“The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.” – Unknown

This tip is going to be rather short but by no means is it not important! Hopefully the prior weeks articles have been able to help your squat either become pain free, more confident or even stronger! This weeks tip is something that was brought to my attention by a very strong and local powerlifter. He was watching me squat and noticed a lack of execution on the upward phase of my squat. I was pushing up and out (externally rotating) with my feet as I was coming up out of the hole but my upper body was just along for the ride. I was informed to push with my legs and also push or drive my shoulders straight up into the barbell. Once I did this on my next set I instantly noticed my bar speed drastically increase as the weight flew its way up! Not only was I using my lower body obviously to lift the weight but I now was recruiting even more musculature and energy into the lift by using my upper back to lift the weight in the proper direction.

Doing this also has a few other benefits in your squat. For instance, when if you are having issues on your way up and you tend to fall or lean forward try this cue out. Emphasizing the driving of your shoulders straight upward will hopefully keep you in the same path that you came down in resulting in a more efficient squat pattern. We want that weight distributed throughout the midline of the body/foot the entire portion of the lift. A common mistake that can arise from just someone saying drive your shoulders into the bar without demonstrating it can cause the lifter to shrug their shoulders. DO NOT DO THIS! We don’t want the shoulders to elevate and shrug because then the tightness we created in the upper back can become lost. Rather so, we want to drive up our whole upper body into the barbell. If the shoulders alone rise in a shrug pattern then re-evaluate this cue to yourself. Try videoing yourself and find a way to resolve this issue.

Conclusion

Don’t just push with your legs on your way up.

  • Drive your entire upper back into barbell, creating a straight upward bar path.  
  • If your shrugging the barbell, stop and find out how to fix the issue.

Zach Kotecki, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F, USAW-1

“Not only are squats not bad for the knees, every legitimate research study on this subject has shown that squats improve knee stability and therefore help reduce the risk of injuries.” – Charles Poliquin

What is external rotation?

External rotation is the turning away or outward from the midline of the body. In this case it would be turning your leg/knee away from your body.

How do I externally rotate?

This movement is able to happen because the leg connects with the hip joint which is a ball in socket joint (a joint in which a ball moves within a socket to allow rotary motion in every direction within certain limits. “Definition Of BALL-AND-SOCKET JOINT”). An often heard cue for external rotation is knees out. I’m sure you may have heard this cue before. To a seasoned lifter who understands the concept it works perfectly, but to others it may not. I remember using it with one of my early on clients who was completely new to squatting. I told him knees out and he took it literal. He squatted down feet narrow and knees out, I couldn’t help but to share a laugh with him at how he looked. He did everything right according to what I said, that cue just didn’t resonate with him quite yet. I then went to another cue which clicked with him. I told him to imagine as if his feet were screws and his legs the screwdriver. I told him to screw those feet into the floor without moving your feet sideways or having them slide out. Doing this ensure that your knees stay in line with your toes as you twist out. He now knew how to externally rotate.

Why should I externally rotate?

Have you ever seen the bone of a leg in anatomy class or on your favorite criminal investigation show? There are many marks and bumps along the surface. If we do not externally rotate these marks and bumps may get caught or rub up on the contracted muscles limiting our range of motion in the movement or causing pain. Going back to the hip joint being a ball in socket joint we are able to move the femur around to receive a greater ROM in the movement. As you should know by now by my past articles, the more we can distribute weight throughout the body the lighter that load on our back feels and also helps us lift the most amount of weight possible. By screwing our feet into the floor we are also activating the entire lateral side of our leg muscles allowing for more muscle recruitment and stability throughout the squat. You also want to squeeze and activate your glutes prior to externally rotating. This is also how we should go about un-racking the barbell, by externally rotating not just standing up. Try it yourself place your hand along the outside of your leg and screw your feet into the floor. Feel all the muscles turn on? This is a key component to a big squat.

