If you’re one of those guys who skips leg day, you’ll probably be tempted to skip this article because this is definitely not an article “bros” will be interested in reading. However, if you have been trying to talk yourself into training the lower half of your body than this article is certainly worth a read.
Squats are an important exercise for fairly obvious reasons. Squats are a compound lift, meaning that when performing a squat multiple joints are being used. I like to describe compound lifts as getting the most bang for your buck. You will be able to train with the most load (weight) using compound lifts which in turn recruits the most muscle fibers. Being that multiple joints are being used you will also be using different muscle groups during the exercise thus getting the most bang for your buck.
Our legs possess our largest and strongest muscles in our bodies. By neglecting the lower half of your body in training you are leaving an abundance of genetic potential on the table. Yes, when you are training legs your legs will get bigger and stronger, duh, but what people don’t realize is that by training your legs you are also stimulating a ton of biological processes in your body such as a rise in natural human growth hormone levels that affect not just your lower body but your entire musculoskeletal system.
Besides the importance of squatting to avoid looking disproportionate and reaping the benefits of biological processes, it is also important to maintain natural human movement patterns. The squat should be a movement that everyone can do with ease. Note that I did not say every human should be able to back squat four-hundred pounds but yes, every human being should be able to simply squat. Sounds easy on paper but modern lifestyle has made it nearly impossible to come across two people in a row with good squat form. If everyone could squat and did it often enough we wouldn’t see everyday people with tight hips, hamstrings, or lower back pain. Also, squats are not bad for your knees, period.
I am sure people avoid training legs for a number of reasons and even more people avoid squatting because it is difficult for them and they don’t know how to do it. Also, if you are one of those people that say they train legs but they don’t squat well you may need to reevaluate your decision making immediately. Take note that I did not say one thing about back squatting or front squatting in the above sentences. Those are obviously great exercises but there are other ways to squat with weight and that can help you progress to those exercises if you so choose to.
Below I lay out how to find your squat stance followed by a progression of three exercises that I have my clients do in order to learn the squat and progress with weight. You can use these exercises as both a progression and main squatting exercise in your program.
Finding Your Squat Stance
- Stand with your feet about shoulder width. I say about because everyone is a little bit different and I want you to be comfortable but shoulder width is a good starting point.
- Have your toes pointed slightly outwards. About a 45 degree angle. Nothing crazy.
- When you squat, you should drive your knees outwards. Wherever your toes go your knees must follow. Knee valgus (knees coming inwards) is worst thing ever so drive those knees out. This should also make the squat much easier because it opens up your hips.
- Squat full range. All the way down. See the picture below. Never squat high. It will get easier the more you do it. Don’t let the wright determine how low you go. Go lighter if need be.
Notice the wrinkle in his shorts at the hip joint. In correct depth the hip joint should be lower than the patella (knee cap).
Can’t play video? Click here: Landmine Squat
I start the squat progression with the landmine squat. I have found that this is a good early progression of the squat because it takes away some balance and proprioceptive (body awareness) out of the equation. This allows you to focus on your stance, knee drive outwards, and correct depth. You still have to focus on keeping good posture (shoulders back, upper back tight, “big” chest) but from a technique aspect this squat is relatively simple. Also, be sure that you tuck your elbows so that they fit in between your knees.
Can’t play video? Click here: Goblet Squat
Even though the video shows the goblet squat being done with a dumbbell I prefer using a kettlebell. However, both work just fine. The goblet squat can be done in conjunction with the landmine squat or can fall second in the progression. The goblet squat has all the benefits of the landmine squat while also adding in the balance and proprioception that will be needed in any free weight squat going forward. As you become stronger you will learn that one of the toughest things about the goblet squat is holding the weight. Also, because the weight is in front of you it is important to maintain a rigid and tight back not letting the weight pull you forward. As always, make sure to hit full depth and just like the landmine squat your elbows should fit right in between your knees at the bottom of the squat. You can ensure this happens by correctly driving your knees outwards and simply tucking your elbows inwards.
Can’t play video? Click here: Zercher
The zercher is the only barbell squat I have in this progression. Some may not see this as a necessary step but I have found it very useful. I like using the zercher as a progression because it allows the athletes to use heavier weight while also not overly worrying about technique like racking the bar in the back and front squats. With the weight in front the zercher also easily teaches how to create abdominal pressure and stay tight. Yes, the racking of the bar in the crease of the elbows is uncomfortable. To counter this I usually use a pad of some sort. I have made pads out of pool noodles that work great. I have also had people wear long sleeve shirts or hoodies to add some cushion. However, feel free to have the bar rest on bare skin as this does provide the most secure feeling. The zercher is also safer for people who are inexperienced handling heavier loads. If you get stuck and have to bail out of a weight you simply drop the weight onto the ground.
As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email.