3 Simple Reasons You’re Bad at Squatting

So you’ve absolutely been killing your deadlifts and bench press recently, but your squats aren’t budging?

No problem, we all have that one movement that continues to be the bane of our existence. That being said I will not allow you to accept that you have a “bad squat” for the rest of your life. At least, not without a fight. Here are 3 simple reasons you’re bad at squatting and how to fix them.

(Need Some Squat Programming?)

1. BALANCE

If you want a squat to feel as easy as possible you should be placing a high value on your overall balance and stability. Problems which may seem minor at 135lbs, such as your balance creeping forwards, the bar shifting on your back, or dominantly squatting to your left/right become exacerbated when you throw on 500lbs. If you want to move some serious weight in the future you need to pay attention to these tiny details.

Ideally, your balance point will be the center of your foot. Not your toes, and (often mistakenly done) not your heel either. Center of your foot. In addition to this, you want the bar to travel in a straight line overtop of the center of your foot for every…single…rep. If you can maintain this for all of your reps you’ll be surprised by how much easier your squats will feel. This is referred to as being “in the groove” in powerlifting.

Likewise, how you are setting the bar on your back is equally important. Regardless of if you prefer high or low bar squats, you need to make sure that bar is locked into place on your back with no wiggle room to move on once you start squatting. As soon as you are situated under the bar think about pulling your elbows down so they are in line with your torso and not pointed back at the wall behind you. Additionally, the closer in you can grip the bar (generally speaking) the more stable your rack position will become. Both of these cues are mobility dependent so only take them as far as you can without incurring pain (I.e. if you have shoulder problems you can keep your grip wide).

If you find balance is a major problem with your squats try slowing them down. Tempo squats are helpful for many technique issues, but can especially be great for smoothing out any rough edges with your balance.

2. You Don’t Know Which Squat You Are Doing

I’m not about to start yet another internet war over which squat is better, low bar or high bar. What I will say is make sure you know which squat you are doing. 

One of the most common things I will correct in our gym is clients who have the barbell in a high bar setup, but are using a low bar torso angle or clients that have the barbell in a low bar setup, but are using a high bar torso angle. This will throw off all that balance stuff we just talked about above. 

Truth be told…it doesn’t particularly matter where you place this bar on your back. If you want to “midbar squat” go for it. However, once you pick that bar position you need to make sure it’s traveling over the center of your foot from there on.

For the high bar squat position this means your torso is going to be much more upright to maintain the proper bar path. For low bar, the opposite. Don’t be afraid of the slight forward lean of the low bar squat position, if the bar is overtop of the center of your foot…you’re in the right position. Great way to check you are doing this correctly is A. Have a coach check it out or B. Film yourself from the side to make sure your bar placement and torso angle actually match up.

3. Relaxing “In the Hole” 

You’ll hear powerlifters shout it time and time again “STAY TIGHT!!” “TIGHT TIGHT TIGHT” or just one long “TIIIIIIIIIGHT!!!!

Obviously this universal advice holds true for the squat. However, many fall for the temptation of releasing all the tightness they generate at the start of the squat as soon as they drop into “the hole“.

The hole” refers to the bottom of your squat, and unfortunately many lifters will either give up on staying tight here or even try and “bounce” out of their squat. Catching a bounce out of the bottom of your squat might seem like a great strategy at first, but it’s only going to run you so far. This simply will not work the more weight you add to the bar. Additionally, all this is teaching you to do is how to use momentum to move the weight, not your actual muscle.

Instead, double down on your effort to remain tight as you reach the hole. You’re not flopping down into a chair, you’re trying to move some heavy a** weight. Not only will staying tight keep you from freaking out in the whole, this is also how you learn to control the exact depth you squat to. From there if you kept all your tightness, redirecting your motion and driving out of the hole should be easy.

(Looking for more squat tips? Check out this video!) 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.