How To Teach The Squat

Posted on by Ben Bruno

This weekend Todd Bumgardner sent me an advanced copy of his new Supreme Strength program which he put together with John Gaglione. I spent some time reading it over and really liked what I read, so I asked Todd if he would write a guest blog.

He really went above and beyond with this one. It’s pretty lengthy so I’ll just stop blabbing and turn it over to Todd. Enjoy!

How to Teach the Squat

Unlikely as it may seem, the squat pattern is a fundamental movement that precedes walking in human movement development. It’s hugely important for developing sound movement and athleticism.

Squat progression, however, is often disregarded. Below you’ll find five great performance cues and a solid teaching progression. Use them; build a solid squat foundation, and your clients will stay healthy as they get stronger.

Two Basic Descent Cues

You can’t teach someone to squat without good cues. Well, you can try, but you’ll just end up confusing the bejesus out of yourself and your client. Use cues, but keep them concise. We take the less-is-more approach.

Teaching the descent into a squat is simple, and it only requires two cues—hip hinge and push your knees out.

Hip hinging to start the movement accomplishes two ends—torso alignment and task distribution.

Beginners try to squat by only breaking at the knees—a poor pattern that results in too much lumbar flexion and misdistribution of the task. As a trainee sinks into this faulty squat, their lumbar spine rounds, the knees shoot forward and the quads handle the majority of the load.

Cueing the hip hinge at the beginning of the movement corrects the pattern. Initiating a squat with hip movement aligns the torso and reinforces spine neutrality. It also better distributes the task—involving the hip extensors along with the knee extensors.

Pushing the knees out recruits the posterior chain and tracks the knees well. Otherwise the knees cave and recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings is lost.

You’ll use the hip hinge and push your knees out cues for all of the squat variations in the teaching progression.

The Progression

Here’s a great progression we use when teaching and loading the squat. The progression begins with body weight patterning, progresses to anteriorly loaded variations and finishes with a full-range barbell squat.

Face to Wall Squats

Hip hinging is crucial for squat patterning. If taken too far, however, it turns the movement into a good morning. To avoid patterning a squat/good morning hybrid, simply start by having your client squat in front of a wall. Check the video for a reference.

Begin by having your client stand one foot from the wall. If the pattern looks good there, work them up to six inches from the wall. If all is still well—we are ready to progress.

Goblet Box Squats

This movement is the closest thing to a magic trick that we’ve ever seen. It cleans up a poor squat pattern, and progresses into more complex variations, seemingly without effort. Here’s the video.

The goblet hold keeps the torso upright and the box teaches the trainee to sit back into the squat. Goblet holds also force anterior core engagement—there’s no choice but to brace the core.

Goblet Squats

Once the trainee masters the goblet box squat—progress them into the traditional goblet squat.

You’ll witness carry-over from the goblet box squat, as your client will continue to sit back into the squat while keeping an upright torso.

If they have sufficient mobility, let them sink deep in to the squat. But the instant the lumbar spine begins to flex—cut the movement and keep them short of that range of motion. As hip mobility and core stability improve, take them deeper into the hole.

Front Squats

Barbell front squats require more stability than their goblet squat predecessors. They can also be loaded to a higher intensity—making them better for building strength.

Thoracic spine mobility, shoulder mobility and wrist flexibility (if you use the clean grip) are all limiting factors. As you include front squats into a program, be sure to address each limitation.

Box Squat

Once your client can front squat well, and if you so desire, they can move on to box squats.

As with the goblet box squat, barbell box squats teach the trainee to sit back. This is an important skill to re-pattern before free squatting, as many trainees feel discombobulated when they have a bar on their back for the first time.

Squat

That’s right; we didn’t call it a ‘back squat’, a ‘barbell back squat’ or any equally silly term. Once you have a bar on your back and nothing is in your way, you are simply squatting. There are, however, two variations—the powerlifting squat and the Olympic style squat.

