Above all else, strength development depends on your ability to identify and build upon your weaknesses. While it’s obviously more fun to focus on the things you’re already good at, if you don’t spend time bringing up your weak points you’ll never achieve your maximum strength potential. In the words of Louie Simmons, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
In this series I’m going to present you with an arsenal of information to help identify your weaknesses and develop an action plan to build them into strengths. In addition to addressing common technique and programming related errors, I’ll outline proven methods designed to increase your strength in the Bench Press, Chin-up, Squat, and Deadlift.
This week we’ll examine back squats: The squat is the king of all lifts. Performed correctly it can drastically improve numerous athletic qualities and subsequently sport performance. To reap its countless benefits, however, it’s necessary to maintain proper form and technique throughout the entire lift.
Below I’ve identified some of the most commonly made errors when performing back squats. Afterward I expand upon these errors and outline several methods to improve Squat performance.
3 Common Squat Errors
1. Not Sitting Back
Many trainees make the mistake of initiating back squats by bending the knees and sitting straight down. Doing so, however, causes the knees to drift too far forward and may result in subsequent knee pain. To fix this, imagine there is a brick wall in front of your toes that prevents your knees from moving too far forward. Now, begin the squat by shooting your hips backwards towards the wall behind you. Once you’ve hinged at the hips, continue the descent and lower yourself to proper depth.
2. Pressing Through the Toes
Driving through the toes is a surefire way to end up with a serious injury. To avoid this, make a conscious effort to distribute your bodyweight throughout the outermost portion of your heels. By driving through your heels you’ll be able to sit back more effectively, target the posterior chain, and reduce the risk of injury.
3. Finishing with the Lower Back
During the final phase (i.e. lockout) of the squat, many lifters over-arch the lower back and neglect to squeeze the glutes. Unfortunately, this places a great deal of stress on the lumbar spine and may result in injury as well as decreased performance. To fix this, when locking out the Squat, keep your spine neutral and finish by squeezing your butt…hard!
3 Methods to Improve Your Back Squats
1. Take a Wider Stance
If you want to squat heavy then take a wider stance. By using a wider stance you’ll create a larger base of support, reduce the lifts total range of motion, and recruit more hips, hamstrings, and glutes. How wide is entirely up to you but, at the very least, start out with your feet several inches wider than shoulder-width apart.
2. Spread the Floor Apart
When utilizing a wider stance it’s far easier to squat big weights if you try to spread the floor apart rather than drive straight into the ground. To illustrate, imagine there is a crack in the ground running lengthwise between your legs. Instead of trying to press the weight straight up, attempt to spread the floor apart and break the crack wide open. Doing so will recruit more muscle, reduce the lifts total range of motion, and keep you in a better position throughout the entire movement. Remember, as I said in the previous section, distribute your weight throughout the outermost portion of your heels while spreading the floor apart.
3. Look up!
Not down. Not at the person next to you. And definitely not in the mirror. The bar goes where your eyes go and if your eyes aren’t looking up then the bar isn’t going up either. Pick one spot high up on the wall in front of you and watch it throughout the entire lift. Doing so will help keep your chest tall and maintain better positioning all the way through.