To work towards perfecting your squat as a whole, let’s first zero in on one specific spot within: the bottom position – that is, the lowest possible position that you can squat down to. It is the most demanding position when it comes to mobility and flexibility, and it requires a tremendous amount of coordination (the balance between the use of different parts of the body). When we improve our bottom position, everything else in the squat becomes easier to execute. These benefits do not stop at your squat though; this will increase your potential EVERYWHERE. When I say “everywhere,” I am not only talking about within the snatch and clean and jerk, but rather EVERY OTHER athletic movement. A bold statement I know, but think about the validity of the carry over from these athletically critical attributes – as well as general HEALTH and LONGEVITY!
With the power this position possesses, I want you to start thinking of it as a SCULPTURE. Does this sculpture portray a sense of effortless beauty (is it aesthetically pleasing to the eye), or general roughness (does it look awkward or uncomfortable)? How do the feet connect to the floor, and what direction do the knees take from the front? What angles do you see in the shins, femurs, and torso from the side? Now, compare the bottom position sculptures of your front squat, back squat, overhead squat, snatch reception, and clean reception; do they match? (Pause a video of you performing each of these at the lowest point in the squat/reception to check.) For example, maybe in the front squat, your feet are narrow and your depth shallow, but in the clean reception your feet are wide and you are as deep as you can physically go – these are two completely different sculptures. So, how do we manipulate these sculptures and ultimately match them up within each different movement as much as possible? (Goal: in pictures of your lowest position in the front squat and clean, we cannot tell the difference!)
If your bottom position is not a “perfect” sculpture yet, don’t worry. We’re going to show you how to become a master sculptor by teaching you how to chip away and mold your squat over time so that you can maximize your technique for efficient carry over to your snatch and clean. This molding process will take place through developing as much MOBILITY, COMFORT, and STRENGTH as possible within that extreme position.
- Mobility (or flexibility) will allow you to sink deeper, maintain better or sufficient overall quality, and optimize your angles of support (i.e., improved ankle mobility leads to a deeper bottom position and a more upright torso).
- Comfort is your ability to easily get into – and remain in – a quality bottom position. (Remember, we are simply sitting down on our lowest position with good posture). This means maintaining sufficient core stability while also being able to breathe freely. As Kelly Starrett states, “If you can’t breathe in a position, you don’t own that position.” A good test of your capability in this regard is, can you carry on a conversation loaded inside of this position with any of the three bar placements?
- Strength is your ability to support heavy loads in this position with the defined comfort and OWNERSHIP. Ultimately we want to be able to stand up out of this depth with as much weight as possible, but understand that this bottom support position – this sculpture – needs to be excessively strong.
For example, I can squat down with 120-130% of what I am capable of standing up with, sit in the bottom, and “relax” while supporting and stabilizing the load with skeletal structure and core tension. This is a demonstration I regularly perform at clinics – I’ll often continue the lecture in this position to help get the point across. In fact, I often train pause squats with 105% of my goal clean and jerk weight for any upcoming competition. If I do so with the ideal foot position, depth, and overall quality, I can be assured that when I step onto the platform, my body will automatically go there in the reception of my heaviest lifts.
It is important to understand that these three sculpture goals are purposely prioritized! You must have a sufficient amount of mobility to achieve comfort, and in many cases (perhaps most) we get athletes that come into the gym and just start throwing weight on the bar without much consideration for set up, depth standards, or overall quality. (Maybe that is the coach’s fault for not teaching them appropriately, or maybe it is their own fault for not maintaining it.) If you cannot relax in a deep squat, then you can bet your technique will suffer as you go up in weight. Maybe your body stays higher and higher, and/or your feet jump out wider and wider; either way I often hear, “I just cannot get my body to drop under the weight.” In my experience, an unprepared bottom position is the reason 95% of the time. “But shouldn’t I do more drop snatches or pull under drills to help me learn to get under the bar?” NO. You need to work on your mobility and comfort! Unfortunately, the more reps you do at partial depth and/or with compensation, the more you strengthen and MOLD to that insufficient range of motion, and ingrain that pattern. Again, this carries over to all other movements in some way. Think about a lifelong Powerlifter who has only ever squatted to parallel and with angles that are usually suboptimal for support in the Olympic lifts (shins closer to vertical and torso angled further forward). They have conditioned their ankles, knees, and hips to that position and if they tried to sink lower, their range is limited in each joint – this has actually become their bottom position sculpture and would be undesirable for the Olympic lifts.
All that said, you must assess and emphasize mobility/flexibility FIRST!
With our attention now directed to the bottom position specifically, and a point of view to observe and address it with, it is time to see 1) how we can identify what parts of the body are limiting the kind of sculpture we ultimately want to create, and 2) how we can best mold it on an individual basis moving forward. Next up, we’ll start handing out some of the tools that will make up your “sculpting starter kit” (hammer, chisel, rasp, if you will) with a list of mobility assessments and considerations to help you understand your deficiencies in this area.
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW