I think you know by now I could go on and on about appropriate squat depth, but at some point we’ve got to come back up. Quite simply, in the ascent, we are looking to mimic the descent, ultimately returning to the aligned setup we started at to complete a rep. (I hope it doesn’t take you as long to complete your rep as it has for us to make our way through this series.) Like the descent, the most important aspects of the ascent are maintaining the tripod foot, knee-toe alignment, and angles/solidity in the body (no rounding in the back, no major loss of upright torso, etc.).
Since the ascent begins at that completely compressed, buried position, understand that this compression is your change of direction point – just as it should be in your clean and snatch. (We discussed previously how strong complete compression is and how effective it can be to use as a change of direction point if executed with rigidity and quality.) In the clean and snatch, the act of changing direction is known as “catching the bounce” and assists in the ascent of those lifts, allowing for more weight to be lifted more efficiently. That said, the bounce should be mimicked and PRACTICED with our squats.
What really is the “bounce”? To start, let’s discuss what is isn’t.
The “bounce” is not complete relaxation of the body. Often young athletes will misinterpret the idea of bouncing out of a squat and end up dive-bombing into the bottom. They will relax their hips and core allowing tension to “leak” from the body as they crash into an unsupported bottom position. This loss in stability increases injury risk and decreases your performance.
Instead, if you control the descent and maintain stability through a powerful turnaround, your body stores energy like a spring and releases it into a powerful drive upward. This powerful turnaround “bounce” is called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC).
During the descent of the squat, our quads and glutes lengthen under tension (called an eccentric contraction). When you descend quickly into the bottom of a squat in a controlled manner (not dive-bombing) your body stores a ton of energy primarily in the muscle tendons. If you drive out of the bottom of this squat as soon as you reach it, your body will release this stored energy into an explosive ascent. Pause for even a full second and the elastic energy will be lost. In order to tap into our body’s natural spring-like capabilities, we must have a quick tempo eccentric descent followed directly by a fast concentric drive upwards. But remember, the faster you move the more room there is for error, so always ensure your speed does not diminish the technique quality of your squat.
While “catching the bounce” is certainly ideal, occasionally an athlete will have to stop in the bottom of a clean or snatch (to stabilize the weight or find balance) and be forced to use reserve strength since the advantage of the bounce has been diminished. This means you should also PRACTICE coming up from a dead stop to create insurance for those instances the ideal timing of the pull or reception is a little off. (More on pause squats and the many other benefits they deliver soon.)
Whether you bounce out of the bottom or come up from a dead stop, understand that maintenance of tripod foot, knee-toe alignment, and solidity in the ascent relies on strength and proper coordination of muscles in use (stability), whereas the ability to maintain all of these in the descent depends on mobility. So, if your descent and bottom position are on point but you are losing any of those quality standards as you stand up, we know we need to find the specific weakness and address it. If you are already compensated before the ascent, then we know we need to assess and address your mobility. (In my experience, mobility is the more common limiting factor for most.)
Though the ascent completes the squat (as long as you actually stand all the way up) and our series on “Squatting Like An Olympic Lifter,” we are certainly not finished with the topic. If you want to improve your squats and create more potential for the Olympic lifts, where do you start? Next, we’ll cover how to focus your efforts by outlining and prioritizing goals, and present a clear process for improvement – all based on your individual needs.
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW