The Dos and Don’ts of Training Squats: Tips To Get The Most Out of Your Squat Workouts
Do squat all the way down.
Used to be that the deep squat was feared by everyone but the most hardcore lifters. People mistakenly thought they damaged the knees and lower back.
Today we know that deep squats should be a primary lift of a proper training program because they improve knee and lower back function by optimally training the entire lower body musculature.
Don’t let lack of flexibility keep you from squatting. Modify your squats.
Little kids are some of the best squatters. Imagine a 3-year-old bending down to look at a bug. A kid won’t hinge at the hip keeping their knees straight. They go all the way down into a full squat with their torso upright and rear down near their socks.
How do they do it?
They’re flexible. Lack of flexibility in the hips and ankles is a primary cause of dangerous squat form. A simple solution is to elevate the heels, increasing the range-of-motion at the ankle. Do this by squatting with your heels on weight plates or on a wedge board with the slant facing away from you in order to plantarflex the ankle.
Do train full-range split squats for healthier knees.
Chances are, if you’re new to squatting, you should start with single-leg split squats in order to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee. This builds flexibility and you’ll learn to move properly after years of sitting and poor movement patterns.
Start with split squats with the front foot elevated 8 to 16 inches on a box. Keep the knees in line over the toes and go all the way down to the point where the knee comes forward over the toes.
Don’t restrict knee motion.
A common misconception with squat training is that the knees should not come forward over the toes.
In fact, many motions of daily life are best performed when the knee travels forward over the toes: It happens every time you walk up and down the stairs or go into a deep knee bend to pick something up off the ground.
Deep squats with the knees coming forward can improve knee function and passive tissue strength for healthy knees. On the other hand, keeping the knees from passing the toes is actually the reason many people find that they develop knee pain and lower back aches.
Restricting the knee motion changes your center of mass and leads to greater forward lean of the upper body. This puts greater stress on the spinal discs and ligaments.
Do overhead squats to warm-up for heavy squats.
The overhead squat moves your body though a large range of motion, serving to dynamically stretch key muscles used in the squat. Simply do a few sets of five reps, starting with just the empty bar. Then move on to your workout.
Don’t warm-up by jogging on the treadmill or any other unspecific exercise.
The purpose of warming up is to increase blood flow to muscles, raise core temperature, and activate the central nervous system. You want to directly target the muscle groups you will be training with similar movements that you intend to work.
Jogging on the treadmill or any other “cardio” warm-up is useless. Overhead squats with an empty bar followed by a pyramid scheme in which you progressively increase your weights is a superior method of warming up to squat.
Do eccentric-enhanced squats.
The eccentric phase of a squat is the down motion and the concentric phase is the up motion. The simplest way to do eccentric-enhanced squats is by controlling the down motion and taking a longer time to go into the squat than to come back up. An example is a 4-second down motion (called tempo) followed by a 1-second up motion.
Eccentric-enhanced squats increase strength and muscle rapidly. Novices should try a 6 to 8-second eccentric tempo and a 1-second concentric tempo. Advanced trainees can use heavy eccentrics in which they train a supramaximal load for the down motion by using eccentric hooks or a power rack.
Don’t do heavy speed squats unless you are an advanced lifter.
Heavy speed squats are useful for advanced trainees because they cause more muscle damage, stimulating greater protein synthesis than slower, controlled squats. Ballistic movements activate gene signaling and recruit distinct muscle fibers (more type II fibers) than slower lifts.
However, the high speed during the decent phase increases the compressive force in the squat. Advanced lifters such as Olympic weightlifters who train the motion frequently will strengthen the cartilage and tissue around the knee, allowing them to tolerate this stress and avoid degeneration of the knee joint.
But for trainees just trying to get ripped and most athletes, training full squats in a controlled manner with a controlled eccentric tempo is recommended.
Do train squats for a better physique and leaner waist.
Squats require a lot of effort, working the entire musculature of the core and lower body. They are the perfect lift to include in a fat loss training program for slimmer hips and a better physique.
Don’t believe that squats will widen your hips or make you bulky—ladies, this means you.
Contrary to popular belief, squats will not widen the hips. In fact, the squat works the gluteus maximus, which grows back, not out when it develops because neither the insertion nor origin of this muscle attaches at the hips.
Wide hips? No. A firm rounded booty? Yes.
Do train partial squats once you’re STRONG.
Once you’ve achieved basic strength and mobility in the lower body, training partial-range lifts is a useful tool because it allows you to handle heavier loads than you could over the full range. They also target sticking points, which is the part of the lift where you’re weakest.
For example, the sticking point in the deep squat is typically right around midpoint, although, the entire bottom segment (bottom to parallel in the squat) can give lifters trouble.
A recent study found that a combination of full and partial squat training led trainees to increase their full squat max by 3 percent more than just doing full squats.
Don’t train partials without also doing full-range reps.
When performing partial-range-of-motion training, always incorporate full-range-of-motion sets within the workout. Many people make the mistake of only doing partials.
This leads to diminished returns and less muscle development. It also causes altered length-tension relationships within the lower body musculature that can increase injury in the knees, hips, and lower back.
Do squats before deadlifts when training both in the same workout.
It’s best to do squats and deadlifts in separate workouts.
But, if this is not possible and you’re training both squats and deads, do squats first when the lower back is fresh because squats require greater activity of the lower lumbar region of the spine than deadlifts. This will also warm the lower back up for pulling heavy loads off the floor.
We know this from a study that found that when a heavy squat (80 percent of maximal load) was compared to a heavy deadlift, the squat required about 34 percent greater activity of the lower lumbar region than the deadlifts. Deadlifts produced greater activation of the upper region of the lower back.
Don’t do squats late in your workout and never after lifts that hit the lower back hard.
This should be common sense, but a glance at sample workouts in popular training magazines shows that it’s not. Protecting the spine is a top priority. Never put your lower back at risk.
Do one-and-a-quarter squats and use bottom position pauses.
One-and-a-quarter contractions are a highly efficient strategy for increasing strength and targeting weak links in the lower body. Do them by going all the way down, come up 20 to 30 degrees, pause for a second, descend back to the bottom and come up quickly.
Another plateau buster is to use bottom position pauses because this eliminates the stretch reflex that provides momentum. Try pausing for 3 to 4 seconds in the bottom position and then come up explosively.
Don’t always train the same tempo.
Many trainees don’t even know what tempo is (see above under the tip to do eccentric-enhanced squats for a definition if you missed it). They grab weights and haphazardly raise and lower them without paying any attention to the speed of contraction. They rarely get stronger, bigger, or leaner.
These people are wasting their time.
You should always count tempo, and you should vary your tempos just as you do your set and rep schemes. For example, longer tempos are great for building strength and the priority for novice lifters. Fast tempos are useful for building power and should be used by more advanced trainees.