The Importance of Squats in Powerlifting
Squatting is considered to be among the most productive exercises that exist and some even say that squats are the king of all exercises.
This dynamic strength exercise targets several muscles in the upper and lower parts of the body. The muscle groups have to work together at the same time to produce results.
As such, squats are essential in powerlifting. Since powerlifting is designed to help lifters attain as much raw strength as possible, this cannot be done without a proper foundation, and squats are one of the most essential movements.
Whether you want to compete in powerlifting or just get fit, you should first master squatting correctly to avoid the risk of injuries. Let’s take a detailed look into this exercise and how you can stay safe while reaping the most benefits.
How to squat properly?
For a squatting exercise, you need a squat rack, a weightlifting barbell, and weights. Once the exercise is mastered, you can add weights to increase the difficulty and better target the muscles. It is worth noting that beginners need to master the technique first before adding weights to avoid the risk of injuries.
To begin the exercise, face the bar, step under it, and place your hands around it on either side of your body. If there is an instructor present at the gym, inquire about a safety squat bar to make sure there are little to no chances of getting injured right at the start.
Now that you have positioned yourself correctly between the squat rack stands and your hands are placed around the bar (thumbless grip first), align the wrists with the forearms.
The grip’s width depends on flexibility. But generally, a narrower grip will help create a ‘meaty’ shelf for the athlete to place the bar on the upper back muscles. The emphasis is on the grip where your hands are closer to your shoulders.
For individuals who lack the flexibility for the narrower grip, it would be best to start a bit wider and slowly bring it closer once the flexibility is no longer an issue.
Now that we have covered all the essential points, let’s commence with the exercise itself:
- Step back from the rack with the weight on your shoulders.
- The feet should be placed slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Point your toes slightly outward.
- Contract the abdominal muscles, squeeze the glutes, inhale deeply into the stomach.
- Move your glutes back and go into a squat slowly.
- Keep dropping until you see that the tops of your legs are parallel or lower.
- Go back up to the starting position and repeat until you finish the set.
Once the set is finished, walk slowly forward to return the weight to the squat rack. Lower everything down slowly and carefully onto the supports.
How to sit back in a squat like a pro?
The best method to begin exercising the sitting back technique is to hold onto something in front of you. A gym-goer can really sit back in the squat while keeping the chest up at the same time with the help of a Smith machine bar.
Place the feet outside of shoulder-width with the toes slightly pointing outward. Grip the hands on the object in front, put all of the weight into the heels, and hinge at the hips by pushing the bottom back.
This will lower a body into a squat position. Do your best to form a 90-degree angle at the knees.
What is the best way to keep your back straight when doing back squats?
Start with the straight back and straighten the knees once you lift the squat bar from the rack.
It is crucial to keep the head up and look straight ahead as you start moving back from the rack with the weights on your shoulders. Remember to pull the shoulders back, as the bar could injure you if you fail to do so.
Bend the knees and lower the body into a squat carefully. The whole movement has to be controlled tightly.
To keep the back straight all the way through, push with the glutes and hips back in a sitting down motion and push the chest out! These motions will help you keep a straight back throughout the whole process.
How deep should powerlifting squats be?
There is a general rule that prescribes how the upper part of the leg has to go lower than the top of the knee.
To help yourself perfect this exercise segment, consult an instructor and have that person watch you as you exercise. They will tell you whether you are doing it properly or not.
What are the three most common mistakes when squatting?
- The most common mistake people make when squatting is that they allow their knees to cave inward. This stems from a lack of mobility or strength in most cases, but sometimes it happens because the glutes are not activated properly.
- The second most common mistake is the one where gym-goers bend forward too much. When squatting, many individuals bend forward as they lower their body to the ground. This, too, can be caused by immobility (usually in the ankles). However, it can also come as a result of weakness and immobility in the hips.
- Finally, the third most common mistake is the butt wink. This term refers to the flirty movement that happens when the tailbone tucks below the body at the bottom of a squat. The professional term for this is known as the posterior pelvic tilt. It happens at the bottom of a squat, and it can place stress on the lumbar spine and the ligaments of the SI joint.
How to troubleshoot knee pain in squats?
Most problems with the squat come from knee pain which results either from mobility or stability problems in the lower body.
To avoid knee pain (from squatting), keep these four tips in mind:
- Ankle mobility
- Hip internal rotation
- Knee stability
- Glute coordination
First of all, test your ankle mobility. Take your shoes and socks off and put your foot 5 inches away from a wall or rack. Drive the knee as far forward as you can, directly over your toes. Can you touch the knee to the wall? If not, you have a deficit in ankle mobility, which could be the problem behind the knee pain.
