Don’t Know Squat
A lot of personal trainers, myself included, might tell you that proper squatting form requires you to keep your knees behind your toes. However, this is not always the case. Telling a client to keep their knees behind their toes during squats is a cue to help them understand the mechanics of moving from the hips. It isn’t necessarily the literal truth for everyone.
The term “dorsi flexion” refers to the movement that occurs at the ankle joint during a squat. People with more ankle mobility can keep their heels flat and put their knees in front of their toes at the same time because of dorsi flexion. As long as you initiate your squat from the hips, keep your heels down and retract your shoulder blades, you’re good to go.
How Low Can You Go?
Another common cue for squatters (no, not the punks living in the abandoned warehouse) is to lower down until you’ve reached 90 degrees of flexion at the knees. This is another generalized cue that is great for most, but not ideal for all.
First off, newcomers and people with limited mobility might not be able to get that deep without sacrificing proper squatting form. Second, many able-bodied fitness nuts will be able to squat much deeper than thighs parallel to the ground. One way to test your range of motion is to place your hands behind your head and squat as low as you can without coming off your heels (this is sometimes called a “prisoner squat”). If you can maintain a straight back (having your hands behind your head should help facilitate that), then feel free to go ass to the grass.
Advanced Squat Techniques
You might be surprised how much harder it can be to hold a weight in front of you when squatting as opposed to resting it on your back. Aside from the added challenge of supporting the weight on your shoulders, the balance changes when you have a weight in front, increasing the emphasis on your quads.
There are two basic ways to hold a barbell for front squats. One method is to bend your wrists back under the bar, the other involves crossing your arms in front as the bar rests on your shoulders. You can also perform a front squat with a kettlebell(s). For more information check out Stronglifts’ article on front squats.
At first glance, a box squat doesn’t look much different from any other squat except that you have a box underneath you. Once you attempt this exercise, you’ll see the challenge of the box squat is to initiate the movement from a seated position without any downward momentum to assist you. Beginning a weighted squat from a seated position is surprisingly difficult. This concept is similar to what I call phase one of pistol squats.
An overhead squat is another variation that adds a great degree of difficulty to an already challenging exercise. Overhead squats require tons of core strength and lots of shoulder mobility. I have difficulty performing this exercise properly with any significant weight due to my tight upper back and shoulders. This is going to be the case for most men when starting out with overhead squats. If that is the case for you then go light and focus on proper form. Check out Dave Draper’s article on overhead squats for more information.