The squat is arguably the most important movement pattern known to man.
I typically try to avoid making bold statements like that, but squatting is vital to a physical life.
Squatting will build a bulletproof body, from head to toe. A successful squat demands lower body strength, but it also requires a mobile, stable upper body. Building strength in the squat is a total body affair.
Working to build lower body performance should be at the top of everybody’s priorities. If you are going to the gym and avoiding working on your squat, shame on you. You’re leaving a lot on the table. Even if you’re not an aspiring athlete outside of the workplace, life happens on your feet.
In an effort to keep my posts slightly more direct and to the point, lets waste no time and get into a few squat progressions that I know that you will find to be extremely valuable…
1) Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is favorite exercise for introducing beginners to bilateral (two legs) squatting. I have found that the goblet squat can work out the kinks in a person’s squat form. If you have trouble performing a bodyweight squat to a decent depth while keeping upright posture, the goblet squat can help to correct this. It’s easiest to select the dumbbell or kettlebell that you’ll be using, set it on a bench and then position yourself underneath the weight in order to hold the weight correctly. Don’t try to “pop” it up to chest height from the rack or waist level… I have seen bad things happen to good feet in these scenarios. Keep the weight close to your chest with elbows tucked in tight during the ascent and descent of the movement.
2) Front Squat
The front squat is similar to the goblet squat position-wise, except that the front squat places a greater amount of flexibility and mobility from the shoulders, elbows and wrists, while reducing loading to the lower back. The starting posture of the lift is referred to as the “rack” position. It is often uncomfortable for a newbie to get into a proper starting position if you’ve never been there before. As you descend down into the squat, thoracic mobility (mid-spine) becomes increasingly important. If you lack of mobility at the mid-spine, you’ll often begin to round your back or have a “locked up sensation”. Rounding of the back will be more noticeable during an exercise like the overhead squat. Compensating to complete the movement is undesirable. The front squat differs from the goblet squat mainly in the holding position of the weight and the ability to apply a greater loading stimulus which will accelerate your strength gains and body transformation.
3) Split Squat
The split squat is the first squat-like progression that challenges our base of support. It moves the squat pattern away from the two-foot stance and into a modified lunge/squat type stance. Now we are moving toward single leg training. This is a good thing… very good. The split squat is commonly performed with arms at your side and weight in hand, although the position of the weight can be moved to other positions (goblet style, rack positions, overhead). Notice that the front and back leg/feet remain fixed. The back leg serves as a support rudder, not as a load bearing leaning pole. Keep as much of the effort coming from the front leg as possible. The split squat will place a higher demand on the adductor group (think groin area), which can leave some soreness in the days following. Nothing that you can’t handle if you’re expecting it.
Progressing the squat, or any movement for that matter, is important for challenging the lower body. Increasing the demands of the exercise will accelerate performance, along with body composition. Bottom line, you’ll feel stronger and keep yourself moving toward a leaner body in the process.
The squat is also a fantastic tool for identifying mobility and stability issues. As you move through range of motion, you may find that you are restricted in some way. It’s not a the end of the world, so don’t beat yourself up over it if you are. Pay attention to where on your body you feel restricted and at what point in the movement. Our bodies give us clues about their inefficiencies all day long, you just have to take time to notice.
These restrictions will become a problem if you do not address them with a foam roller, flexibility, stability or mobility drills.
Add in these interventions and then test and re-test. Look for improvement. It’s that simple.
Cheers to smart squat progressions to improve performance in life!