This is the second of a two-part series detailing the essentials of the squat. See Part one in our November issue.
The perfect performance of the squat is more important than the amount weight you can squat. If squats cannot be accomplished correctly, you will not be able to move correctly. Therefore, the chance of injury during any physical movement will increase every day you do not learn how to squat properly.
I strongly advise you to learn the squat, and learn it well. Focus on form for maximum performance and improvement, not just for workouts, but for everyday activities! Below are some helpful pointers to achieve correct squats.
A Neutral Spine
Keeping your spine in a neutral position the entire time is correct form. Many coaches will tell their lifters to look up, as that is the direction in which you want to move, but this is actually the last thing you want to do. This puts emphasis on maximum knee and ankle flexion (or bending) resulting in the knees staying behind the toes, and your butt behind your heels. If you have concerns as to whether you have the structural balance for this lift, consider hiring a qualified coach in your area to evaluate you.
If improper form is a consistent issue during your training, you should lower the training load, learn to squat right and focus on letting your knees track straight over the shoes, all the way forward! No buckling in and no pushing out. These moves are just as bad as pushing the knees outward.
The less hip flexion, the better. Every inch forward that your knee bends, you increase the sheer force at the area of L4-L5 lumbar vertebrae by an average of 50 pounds. This figure increases exponentially as your ability to move more weight improves. Although there are useful derivations of the squat that train the spinal erectors more intensely, the goal of the basic squat is to maintain an ideal, neutral posture.
Raising the Bar
Keep the elbows directly under the bar. Many trainees new to squatting allow their elbows to drift backward. Doing so makes it more difficult to keep the chest and head in proper alignment, which leads to undue stress on the spinal erectors. Push upwards slightly on the bar with the hands. Although pressing upward does not actually lift the barbell, it allows you to engage the spinal erectors to a greater degree, which helps maintain an upright posture and a neutral spine.
Stabilize the Back
Avoid performing a back extension during the upward concentric phase of the squat. Extending the back is an indication of technical failure and means structural imbalance or lack of flexibility is hindering your ability to correctly perform a back squat. Remember, the prime movers of this exercise are the quadriceps, not the spinal erectors, keeping the back stabilized.