Conclusion:

  • Think of your feet as screws and your legs the driver. Use them to screw your feet in the floor for more stability and muscle recruitment.
  • Externally rotate on the way DOWN and on the way UP of the squat.
  • This will also ensure the knees don’t cave in towards each other which can lead to serious injury.
  • Turn on the muscles needed for your squat. Activate your glutes and thighs from the moment you un-rack the bar.

Zach Kotecki, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F, USAW-1

“If you find yourself down in the bottom of the squat and you’re just kinda chilling, you’re probably not squatting right.” – Greg Glassman

Ah, the ever so controversial topic of breathing during your lifts, in this case the squat. How many of us have either read or learned in some type of school setting that we are to breath out “exhale” on the concentric (up) part of the lift and inhale “breathe in” on the eccentric (down) portion of the lift? Most people tend to side with my reasoning after I explain the following scenario. John is squatting close to his 1RM. He has mentally prepared himself walks the lift out and begins his decent. As John begins to come up out of that hole with near his 1RM he exhales losing his brace and lets his air out of his stomach aka his “power source”. John begins to get folded in half by the load on his back and ends up missing his lift. Poor John. Does it really make sense to let out our air when that is exactly what is needed to stay braced, engaged and stable throughout the lift? Of course not! If we are not able to remain stable it is impossible for us to be strong, no matter what lift we are performing. I teach my clients/athletes to either hold their breath on their way up keeping their “IAP” intra-abdominal pressure (pressure within the abdominal cavity) locked in IF and ONLY IF they are experienced enough lifters who are comfortable doing so. The more common way I would inform a client to breathe while staying braced is to let out short quick burst of air out of their mouth as they begin to power out of the hole. Think “tss” “tss” tss” all the way up as you might hear a pro boxer as he delivers punch after punch to his opponent. Sometimes you may hear loud manly grunts be a result of this. Trust me it is not always controllable, we are not trying to be the alpha in the building it is just the effect of pushing through big weights. Keeping that air in your belly will ensure we keep and use our IAP, stay braced and get enough blood to the brain avoiding the “passing out” side effect of holding our breath, especially doing so under a heavy load. Not only does this help our spine and our core from wanting to break or give out but it will help aid our upper back to stay strong and hold that barbell in the same position from the time we go down till the time we stand back up and rack the weight.

Proper breathing and bracing of our core for the squat is an important factor to protecting our spinal column and avoiding injury. You cannot simply just take in a bunch of air and forget to brace. Just as you cannot flex your abs “bracing” without first gathering air into the diaphragm. To learn how to do this correctly, give this test from Squat University a try. Place one hand onto your stomach with the other on your side towards your lower ribs. From here I want you to take a big breath. If this move was done properly you should feel your stomach both rise and fall, with a little pressure towards those lower ribs expanding laterally out to the side. This is creating an increase in volume in our core. When we take that big breath our diaphragm contracts and descends down towards our stomach. Think of pushing that air down in your gut as if you were trying to give birth to a baby. If this move is done improperly, you will notice the chest rise and fall as if you were gasping for breath. Not a very effective place for one to store their air for the squat.

How to brace now that we have our breath?

Let’s take our hand back to our stomach again for another demonstration. With our hand on our stomach take a big breath. Once we have taken the breath I want you to brace your core “stomach” muscles as if you were about to get sucker punched in the gut. Another cue that always seems to work is act like you are pushing your lunch out of your back end on the toilet, graphic I know but this one works and usually gets a few chuckles, especially from the males. Combining both the actions of breathing and bracing increases the IAP mentioned before inside our abdominal cavity. No more volume can enter, we are locked and loaded! Our core is braced, the lower spine is stabilized and safe and we are ready to push some weight!

Conclusion:

  • Forget the books. Don’t let all your air out on your way up of the squat.
  • You must breath AND brace to protect your spine and get all the benefits.

References

  • Horschig, Aaron, and Kevin Sonthana. “How To Breathe When Squatting”. Squat University, 2016, https://squatuniversity.com/2016/02/12/the-squat-fix-core-stability-proper-breathing/.

