I officially began religiously squatting two years ago. Before that time, I mainly performed leg presses and hack squats, along with the occasional sissy squat. The reason I never squatted was because I felt it was unnecessary to what my goals were, at the time. However, I found myself incorporating squats into my routine after a bout of lower back pain and a recommendation from a doctor to incorporate squats to strengthen my lower back. I had no idea how to properly execute a squat, so I studied everything I could on YouTube. Also, I received some coaching from a friend of mine who had been powerlifting for quite some time. He met me in the gym, one Saturday, and schooled me on how to squat. Since that very day, the squat has been a staple in my programs. I find it so effective that I have recently started squatting 5 days a week; all in a row. The least I will squat is three days a week. Though I still feel like my squat can use some work, I am confident enough to throw 400 pounds on my back and go for it. I feel I have finally dialed my technique in and confident enough to write an article on how I fixed my squat. Here is a list of a few issues that I had with my squat and what I did to resolve them:
1. I used too much weight.
Like most do, in the beginning, I added too much weight when I performed squats. This approach cost me a lot of pain and frustration. After throwing my pride out the window, I dropped all of the weight from the bar and started over. I’m not kidding. I performed squats with only the bar for about a month before actually adding ANY weight. I worked that “groove” and focused on programming my CNS to accept the movement as completely natural.
2. My stance was too wide.
For some strange reason, I felt that a wider stance would allow me to squat more weight. All it really did was confuse anybody, with proper squat knowledge, watching me. After a highly knowledgeable friend brought it to my attention, I slowly moved my stance in closer. This allowed my back to stay straighter and made it easier for me to push my knees out when I “screwed” my feet into the ground. Now, I squat with my feet right at shoulder width with no issues. I look like I have some sense, now, too.
3. My hands were placed too wide.
One of the bad side effects of watching YouTube videos is the fact that, if you watch the wrong channels, you’ll pick up bad habits. One of mine was keeping my hands gripped on the bar too close to the plates. This didn’t allow me to get as tight as possible. I began to slowly work my hands in, towards my head, while keeping my elbows as far under the bar as I could (never directly under the bar). The closer I got, the tighter my upper body got. This created a solid foundation and made my lifts more controllable. When properly tight, it’s insanely uncomfortable.
4. I wasn’t going far enough below parallel.
Though depth wasn’t as bad as most people’s in the gym, I still wasn’t going deep enough in my squats. I realized this once I started filming my squat sessions. Once I saw that I was barely breaking parallel, I dropped the weight and started reprogramming my CNS to allow me to squat deeper. Now, I squat way below parallel as my body is now programmed to recognize when I am at this point. Do yourself a favor and film yourself!
5. I wore the wrong shoes.
I never understood how important shoes were, when squatting, until I traded my Nikes in for a pair of Chuck Taylors. The flatter soles of the Chucks make it a lot easier to hold my position when squatting. My Nikes were forcing me to lean forward, due to the arch, so I never felt centered when performing the movement. Now, I pretty much wear Chuck Taylors all the time!
6. Not enough frequency.
When I first began squatting, I was under the impression that I needed insane amounts of rest to recover. Though I quickly moved to a 3 day a week squat program, I still steered clear from squatting heavy for the majority of those days. After hitting a very long plateau, I began squatting everyday using a modified Bulgarian Method approach. The only resemblance to the real Bulgarian Method is that I squat every day. Since I began squatting every day, I never get sore and my strength is constant. I work up to a heavy single or a moderate 3 sets of 3 reps, every day. Some days I feel strong and some I feel like poop. Regardless, I squat every day (5 days a week and all in a row). Believe it or not, performing squats everyday has increased my bench press, along other pressing movements.
7. I didn’t breathe from the “belly up”.
Breathing is something I work on EVERY TIME I SQUAT. In the beginning, my breathing was hit or miss. Once again, it took a video of me squatting to realize this. After learning how to breathe from the belly up, my squat has advanced greatly! Even if I’m squatting only the bar, I suck in as much air as I can and hold it until the movement is complete. No matter the weight, I breathe like it’s a PR. Chris Duffin has a great video on breathing techniques.
8. I was impatient.
I started competing in powerlifting events shortly after I started adding some decent weight to my squat. The gains are called “newbie gains” and everyone experiences them. These gains put me on the platform with some extremely powerful humans and gave me a chance to see what I could accomplish in the squats. It also drove me to a point in which I felt I needed to catch up to them. After seeing their numbers, compared to mine, I became very discouraged. I never took into consideration that these guys were more experienced and simply way stronger than me. After pushing myself too hard and earning myself a few lower back injuries, I realized that the whole reason I started squatting was to better me; not to compete against others. Competing was just something I was doing, and still do, for fun. Once I realized that I was my only competition, I forgot about trying to catch up with the other guys. Now, I don’t ever compare myself to others when it concerns how much weight is involved. This makes even the smallest amount of progress so much sweeter.
Though a champion powerlifter may look at my squat and offer suggestions, which I am always open to, I feel my current squat technique is exactly where I need it to be. I never run into any pain and my progress is pretty steady. Hopefully, you aren’t making any of the above mistakes. If you are, I hope you try my “fixes” and reap the benefits that I have. Good luck and happy squatting!
DISCLAIMER: Please check with your doctor before taking on an exercise, or related exercises, like the one presented. Also, find a good personal trainer to train your technique if you want to be 100% on it.