3 Ways to Get More Out of Your Squat

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by guest author strength coach Vince Paquette

In particular, the barbell back squat is arguably the most efficient means of training the entire body. Though commonly described as a "leg" exercise, it is so much more:

  • The feet and ankles bear the entire load of body and barbell.

  • The ankle, knee and hip all flex and extend as necessary to complete the movement.

  • The back and abdominal musculature also isometrically contract to control and stabilize the entire trunk in order for the weight to be moved safely and efficiently.

  • The shoulder girdle and arms that must hold the bar in place.

Indeed, even the face distorts when exerting significant loads!

So how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of this amazing exercise? By doing it correctly!

Here are 3 ways you may want to adjust your squat to be sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise (by doing it right).

#1 - Learn Valsalva.

The fitness industry has a lot of conflicting things to say about how you ought to breathe when you work out.

Valsalva is a breathing technique that is based on the way we are biologically programmed to respond to physical exertion: By intaking breath before the movement (such as pressing up on bench press, or lowering for a squat), holding our breath while we brace for through the movement, and releasing the breath after we’ve returned to our starting position.

All breathing in Valsalva is done through the mouth, which helps to keep you conscious of your breathing throughout out your workout. Because it works with your instincts, it supports you during your workout instead of distracting you from your form!

#2 - Push through your heels, and keep your knees out.

It’s very tempting when bearing weight on your upper body to forget to pay attention to your lower body. When performing a squat, your lower body mechanics are key not only for gaining strength, but also avoiding injury.

Keep from rolling your weight to the balls of your feet by pushing up through your heels. If your feet are shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider), your legs will be able to help you sustain the weight and you’ll feel the burn the next day!

Additionally, don’t let your knees duck inward, crumpling you under the weight on your back. You want to keep them the same width apart at the bottom of the squat as they were at the top. To achieve this, you may even have to “push out” at the knees as you go down.

#3 - Don’t mistake “keeping your back straight” for not leaning forward.

You never want to risk back or neck injury by curving or hunching your back mid-squat. This is why many trainers will tell you to “keep your back straight.”

However, “keeping your back straight” doesn’t mean you can’t lean forward. Indeed, you need to lean forward in a squat in order to go deep and get the most out of it! The bar across your back should drop down in a straight line, usually right over your feet, as you squat, while the rest of your body bends at the knees and hips to keep it there.