Zach Kotecki, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F, USAW-1

“Don’t have $100.00 shoes and a 10 cent squat”. – Louie Simmons

Welcome back to the squat tip series! Last week we brought to your attention to how important your head and eye position can be during your squats. This week we’re gonna talk about how to be efficient and get the absolute most out of our walkout.

How many of us have either seen or been a victim to walking up to the squat bar, placing it on our backs and then go straight to un-racking it, walking it out as fast as we can like its a race and dropping it like its hot in the hole and beginning your sets? I know that I have fallen a victim to this at some point in my lifting career and if I could I would go back to those times and punch myself straight in the kisser. Better yet how many of us go on social media to learn how to perfect our form? This is actually a beneficial tool to use but only if we are being careful who we take those tips from. Some “fit pro” who has hundreds of thousands of followers (probably solely off of their looks) but their squat looks like a flamingo trying to take a shit is not someone who I would trust advice from. Going back to the quote above, which is probably my favorite of all time, don’t be fooled by nice things and “fame” on Instagram. Get valuable knowledge from someone with actual experience either under the bar themselves or who has worked with higher level lifters/athletes. Ok, rant done back to the main topic here, which is being efficient in your un-rack/walkout.

Cue #1: Head Position From The Un-rack Position

As we’ve all read in week 1’s article going over head/eye positioning during your squat it is very important and all starts from the get go. From the moment you take that first step towards your barbell you should be thinking to put yourself in an efficient position. We know where to look and place our head DURING our squats but where should we be at when un-racking and walking the weight out? Well its simple. If the point is to not get bent over by the weight and stay in the most optimal position possible then why would we do anything other than start our movement in the same position that we would squat in. When getting that barbell placed securely on your back/traps your head should be in that neutral position as if your looking out into that audience. As we begin to take our steps back in our walkout at NO TIME do we move our head and look down. Even if we look down for a second we are getting loose in our upper back (we will cover this in a later article) and little by little that weight is going to start to fold us over and your chest will cave downward. But what if I can’t see where I’m walking since I’m going backwards? Simple. you should have already inspected your surroundings making sure there are no loose weights for you to trip on. Plus I will mention this cue soon, you shouldn’t be walking too far to begin with. Now we’re walked out, head is in the correct position and we can now begin our squat in an efficient position.

Cue #2: Breathing

Ah, the ever so controversial topic of breathing during your lifts, in this case the squat. This week I will just touch on the subject and the importance of our breath during the walkout. Next week we will dive deeper into bracing and breathing during the entirety of the squat. Without getting to far out ahead of ourselves here I will give a little spoiler, I want you to hold your breath. Yes you heard me right! HOLD YOUR BREATH. Not necessarily for the whole squat as you will see next week but rather so only for our walkout. If we un-rack the barbell and as we walk out exhale a few breaths, that load on our back is going to use gravity to slowly fold us over. We do not want our upper back to get loose at all during this process. That barbell on our back should stay in the same position from the un-rack until we walk back in to re-rack the weight. By holding our breath during this walkout process (which should be a short process) we are making sure we are staying efficient and setting ourselves the best we can to complete the lift. Once we are done walking the weight out we will need to get a new breath of air before descending into our squat. This process does take some practice so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the hang of it right away. I want you to keep that head in the correct position from cue #1, then I want a short and quick breath out of your mouth and then without letting a second to waste grabbing all of that air quickly back into your body. Think 25% of the air out on the exhale and 100% air back in so we can have that to use to stay stable and strong. If you can I like to teach to get the air into your body for the squat through your nose as opposed to your mouth. Reason being is that if we take a breath in through our mouth it is easy to hold that air in our cheeks like a chipmunk and not in our diaphragm were we need it the most. In next week’s article I will dive into how to properly brace your core and protect your spine during the squat.

