How to Squat More Instantly
I consider the squat to be the odd man out of the big 3 movements in powerlifting.
Reason being I can teach most people how to competently deadlift and bench within a single session regardless of their previous history with athletics. I wouldn’t say the same is always true for the squat. There is such a distinct skill curve increase moving to the squat due to the increased demands for balance, bodily awareness, mobility, and general athletic ability. So, even if a person understands what I want them to do, it can sometimes take a handful of sessions before their body gets with the program too.
If you don’t have a previous history with athletics these increased demands can end up making the squat the most frustrating lift to get a grasp on when first being introduced to the main strength movements. With this in mind here are 3 squat cues to help solve this issue, and more importantly help you squat more almost instantly.
1. Proper Bar Position/Bar Path
The squat is first and foremost a balancing act.
If you understand one thing about squatting understand this…It doesn’t matter where you initially place the bar on your torso (high bar, low bar, front rack, doesn’t matter…) the bar should ALWAYS travel in a straight line over the middle of your foot for the entirety of the movement.
Doesn’t matter what your favorite squat variation is, what technique style you like, what lifter you are trying to emulate…if you film yourself from the side you should still see the bar travel in a nice straight line over the middle of your foot.
When you start to get out of this bar path is when you start to have balance issues, and inherently is also when squats can become significantly harder than they need to be. For the vast majority of people they are going to find their balance is trending forwards when they first start squatting, typically noted by your heels lifting up off the ground. Visualize your center of balance being the middle of your foot and do your best to ingrain this thought rep after rep. You’ll know you’re on the right track if you can keep your feet perfectly flat on the ground throughout your set, no lifting of your toes or heels.
Film your sets from the side for confirmation, try your best to nail in that bar path, and I promise your squats will start to feel a lot more smooth.
2. Brace Like Your Life Depends on It
Alright so you have a decent understanding of how to achieve balance with your squat, next thing you should know is how not to get folded over like a lawn chain.
While you’ll hear this across the board for lifting, your brace is absolutely crucial to the success of your squat.
The quality of your bracing is going to determine your overall stability during the lift and in turn your balance, it will mentally change how heavy weight “feels” on your back, and most important it will save you on a max effort squat.
That crucial moment in a failed squat where you see people get folded forward by the bar…they let go of their brace. If you can be stubborn and hold onto your brace like your life genuinely depends on it, you’ll be surprised by how many RPE 11 squats you can grind out.
All you need to do to achieve a solid brace is imagine you are bracing to get punched in the stomach by the strongest person you know. Keep this mentality all the way from your empty bar warmups up to your top working sets for the day. Even if you think you are bracing you’re hardest…you can probably brace even harder…
3. KNEES OUT!!
If I have a lifter that needs to fix a lot of technique errors at once I’ll usually fix this one first.
It’s never a good idea to try and teach a lifter multiple things at once, but the cool thing with the “knees out” cue is that if a lifter gets it right, it’ll by default end up fixing a lot of errors at the same time.
Additionally that whole “balance” thing I’ve been talking about this whole time…yeah this will fix that too.
My favorite mental visual for the “knees out” cue is imagine you have two strings attached to the outside of each knee and as you are squatting they are actively being pulled out by two imaginary strongmen. That’s the feeling you’re going for.
That being said I’m also a realist when it comes to this cue. There is a certain degree of acceptable “knee travel” or “knee cave” that is GOING TO HAPPEN, even on high level lifters. This is especially apparent when heavier loads/higher intensity efforts are considered.
I see too many individuals freak out about this cue to the point of perfectionism that it actually ruins their squat because they are afraid to load real weight. Likewise, I see too many coaches screwing over their lifters by holding them back from progress due to unrealistic standards on what realistic knee travel and good technique looks like.
The whole point is guiding your knees out to establish stability, balance, and as a result power. If you’re stable then you’ve got good technique plain and simple. This cue isn’t an exercise in looking like a picture perfect robot. Do your best, don’t expect perfection.