Success in weightlifting is largely due to correct technique and performance. The human body was not designed to be compressed under a weight of several hundred pounds. If we are aligned incorrectly or otherwise do the movement the wrong way, our bodies are going to pay the price.
Recent research has provided new guidelines for getting the most out of the squat with the lowest risk of lower back injury. Here are a half dozen essential fixes that will help you along your way to achieving the ideal squat form.
Squatting Hack #1: Vertical Lower Legs
When squatting, keep your lower legs as close to vertical as you possibly can. Keeping your shin bones vertical drastically reduces your risk of injury (when you perform the movement, it may help to concentrate on keeping your feet flat on the floor).
Squatting Hack # 2: Straight Back, Erect Trunk
Keep your back straight, your trunk erect, and your head up when you squat. This isn’t new advice, but now we can give you more reason to abide by it: Not only does leaning forward increase your risk of injury, it also defeats one major intention of the exercise – stressing the quads. The more you lean forward, the more trunk extensors (hamstrings, gluteus maximus and spinal erectors) play into the exercise at the expense of your quadriceps.
Squatting Hack # 3: Foot Positioning
If you’re a guy who regularly squats or performs the other Oly moves, you know how important your feet are to your success. The entire force that you are exerting is coming through your feet. If you don’t have them encased in a shoe that will provide rigidity, correct angle, alignment and adequate support, you’re going to be in trouble. Not only will your lifts be disappointing, but you are likely to do yourself some long term injury.
Squat with your feet at least shoulder width apart, your toes pointing slightly outward. Do not stand with your heels on a block or turn your toes widely outward. Doing so will place undue stress on the knees, opening you up for long-term injury. Rather, make sure that you are wearing a quality pair of weightlifting shoes that feature a three quarter inch raised heel (more on this below).
Squatting Hack # 4: Back Arch
Keep your back slightly arched as you squat. Allowing your back to hunch may lead to back pain and vertebral damage.
Squatting Hack # 5: Avoid Spinal Compression
Do not squat over a box or a bench. Every time you touch the bench or box, your spine compresses slightly. This will eventually cause vertebral damage.
Squatting Hack # 6: Don’t Bounce
If you go to the end of your range of motion during an open joint movement, such as dropping all the way down when doing squats, you put your knee ligaments on a stretch. In and of itself, this is not bad. But any additional stress on those ligaments – like bouncing at the bottom of the squat to get back up – can stretch those ligaments out, rendering your knee permanently unstable. That’s the basis for the recommendation not to bounce at the bottom of the squat. It’s the same reason that some exercises that were popular in the 70’s, like the duck walk, are now on the no-go list.
Squatting Hack # 7: Weightlifting Shoes
The science of squatting has made it clear that a raised heel puts the body in the ideal plane for the perfect squat. It keeps your torso in the correct alignment and it allows you to exert maximum force through the ankles and heels. In the past, this correct alignment was achieved with the aid of a block of wood. As mentioned in Hack # 3 above, however, we now know that a block is not the best idea.
Fortunately, over the last decade, a market has developed to cater for the need to wear a specially designed Olympic weightlifting shoe. As with any industry, however, the quality on offer ranges from shockingly bad to out of the ballpark good. Unless you know what to look for in a dedicated Olympic weightlifting shoe, you are going to find yourself at the mercy of the sharks out there. Here, then, are the key requirements of a good Olympic weightlifting shoe:
(1) Raised Heel: A three quarter inch wedge in the heel of the shoe will allow you to position your ankles correctly for the descent of the squat. In time past, bodybuilders used to place a two-inch block of wood under their heels when squatting. They instinctively knew that a raised heel would give them the best body positioning. Today, science has proven this to be the case.
(2) Rigidity; In contrast to the majority of athletic training shoes, Olympic weightlifting shoes are very rigid. This ensures that they provide maximum lateral and medial integrity. As a result, the shoe is generally made from a hard material that will not bend to the touch. Often though, the toe box area of the shoe is noticeably softer, providing added comfort in the toe area.
(3) No cushioning; Weightlifting shoes feature a lot less comfort padding than conventional athletic shoes. This helps to keep the foot secure, preventing lateral movement within the shoe while executing such lifts as the squat.
(4) Secure locking mechanism; to further ensure that there is no side-to-side movement of the foot when performing an exercise, a dedicated Olympic lifting shoe will have a very secure foot locking system. Often this will be by way of both a Velcro single or double strap and a secure lacing system.
(5) Grip; The connection to the floor is essential when performing overhead weight exercises. A good weightlifting shoe will feature a very firm grip that will provide absolutely no lateral movement. Many shoes feature a cupping system that provides suction like capabilities to ensure the integrity of the connection between the foot and the floor.
There are hundreds of brands and models of weightlifting shoes out there right now. We put together a handy guide to help you find the best weightlifting shoes here.
If you follow these 7 guidelines whenever you squat you will not only notice some very impressive strength gains across your whole body (squatting is a compound exercise!), you will be able to rest easy knowing that you will be very unlikely to be injured.
My name is James and I am a massive fitness addict. I have spent the better part of the last 5 years attempting to perfect my lifting form so that I can maximize the results of my efforts. If interested you can read more about what I do at GarageGymBuilder.com, where I write product reviews, fitness guides, and do interviews with experts in the fitness industry.