Cue #3: Un-rack Stance Mimics Squat Stance

For those of you who may not know their are typically 2 different styles to choose from when squatting; low bar and high bar. The low bar squat is generally seen more in the sport of powerlifting and those who lift really really heavy weight. this style of squat is more hamstring and glute dominant as the lifter is able to stay more upright in their torso, create a shorter range of motion and is done so in a wide stance with the toes slightly pointed out. The other style is referred to as, you guessed it a high bar squat. This is typically what you will see in your gym especially if you have any weightlifters around. The high bar squat is more quad dominant and calls for more ankle mobility as the knees track more so in front of the toes and is done so in a closer or “shoulder width” stance with the toes again slightly pointed out. So if we know that we are going to be squatting a low bar stance it only makes sense that we avoid any unnecessary steps under load that could lead to a mishap or put us out of position. So a low bar squat calls for setting up under the bar to un-rack with our feet already in a “wide” stance just as if we were squatting high bar we would set up our un-rack in a “shoulder width” stance. Then from here taking no more than 3-4 steps until we settle and begin our descent. This leads us into cue #4.

Cue #4: Speed & Length Of Walkout

If there’s one thing I see in the weightroom that makes me cringe besides witnessing someone perform bicep curls in the squat rack, it would be seeing someone speed walk the barbell out of the rack while taking a million steps before settling themselves to what seems halfway across the gym. Talk about wasted energy. As we all should know by now there are A LOT of little cues that go into properly un-racking and walking out the barbell. When walking out the barbell often times there is going to be weight on the ends causing the barbell to move up and down with each step that you take. The faster steps you take, the more unstable that barbell becomes. We need to take our time and under control un-rack the barbell and take short slow steps to get to our desired placement. Doing this ensures minimal bar whip (bar whip is the bouncing up and down of the barbell that occurs when the bar changes directions quickly). Next we need to decide how far one should walk out under control. This is all about conserving our energy for the actual squat. All that needs to happen if you’re squatting in a cage or out of a squat rack is you need to clear the collars (the collars are what the racked barbell was on prior to the un-rack). So why do some of us feel the need to walkout 15 steps? Let’s focus on taking 3-4 short controlled steps resulting in us ending in our desired squat stance. An example step pattern would be this; stand up “un-rack”, step out and back with the right foot, step out back and plant the left foot, short step with the right foot and plant. Now both of our feet are planted into the ground, we are in our squat stance and we have plenty of energy to put towards our squat.

Conclusion:

  • Neutral head position during the un-rack and walkout.
  • Focus on your breathing and staying tight and stable, we cannot be strong if we are not stable.
  • Have your un-rack stance be the same stance your squat is and have both legs under the barbell when un-racking. NEVER un-rack a barbell in a split stance regardless of the weight.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. Control the walkout and save your energy for the actual squat.

“There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat” – Mark Rippetoe

Do you want to increase your squat? No one wants to be the guy who has a huge upper body and can bench 3+ wheels but can’t duplicate or even come close to his/her body weight on the squat. If this sounds like you DON’T PANIC! Maybe you’re just missing that one key cue to take your squat numbers through the roof! Over the next few weeks I will be writing an article a week on different cues that I’ve found to be helpful not only in my own training but for others as well.

Let’s start with tip #1: The Body follows the eyes “Head Placement”

Have you ever heard this saying before? Maybe you’ve heard it on the playing field growing up playing sports. Maybe you heard it when you were a young kid trying to learn how to run for the first time. Well this is just as important to think about when lifting weights, particularly when you’re squatting. Often times I see the squatter focusing on a plethora of cues, involving knee positioning, breathing, the walkout but the placement of the head/eyes are overlooked. Where you’re looking is just as important if not even more so than the others. Often times this is teller of whether or not the lifter will successfully complete the lift, and more so do so safely.

How can your head/eye placement make or break your squat you ask?

Envision this. You are under the bar about to squat something heavy, (the weight doesn’t matter, but for the sake of this let’s pretend it does) you unrack the bar, walk it out and begin to start your descent. On your way down your head/eyes are looking straight down at the floor in front of you (not a neutral spine alignment)(see picture above). Now you’ve hit your desired depth, you begin to stand up with the weight only to have that weight start to fold you in half as your center of gravity/barbell carries you forward, your chest caves down right where you’re looking at and ultimately you fail the lift or complete the lift but in an unsafe manner. Now there could be numerous reasons as to why the lift wasn’t completed, but a good spot to start especially if you know the lifter is strong enough is with his/her head/eye placement. You see if you are set up with the bar and you are looking down your body will more often than not naturally follow the eyes resulting in you tracking forward with that weight on your back.

