The Back Squat and Its Relation to Sport
Last year I wrote an article that stressed the importance of the back squat and how it related to sport. For instance, virtually all sports, with the exception of water sports, cycling, and polo, are “ground-based,” meaning the athlete’s legs are in contact with the ground throughout the duration of the sports activity. The prime movers of sprinting and jumping are the knee and hip extensor muscles. They are also the prime movers involved in squatting. Developing strength in prime movers through a biomechanically similar pattern has been shown to improve running speed and jumping ability over time in a number of populations, not the least of which are trained athletes.
Back Squatting through a Full Range of Motion
Another point I stressed was the importance of back squatting through a full range of motion or parallel position (tops of the thighs just break 90° angle). First, to develop maximum hip or knee joint strength, the joint must be worked through a full range of movement. Total leg strength is critical to athletic performance, as well as to the protection of the knee joint.
Second, an optimal neuromuscular training effect is not realized in the partial squat. When you execute a full squat, the knee joints are close to maximum flexion. Recovering from this requires greater quadricep, hamstring, and glute muscle fiber recruitment than does a partial squat. In this respect, the deeper the squat, the greater the neuromuscular involvement, thus creating greater overall training benefits. Thirdly, overuse of the partial squat leads to over-development of the quadriceps at the expense of the hamstrings and glutes and decreased knee joint stability. The result is an imbalance in the hamstring–to-quadricep strength ratio, which can contribute to both knee and hamstring injury.
Thirdly, overuse of the partial squat leads to over-development of the quadriceps at the expense of the hamstrings and glutes and decreased knee joint stability. The result is an imbalance in the hamstring–to-quadricep strength ratio, which can contribute to both knee and hamstring injury.
Corrective Squat Techniques
Since I made a point in the past article to have athletes squat parallel, I thought it might be fitting to share with you some corrective squat techniques I use when working with incoming freshman or junior college transfers who haven’t been taught proper form and technique when executing the back squat. Moreover, these corrective squat techniques can and should be performed in place of the traditional back squat until the athlete has mastered the movement. Aside from technique, flexibility may be a limiting factor in allowing an athlete to squat correctly. If so, a comprehensive stretching and dynamic flexibility program should be administered in conjunction with the corrective teaching exercises.
The Classic “Quad Squatter”
This is the athlete who “dips” or squats with the knees. Typically, this style of squatting doesn’t allow the athlete to reach parallel. Eventually it will cause quadriceps-to-hamstring imbalances. This places a tremendous amount of sheering and dislocating force on the knee joint.
Corrective Teaching Technique
Have the athlete start facing backwards in the squat rack. Place a plyometric box or bench in front of the squat rack. Have the athlete un-rack the bar and step up to the box. They should leave about 2-3 inches between the athlete’s toes and box. Next, have the athlete squat down, not allowing the knees to push or touch the box. The athlete needs to understand to reach back with the hips first and have the knees follow, stressing the quad, hamstrings and glutes more effectively while preventing undue stress on the knees that may lead to patellar tendonitis.
Forward Flexion Squatter
Athletes who “drops” his/her chest or flexes forward at the waist too much when going down into the squat position. Typically this style of squatting causes the athlete to roll-up or fall forward on the toes, placing far more stress on the lower back then the quads, hamstrings and glutes. This style of squatting can eventually lead to lower back injury.
Corrective Teaching Technique
Have the athlete assume a normal starting position. Place a PVC pipe or broomstick in front and center of the athlete’s body, at 5-6 inches from their face. Next, have the athlete squat down, not allowing the face to come in contact with the pipe. This will prevent the athlete from dropping the chest too much when squatting. Some forward flexion is needed in order to maintain the athlete’s center of gravity, but too much can place undue stress on the athlete’s back.
NOTE: In conjunction with poor form and lack of flexibility, the athlete may additionally be suffering from a weak lower back and abdominals. If this is the case, special attention and/or extra supplemental work will be needed to get these specific muscle groups up to par.
Technique, as with any exercise, is the most important factor when squatting. If an athlete is training with bad technique then it doesn’t matter what supplemental exercises they perform. Nor will it matter how well you periodize their rep and set scheme. The inevitable result of the athlete’s maximum squat will only go so far and injury will be the end result.
Using the Box Squat to Reinforce Technique
Another squatting exercise I use to reinforce good squat technique is the box squat. The hamstrings aren’t quite developed for incoming freshmen or junior college transfer. Sitting back into the traditional back squat proves very difficult for them. Training on the box allows the athlete to sit back onto the box to a point where the shins are perpendicular to the floor. This places all the weight and stress on the hips, glutes, and hamstrings and less on the quads. This is done in an effort to bring the hamstring-to-quad ratio up to par while at the same time reinforcing good squatting technique.
It’s imperative to athlete success in the weight room that squat movements be performed correctly. I hope these corrective squat techniques are a helpful teaching tool for correcting improper form or training new athletes.