How To Teach The Squat
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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
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.
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.