Develop The Squat or Play Kickball

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I am currently on the plane headed back to Dallas from the Atlanta camp at Crossfit Bound.  Brandon and Jessica were great hosts who went out of their way to cater to and care for us this weekend.  Crossfit Bound is a brand new gym in the Kennesaw area and if you are around the area then there’s no good reason for you to be training anywhere else but with Brandon and Jessica.

At the end of the day today, I led the group through a squat session giving particular attention to the mechanics of a good squat.  In Crossfit and in Olympic Weightlifting the squat is the most basic and foundational movement we teach.  Think of all the movements and exercises that use or involve the squat for Crossfit: wall ball, thruster, clean, snatch, the overhead squat, etc.  To state that a strong, proper squat is useful for the sport of exercising is the understatement of the century.  It’s paramount to success in Crossfit and literally hundreds of other sports.

A proper squat that directly correlates to weightlifting and Crossfit involves 6 distinctives.

1) A vertical torso throughout the entirety of the squat to allow for direct application of the squat to other movements.

2) Engaged glute muscles in order to prevent a horizontal torso and to allow for the greatest application of power in the standup.

3) A bottom position that is as low as possible where the hips are sitting centered between your heels.

4) Ankle dorsiflexion and mobile hips.  The ability to keep your hips underneath you and keep your torso vertical is largely dependent on your knees being able to track in front of your toes and your hips mobility allowing for extreme depth.

5) A strong engaged upper back with the scapulas pulled together to allow for no bend or give in the midline during the squat.

6) Speed to the bottom of the squat.  Speed into the bottom allows for greater speed out of the bottom.  While maintaining a strong midline with a strong upper back and engaged glutes, allow your body to move quickly into the bottom of the squat.  This speed to the bottom engages a stretch reflex in your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors to allow for a “springboard” affect out of the bottom of the squat.  If this is done properly and with a significant amount of weight the flex of the barbell will also allow for momentum out of the bottom.  Speed into the bottom is MOST IMPORTANT at heavy load as the heavier the bar the more energy you’re capable of producing which allows for the greatest amount of stretch out of the bottom.  If you don’t believe me or need a great example the search for Caleb Williams clean on YouTube.

The difference between a great squat and one with mobility issues

The difference between a great squat and one with mobility issues

When I was leading the camp through the squat session today I made a statement that a couple people believed to be slightly offensive but I meant every word.  What I said was that if you don’t know how to squat properly, your mobility sucks and is preventing you from squatting properly, or you’re unaware that you are squatting wrong then fix it and start squatting right. If you don’t you will suck at lifting and at Crossfit forever regardless of your 60 unbroken pullups.  I also said that if you know how to squat properly and you just don’t care to do it right because you can get more weight doing it wrong then quit the sport and go play kickball because you will always suck at Crossfit and likely somebody who squats well will beat you at kickball!  If Tiger Woods said he knew how to swing the driver right but he wanted to do it another way because it looked cooler he would have never made it on the PGA Tour so why do any of you think that squatting poorly because you can get a bigger number will EVER get you to the Games or to the podium?

Squat so that every squat you do translates to every other squat you do.  If your front squat mimics your back squat and your back squat mimics your overhead squat and your overhead squat mimics your thruster then literally every time you squat you are also getting better at a myriad of other movements.  The front squat and back squat are accessory movements to make you better at the movements we actually test in competition!  So make sure your squats have carryover.  A low bar backsquat or squatting with my hips behind my heels has ZERO carryover to the sport of weightlifting and only benefits the deadlift for Crossfit.  A highbar, vertical squat is much more useful, efficient, and athletic.  Squat that way or go pick a sport where functionality doesn’t matter.

(steps off soap box)

I Love Georgia… and I miss it already!

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43 responses to “Develop The Squat or Play Kickball

  1. Thank you! This has been debated at my gym forever and a day. The squat IS an accessory lift albeit a heavy one. Just like hang work and pulls they must be done perfectly in order to benefit the be all end all…the lifts. Treat squats that loosen the midline as what they are. Failed reps. 15 Burpees for every missed lift, see how long it takes to keep your chest up.

