
So…how exactly do you squat like an Olympic lifter? Before we dig into the details of how to set up and move to execute a more transferable squat, I would like you to think about these questions: Where are you putting your feet? What depth are you squatting to? Can you maintain quality (i.e., solid, “flat” back, knees in line or slightly outside or your toes, with no collapsed arch on the feet, etc.)? Are you squatting in the way you would like to receive a snatch and clean?
Until next time,