Then, test the hip mobility. Many people have limitations in hip internal rotation, and the side-to-side imbalance usually causes knee pain. To test the inner hip mobility, take a seat, lift one leg up, and kick your foot out to the side. If one foot can’t extend as far as the other, it may be a signal that there is a lack of internal hip rotation.
To test knee stability, try a touchdown squat. For instance, you can grab a box and stand on it with one foot, planting your toes into the box. Drive the knee that is planted on the box forward, hinge the hip, and bring the other foot to the floor, tapping the floor and coming back up. To fix this issue, do 2 to 3 sets of 20 reps. It is necessary to work on the body’s endurance and coordination.
Finally, glute coordination may be another reason behind the knee pain. To test this, do a single leg bridge test. Raise up one leg into a bridge, holding for 5 to 10 seconds. Take note of the muscles you feel working to hold you up as you raise. If you feel an imbalance side-to-side, that could indicate that the origin of the problem lies in the glutes.
What would be the best squat stance and toe position for a person with a weak knee?
Every fitness enthusiast needs to understand that listening to one’s body is of the utmost importance. If the pain becomes too strong, it is necessary to consult a professional and address the problem.
However, some athletes had injuries that affected their joints, which they have to live with.
To make your life easier and the whole lifting experience less painful, take a look at the best squat stances for people with weak knees:
- Box squat. Exercising with a box can help limit the range of motion, and that is an effective way to reduce knee strain.
- Goblet squat. The front-loaded weight keeps the athlete more vertical throughout the movement (less pressure on the front of the knee);
- Single-side work. Bilateral work produces negative effects on the knees. It is advised to turn to single-side work like step-ups or rear-foot elevated split squats to take away some stress from the knees.
Common types of squat
There are a number of different squat variations implemented by gym-goers. Let’s take a look at the most common types of squats and explain them in more detail.
Bulgarian split squat
Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg squat version that has become very popular recently, and for a good reason. Unilateral training can bring benefits for all types of lifters, whether for bodybuilding, powerlifting, or competitive sports.
Targeting one leg at a time helps improve imbalances between sides, trains the overall sense of balance, and allows the athlete to overload the muscles without needing as much weight.
It is also worth noting that an average athlete can go quite heavy with Bulgarian split squats. However, it is best to start carefully and slowly to develop the needed balance and routine when it comes to the movement. Once the exercise becomes comfortable for you, feel free to add more weight.
The front squat is often featured in CrossFit workout regimes, and its popularity has grown along with the popularity of CrossFit. On top of that, it is an essential component of Olympic lifts, and no one can deny that it is a great movement that effectively targets muscles.
The front squat targets the quadriceps and upper back more efficiently than the traditional back squat, since you put the bar to the front part of your shoulders. However, it still activates the glutes and hamstrings too.
Many athletes recommend a clean grip for the front squat due to the increased control and stability. The gist is to grab a barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width and then swing your elbows under the bar until they are pointing forward and the barbell rests across the shoulders in front.
Keep in mind, however, that the front squat training frequency depends on the training goals and the recovery time of each person. To improve strength and power, perform front squats 2 to 3 times a week. To build muscles, perform front squats 1 to 2 times a week.
Box squats are popular, as they are very good for leg muscles, upper back, and core muscles.
Gym-goers that want to improve explosive strength adore these squats since they really work wonders when started from a dead stop position. On top of that, box squats allow athletes to change the box height to any desired depth to either further increase the difficulty or go easier.
Ladies are pretty fond of box squats because they improve mobility in the hips (glutes included), strengthen knees, and also tone back.
The exercise is pretty straightforward. You approach a barbell that is set in a rack at the mid-chest level and a (wooden) box should be placed at the desired height behind you (it should be high enough for a parallel squat).
It is similar to the regular squat, the difference being that you go as far as the box lets you and then go up from there.
What are the benefits of an overhead dumbbell squat?
The overhead squat is praised as one of the best exercises for strength and conditioning workouts. It is an amazing joint mobility screening tool for the whole body which reinforces the perfect muscular balance for heavy training.
On top of that, it boosts the resilience of the whole kinetic chain, from feet to shoulders. Finally, an overhead dumbbell squat is a good coordination solution for athletes that need a more comprehensive foundation.
Do not think that developing strength and power are the only benefits that come with squats.
On the contrary, this exercise and its variations can boost calorie burn, help prevent injuries, strengthen the core, and improve the overall balance and posture.
Last but not least, if you have a health condition or an injury, consult a doctor or a certified fitness trainer before adding squats (especially with tons of weight) to your workout regime.