Archives For May 2019

“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.


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.


  • 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!


  • 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.


  • Horschig, Aaron, and Kevin Sonthana. “How To Breathe When Squatting”. Squat University, 2016,

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