Archives For April 2019

“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