Powerlifting Squat

Olympic Style Squat

The videos denote the big differences between the powerlifting squat and the Olympic style squat. Each is great, but they train slightly different qualities and have different requirements. Here’s a breakdown of each.

Powerlifting Squat

• Increased torso lean
• Wide stance
• Feet externally rotated
• Lower bar carriage

Olympic Style Squat

• Upright torso
• Narrow stance
• Less foot external rotation
• High bar carriage

Finishing Cues

Hip hinging and pushing the knees out gets your client into the bottom position, but it won’t get them out of the hole. Standing up with the weight takes a few more simple cues—three to be exact. Spread the floor. Drive your shoulders. Finish with your glutes.

Spread the Floor

Spreading the floor is the ascending version of pushing the knees out. This cue engages the posterior chain and ensures good knee tracking.

Drive Your Shoulders

Excessive torso lean during ascent is a problem with all heavily loaded squatting variations—front, Olympic and powerlifting. As the weight gets heavy, clients have a tendency to ‘pop their butt’ and turn a squat into a good morning. Good mornings are great, but only when done intentionally.

Driving the shoulders into the bar keeps the torso upright and puts force on into the bar—rather than dissipating it with too much lean.

Finish with Your Glutes

Clients have a tendency to substitute hip extension with lumbar extension while finishing a squat. Rather than squeezing the glutes and ‘getting tall’, the low-back is arched. Acutely, and over time, this unnecessary lumbar stress causes serious issues.

As the client ascends toward the starting position, simply cue them to finish with their glutes. Start this early in the squatting progression so it becomes automatic by the time the client is front squatting.

Conclusion

Clean squats build strength and healthy movement. Coach using the above cues and progression and your clients will master the squat in no time. If you need a good squatting program, be sure to check out our Supreme Strength System. It will have your clients squatting strong and safe for years to come.

  • http://twitter.com/BenCoker1 Ben Coker

    Great write up Todd. Had a new client only the other day and used the same two basic cues, hips back and knees out. Very effective. I’ve found ‘bottom up’ bodyweight squats from a box or bench can be very effective too. People can feel or propriocept what the ‘hole’ position feels like with corrcet alignment. From here standing is usually relatively easy. Once these are accomplished the brain pretty quickly figures out how to get back down by ‘searching’ for the same ‘feel’ they had at the dead start.

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Sorry, Ben my reply above was supposed to be here, but I hit the wrong button!

  • Todd Bumgardner

    Thanks, Ben. It’s amazing how much two little cues can overhaul a movement. Great idea with the bottoms up squat as well. I know Coach Gaglione uses those a lot with his younger athletes.

  • TonyGentilcore

    No diggidy, no doubt – awesome write up Todd! I’ll throw my hat into the ring and state that my top two cues as well are “hips back, knees out.” And don’t suck – but I only use that one on occasion….;o)

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Any comment that uses a Black Street reference is cool with me! Thanks man!

  • Darren_alomes

    Nice job.

    Two cues I use are sit on a chair/toilet and pretend you have a weight between your legs.

    Will do some work on the hip hinge and push your knees out.

    Thanks

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Those cues sound good too, Darren. I think you’ll like what you see with the hip hinge and knees out cues.

  • John

    Awesome Tips Todd!

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Thanks Big John!

  • Joe Giandonato

    Awesome stuff as usual Todd.

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Thanks, buddy!

  • Maria Peterson

    Great write-up. Gives me confidence to re-train myself in squats. So I’m 4’11″, about how high should that box be? Thanks!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/todd.bumgardner.3 Todd Bumgardner

      Maria,

      I train some female clients around your height we use between a 13″ and 14″ box depending on how good they are at squatting. Until you get used to it I would opt for a higher box and progress yourself down. Maybe start with 15″ or 16″.

      • Maria Peterson

        thanks!

  • maxboy

    Could you explain “spread the floor”? I am imagining that you are speaking about a directional action but i am not sure which. Do you mean push down, out or do you mean push at all? Thanks.

    • mark

      imagine that there’s a crack in the floor running between your feet and you can open it by spreading your feet apart