In my day squatting was easier. You put the barbell on your back and squatted until you hit parallel.
These days things are far more complicated. You have 259 different experts providing you with 7,154 different form tips to remember. While this is all good and well, and done with the best of intentions, it leads to what I like to call form lock.
What is form lock? Overthinking an exercise so much that you are no longer able to perform it in a natural manner.
Is it a good idea to turn a barbell squat into a clunky unnatural lift? No. That is not solving your form issues. It is making them worse.
Instead of now having a good squat, you have a different kind of sub-par squat; a new set of problems. You set aside your old “bad” squat and replace it with a clunky new squat.
The Clunky Beginner Squat
Here is what you typically see after a beginner has fixed their squat form.
- Wide Stance – The lifter will walk out and set up with a semi-wide to wide stance squat, because they have become convinced – via Youtube videos or articles – that the wide stance is superior. They have learned that it allows them to squat a greater load.
- Low Bar – The lifter will set up with a perfect low bar position, elbows at the precise angle as pictured in Starting Strength.
- Butt Back – The lifter will proceed to mechanically move their hips backwards before they squat.
- Loose Back – The set begins, and the lifter’s elbows start to fly up and up because they are not aware of the importance of a tight upper back.
- Forward Lean – The combination of having a loose upper back and an exaggerated forward lean, due to driving the hips back before the actually squatting begins, causes the lifter to good morning reps. This gets worse and worse as the reps mount.
- Depth – Depth is often spotty, starting ok but hanging high due the good morning action that is currently taking place.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wide stance squatting or low bar squatting. The two main problems that are turning this squat set into a disaster are:
- Forcing the butt back unnaturally before initiating the squat.
- Not keep a tight upper back, compounding the forward lean created by the unnatural action of driving the butt back before squatting.
Let’s look at how we can fix these two broken pieces of the squat, and get you on the road to more consistent reps.
Tip #1 – Let Your Butt Go Back Naturally
There is nothing wrong with the hips/butt going back while squatting. That is a natural part of the barbell squat movement.
The problem occurs when a lifter forces their butt back before they start to squat. This creates additional forward lean, and now from this position a beginner must attempt to hit depth. They are setting themselves up for failure because they are already in a partial good morning position.
Practice squatting with your butt moving back as you start to descend, not before. Let your hips move back naturally. Don’t artificially force your booty back. This will help you to remain more upright throughout each rep.
Tip #2 – Keep Your Upper Back As Tight As Possible
I want you to go watch some Youtube squat videos. Find lifters that are squatting 135 to 250 pounds for 8-10 rep sets.
You will notice that for most of these lifters, the elbows start to move up, up and up over the course of a set. Why is this? Lack of upper back tightness.
To keep a tight back, you need to start by gripping the bar with a death grip. A loose grip will turn into a loose arms and a loose upper back.
I also recommend driving your elbows down and/or your lats together. This, in concert with a quality grip, should help you keep a tight upper back over the course of a set.
If you start to feel that your upper back is getting loose, simply resume a death grip on the bar before the next rep and re-tighten your lats.