The high-bar back squat is one of the most important strength-training exercises. Weightlifters regularly use the back squat to build the muscles of the back, legs and hips. Unfortunately, most weightlifters don’t get as much strength from their back squats as they could.
A few weeks ago I covered my first rule for troubleshooting the back squat: Don’t good morning the back squat. This time, I will cover rule #2: Check your balance.
A lack of mobility, flexibility or positional strength may cause certain ‘correct’ positions of the back squat to feel uncomfortable. To avoid these uncomfortable positions, lifters tend to shift their bodies into positions that feel more comfortable. This affects the squat in 2 ways:
- It alters the amount of stress on each muscle group engaged in the squat, which causes some muscles to get overused, and others to get underused.
- It shifts the center of balance of the squat.
In the image below, the first skeleton is in a good position to squat. Its center of balance is over the midfoot.
The second and third skeletons demonstrate what happens when a lifter’s hips move into more comfortable positions: their centers of balance move away from the midfoot, either onto the heel or the toes.
Repeatedly hitting these more comfortable positions develops a technique that is ineffective in building the strength needed to increase the squat, or the Olympic lifts.
The good news is that this is usually easy to fix.
Any movement away from correct squatting positions is accompanied by a change in the center of balance. So, by forcing the center of balance to remain over the midfoot throughout the squat, we can eliminate the lifter’s ability to shift their bodies horizontally throughout the squat (or at least make it very difficult).
Most squatters don’t pay attention to their balance while squatting, nor can they recall whether their balance remained on the midfoot or not. Unless your squats feel great and continue to grow, I suggest trying the following approach next time you’re warming up for back squats. I’d love to see the results. Please tag me in a squat video on Facebook or Instagram @yashakahn if you feel an improvement in your back squats trying this out.
For this you will need a bar with some weights, weightlifting shoes (ideally), and two 0.5kg plates:
A few weeks ago I asked people to share videos of their lifting in order to get my feedback. Dan Juchniewicz sent me the following video to get critique on his back squat:
This is a good example of an imbalanced squat. By the third rep, his hips can be seen moving backwards as the balance moves onto the toes.
I asked Dan to squat using the following approach:
- Place a pair of 0.5kg plates on the platform as far apart from each other as you place your feet when squatting
- Stand on the 0.5kg plates, so that the hole is directly in the middle of your foot.
- Squat 4 sets of 4 reps using the following rules:
a) Don’t let your toes touch the platform
b) Don’t let your heels touch the platform
Here’s Dan’s execution:
To avoid falling off the 0.5kg plates, Dan kept the balance on the midfoot throughout the squat. With the right balance, he was forced to stay in the right positions.
Here’s what Dan said after adjusting his squat position:
“I noticed a big difference and felt the legs working a lot harder. I always have a tendency to use that stretch reflex at the bottom and bounce out. I would lose a lot of tension in the hamstrings. This allowed me to keep that tension the entire time and made it easier to keep my chest up.”
To make the change permanent, I advised Dan to use the 0.5kg plates for all of his warmup sets for the next few weeks. This turns on the right muscles for squatting, and lets Dan experience the right movement and balance throughout the warm-up to then follow during working sets.
By balancing the squat correctly, inflexible lifters are forced into positions that increase flexibility. Immobile lifters are forced into positions that improve mobility. And lifters with positional weaknesses are forced into weak positions, which in turn makes them stronger.
An inefficient squatter will most likely squat less than expected the first time they’re placed in a proper position. This is normal – their right muscles haven’t been working and are underdeveloped. They will start to get developed as soon as they are put to proper work.
A note: The weight doesn’t have to be exactly in the middle of the foot for everyone, but it really should be close to the midfoot. The 0.5kg plates are wide enough to accommodate for the small differences in balance that lifters may have.
If the balance is forced to remain over the midfoot, many squatting errors are corrected. Balanced squats build balanced strength.
Thanks to Dan, Alex and Louise for the demos!