  2. Spencer,
    Big fan of your blog. Love how you are so technical and empirical and I like that you are into glorifying God and not the body. Ok onto my question… I agree with this entire blog “Develop Squat or play Kickball”. Quick background 41 years old, 2 years CF, former college lacrosse player, NO oly experience till two years ago. I work very hard on mobility (I even went to Mobility seminar with Starr guy). But my squat looks more like the guy on the right not the guy on the left in the photo below (torso bent). My coaches are great and we work on it. Everyone is saying similar things that you are “straighten your torso out on your squat”, But no one is giving me clear direction on how. I see your 6 points below but how do I work on these? Maybe you could do a future blog on specific ways to do this.

    Thanks for writing the blog and keep fighting the great fight.

    Will

    • Hey man thanks for following. I did a blog a while back on the aids for the vertical torso and necessity for glute activation if you want to go back and look at those those might help. Also be sure if you squat like the guy on the right to work on your ankle flexibility and hip flexibility. You can find help on mobilitywod.com. Search for ankle extension and hip extension. Hope that helps!

  3. Spencer,
    Appreciate all the help this weekend. Look forward to the progress in the future thanks to all I learned from you and Rudy. Good luck with your Weightlifting career in the future. I’ll try to stay in touch with my future success in the sport.

    – Baby Klokov

  4. But doesn’t the high bar back squat fail to incorporate the hamstrings as much as the low bar back squat? (According to guys like Mark Rippetoe?)

    • Correct. The low bar is hamstring dominant for sure. However, the clean, snatch, oh squat etc is not a hamstring DOMINANT movement. It does use the hamstrings but it does not isolate them like the low bar squat does.

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  8. This massively oversimplifies the essence of the debate. I agree that the high bar squat has better carry over to all things crossfit. But seriously, who cares? Crossfiters? Yes, certainly. But if I am developing high level sprinters, jumpers, basketball players, football players, you name it, I will choose a more neutral bar placement every time. For general athleticism (notice I am not using the word “fitness” here, whatever that is) the choice is clear. The back squat should be used first and foremost to develop the posterior chain. There is no better exercise for this purpose (the deadlift woud be a distant second). The front squat and OHS (erect torso) would then be used to round out and balance the strength programming. If you truly believe that the high bar back squat with erect torso is as you say “more athletic” then I have a few 100 meter sprinters you need to spend a little time with. They might open your eyes a little. Crossfiters should work first towards general athleticism (strength, speed, power, movement) before attempting to specialize. This is a step that just simply cannot be skipped if you really want to compete with the big boys in any sport. I remember back with fondness when crossfit was being touted as the preeminent general strength and conditioning tool for improving in ones sport – gpp we called it (last p for PREPARATION!). This was back before the “sport of fitness” took hold and people began to lose their minds. People lose sight of the fact that less than 1/2 of 1% of all athletes that attempt crossfit will compete at the games level. For everybody else, focus first on improving general athleticism, it will go a long way towards everything else.

    • For every 100 of your sprinters I will give you 100 Olympic weightlifters who you need to spend a little time with… or even try to understand. Development of a vertical torso and upright squat is PARAMOUNT to the ability to compete at a high level in Olympic Weightlifting. NOBODY in the sport squats with the hips behind them and their back angle at 45 degrees. 100% of all world record cleans and snatches were completed (or at least attempted to be completed) with a vertical torso. Therefore the LBBS has no place in the Olympic Lifting world. Secondly, I am writing to people who desire to be COMPETITIVE in Crossfit NOT your 100m sprinter or your everday soccer mom. (Like they would read this anyways) Thus it makes sense for me to write to the importance of a vertical torso and the necessity for the HBBS. The Olympic lifts make up roughly 30% of Crossfit competitive movements across the board. Why would I squat any other way if I wanted to compete in Crossfit. Lastly, in case you haven’t noticed people trying to be athletic and be in shape have widespread inability to use and activate their glutes. Open your eyes and you’ll see this. So why in the world would I put them in a squat position where they are able to turn off their glutes for the majority of the squat? Would it not be better for their overall GPP to work on the weakest part of their squat… their glute activation? General athleticism is developed through keeping their strengths strong and making their weaknesses less weak. Look at the picture in the blog. Which squat looks more athletic? If the overall, epidemic of weakness is the glutes and I wanted to develop athleticism then I would be forced to HBBS… to develop a weakness and therefore be more athletic. In case you haven’t noticed… I’m not writing to sprinters. They would be an exception to this rule… because they are not trying to gain better GPP or be good at Crossfit. They’re trying to be good at sprinting! They are specializing and thus would need specialized strength programming. Although the high bar back squat is a better developer for explosive power… pretty sure sprinters need that. I could be wrong though.

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