The fix?

Now you wait 5-10 minutes cue your lifter to change the positioning of their head/eyes, (I teach to envision yourself on a stage of a sold out audience, you want to be looking out just over each one of their heads. This will keep you in a proper neutral spine alignment and best position to execute the lift) and do everything else the same way. They hit the lift safely and now learned what could have been causing them issues in their squats.

Conclusion:

  • Keep head and eyes in a neutral position from the time you unrack the bar till the time you rack the bar.
  • Make sure your “logo” on your chest can be seen. Avoid caving that chest downward. If this occurs re check your head/eye positioning
  • Squat BIG weight SAFELY!

Zach Kotecki, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F, USAW-1


Earlier this month Coach Hanley, Coach Zack, Lisa DPT, and I spent 8 hours talking shoulder health at Eric Cressey’s Shoulder Assessment, Corrective Exercise and Programming Seminar and we are excited to bring what we learned to Motiv Athletics.

Working off of the idea that the scapula interacts with 17 muscle attachments we should take shoulder health into consideration especially with all of the overhead pressing, pushing, and pulling we do on a day to day bases. There is no one size fits all quick fix and the truth is that shoulders vary on individual bases. Some of the individual factors that come into play are joint laxity, reactive changes (bone spurs), injury history, training history, scapular size, and muscle bulk. Over the next few minutes, I’ll go over some reasons for movements and their variations in the programming, or correctives you may see in the future from our coaching staff.

If you are having nagging shoulder issues take The Law of Repetitive Motion into consideration.

I=NF/AR

I= Insult/Injury to the tissues
N=Number of Repetitions
F=Force or tension of each repetition as a percent of maximum muscle strength
A=Amplitude of each repetition
R= Relaxation time between repetitions (Lack of pressure or tension on the tissue)

Say you are working a desk job and find yourself sitting with poor posture every day while at your computer you are adding a high number of reps with low amplitude and lower relaxation time to your day. No need to worry though resistance training can be extremely effective in correcting problems quickly.

All of that is without taking into consideration overuse, poor range of motion, scapular stability, poor technique, restrictions etc.

More Free Scapula pressing can work in your favor when at the gym i.e push up variations, landmine presses, or possibly alternating dumbbell press. We want sufficient scapular upward rotation on overhead pressing for long-term shoulder health benefits. Key exercises for getting this movement pattern down are Wall Slides at 135 Degrees, Serratus Wall Slides, 1 arm bottoms up Kettlebell Waiters Walks, Bear Crawls, Inchworms, and Hand Switches.

Be on the lookout for a shoulder assessment day where we will assess, correct and educate on what to do moving forward to get the most out of your workout and get those shoulders healthy!

Coach Cory

Tara’s MOTIV Story

hanley —  February 12, 2018 — Leave a comment

At my heaviest I weighed 268 lbs, and at that point in my life, my medical history was longer than the resume of a seasoned CEO approaching retirement. Multiple tumors and cysts, cancer, borderline pre-diabetic diagnosis, cholesterol levels were high, and severe allergies kept me indoors in summer months. I was depressed and felt awful every single day. I had to make a change.

I knew I was prone to growths in my body so I started looking at how to reduce tumors with diet. A common factor I read in tumor growth was glucose. Sugar – a main staple in my diet up until this point. Upon further research, I found the Whole 30 diet and started August 1st, 2015. At the end of the 31 daysI  had lost 15 pounds. Unfortunately, the holidays got the best of me and I slipped back into my old eating habits, gaining that 15 back.

April of 2016, I was halfway through my second round of Whole 30 for the year when I came across a low carb high-fat diet. I stuck with that for 3 months before transitioning to a ketogenic diet, which is a little more strict on quality of ingredients. I can say, without a doubt, this way of eating has changed my life drastically. My allergies disappeared and I was able to get outside more. I fell in love with hiking and being active. Then something happened. I wanted more.

Enter MOTIV.

After listening to a couple of work friends talk about CrossFit, EVERYDAY (like we do), I started working on my husband, Eric. CrossFit sounded fun and something inside me said this is what we needed in our life. I was relentless like wives are, and finally, after a month of listening to me talk about it, he finally agreed to try it. Our first class was bring-a- friend day January 2017. I remember Hanley telling us you don’t have to go full out just go through the movements to get a feel for it. Eric and I laugh about it now but we don’t have a “go easy” mode. We went full out and were so sore for the next two days. We were hooked.

I can see the pieces of my life coming together and our gym is a huge part of that. I have made several new friends, been on an AMAZING trip (shout out to the Patagonia group), and overall been in a much better place mentally and physically. I can see doors opening up for myself that I never considered, or thought I could walk through. My only hope is that I can inspire someone else to make a change in their own life, that leads to the happiness and fulfillment that I have had in the last year.

Thank you to the coaches and everyone at the gym. I am truly grateful to be apart of such an amazing community.

From a size 22 to a 10
Down 90 lbs and loving life.

Skyler’s MOTIV Story

hanley —  February 6, 2018 — Leave a comment

I’ve generally always been a yo-yo kind of weight loss person… and it only got worse after college. Up for a year, down for eight months or so, up heavier, then back down and so on and so on. When I moved to Indy, I was doing well at keeping weight off but, as it usually does, life got in the way with stress from work, relationships, etc. I let excuses lead me into bad habits. When I was mentally ready to get at it again in 2016, I went and fractured my ankle in October. OCTOBER!!! You know, just before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all of the tasty holiday treats – and I’m Southern, so all the food is rich and plentiful during the holidays. By January 2017 I was up to nearly 280 lbs., and I felt miserable. But, I made a commitment to myself that I can be better and feel better, so I started healthier habits. I began making healthier eating selections and trying to do some fitness on my own. March came, which brought a business trip to New Orleans, and I didn’t do horribly with food!! But, let’s be real for a minute, it WAS NOLA, so we know food, drinks, and lack of sleep were all present! From running a conference, going out with friends, and the travel on top of it all, I was feeling oh so sluggish. I was laying on my bed thinking, “How do I not let that week throw me off on the 20 or so lbs that I had lost since February?” And what do you know, there was a Facebook ad for the “New You Challenge” at a gym that also offered CrossFit. I’ve trained with personal trainers most of my adult life, but by no means got the athletic ability of my parents and was terrified that I’d end up in a gym with a bunch of super competitive people that would make me feel as if I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I would hurt myself because they wouldn’t teach me what to do. To my surprise, I found the exact opposite. I found a gym that taught me nutritional and fitness skills that worked for me. They helped keep me going every moment, even when I wanted to say, “Screw this!” or, “You can take that next rep and shove it!” I started in the “New You Challenge” at 250 lbs., and by the end of it was at 220 lbs.

When I moved to Indy three years ago, I was 218 lbs. I’m standing proudly today at 207 lbs., and honestly, I’m a little teary-eyed as I think about it. I know some days seem as if they don’t work and there are days we look at ourselves and don’t notice the differences. I hated taking the before pictures because I was incredibly unhappy with being the heaviest that I’ve ever been. But seeing that picture reminds me of how far I’ve come.

I was at another gym the other day and ran into an old neighbor who almost walked by me because he barely recognized me. Those are the moments that bring it all together and show me how much progress I’ve really made. One my best friends, who I only see on FaceTime as she currently lives in Bahrain, said, “I love you and your fitness family.” Then it hit me; this isn’t just a gym, it really is a family that offers encouragement and pushes us when we need it most. I’m thankful for the collective care that happens from the environment that Hanley has built with an excellent team of Erin, Cory, Justin, Audrey, and Andy as our healthy living experts. Thank you for being the place I call my fitness home!