Archives For June 2019

Here at Motiv we have been going through some waves of utilizing the box squat within our workouts instead of squatting normally. I have had a few people ask, why are we doing these? What does the box do that a regular squat doesn’t? Here are some big reasons why we are implementing them into our workouts.

  1. The box squat is safer. How so? When squatting down to a solid stable object such as a box our mechanics have to be different than a normal squat. The spine for instance is not loaded as heavy, not because the weight may not be the same on the bar but rather because of our bodies position in the box squat compared to the raw squat. In box squats you should be pushing your hips back first before breaking the knees and squatting down. This will put more tension and pressure into your major muscles of the hips, glutes and hamstrings. It has also been shown that because of our bodies angle in this style of squat the box squat is safer due to the vertical shin angle it creates. Less pressure is targeted to the patellar tendon of the knee in a properly executed box squat.
  2. Expedited recovery time. Typically we use the variation of the box squat as an accessory movement, meaning that this specific exercise is meant to strengthen our main movement, in this instance the squat. When we use accessory movements we don’t normally go as heavy as we would for the main lift. Around 15% lighter weight is used when performing the box squat. This has its benefits. Because we are not going as heavy there is less tissue breakdown as a result from the movement. This could be reasoning as to why we may not feel as sore and ready to go again much faster than we do when squatting without the box.
  3. Ensures proper depth. We almost all have trouble hitting depth in our squats. I hear it all the time in the gym, “Was that low enough?” “Does that count?”. Well when we perform the box squat you know 100% of the time if you’ve gone low enough. You should set the box height to be slightly below parallel even if you aren’t a competitor. This will ensure yourself that you have reached the proper depth even when that box is not there to be your true teller. Teaching the body to squat slightly below will ensure that you will never miss a lift in competition if you compete.
  4. Teaches Explosive Power. The box squat is a great tool to use that will teach everyone to develop great amounts of force coming out of the hole or in this instance off the box. With the box stopping us from coming straight back up we are not able to use the stretch shortening cycle (SCC) that most of use in the squat or olympic lifts. This is when we “bounce” out of the bottom of a squat or clean to stand back up to our starting position. The box breaks up the phases of the eccentric (coming down) and the concentric (coming up) of the squat, by us sitting down and back once on the box before standing up. Because of this we lose some of the kinetic or stored energy in the body and forces the lifter to reverse the movement and use more explosive strength to overcome the energy lost.
  5. Builds The Posterior Chain. Because we are able to squat much wider in a box squat we put more force and tension into the muscles of our hamstrings, hips and glutes. Almost everyone is anterior chain dominant, meaning the front half of our bodies are stronger than our back half. Lots of pushing movements take over the minds of young adults, the appeal of bench pressing 4x a week without adequate time spent on our back half is just hurting our bodies. This leaves the posterior chain vulnerable for injury, especially the low back muscles when the same person goes to deadlift, row or even pick an object up from off the floor. We run the risk of pulling a muscle or injuring ourselves some other way. In the box squat we strengthen the entire posterior chain which in return aids in improved health of the low back and stronger/safer pulling mechanics.

“On the Internet, everyone squats. In real life, the squat rack is always empty. You figure out what this means.” – Steve Shaw

If you’ve been following along with this series, great! I applaud you and thank you! If this is your first article STOP and go back to the beginning, at minimum go back to my previous article tip #6: How And Why To Get Your Lats Engaged In Your Squat, so this can make more sense.

Dating back to the last article we covered I talked about how to properly engage your lats to create tension in your body so that we can support the loads of gravity with the barbell. A common mistake I see, even if someone is utilizing these tips is their hand placement on the barbell. There are a few loopholes you could say when it comes to hand width on the bar. If someone is very large or has the wingspan of Kevin Durant, (look it up if you don’t know who he is, truly amazing), they have no choice but to grab the barbell as wide as possible. However, if the lifter is just your average sized male or female they should have a much different approach regarding their hand placement, assuming there are no shoulder limitations due to past injuries (in which case I suggest using a safety squat bar). If the limitation is shoulder mobility then you should be working to improve that already.

Assuming the lifter is in perfect condition and normal size and height I would not have the lifter place their hands too far from shoulder width, if they are holding the barbell closer to the actual weights chances are they’re negatively affecting their squat.

How so?

With all of this space between their hands and the shoulder they’re not able to efficiently load the weight into their lats. Remember the lats are a huge muscle group. We want to distribute as much weight as we can into them. With that space little to no tension is created, their elbows will for sure flare out as they begin to hit the hole and rise up out of the bottom of the squat. Another thing that will happen if this is a heavy load, due to the center of mass drifting them forward with the improper hand placement, the chest will cave down and the pressure of the lift is displaced into the low back. Not a good position to be in for the squat. Essentially you will either good morning the weight up risking injury to your spine or you will miss the lift altogether.

The fix?

Simple. I will have the lifter grab the barbell with a closer hand placement towards the body or center of the bar. Now proper lat recruitment can be established, the lifters center of mass will remain over the midline of the body, the chest will not cave down, everything will rise as one unit and the lift is done safely.

See how a simple thing such as where to hold the barbell can sometimes make or break your squat?

Conclusion:

  • Proper hand placement based on person’s build.
  • Work on shoulder mobility thoroughly with continuous barbell squatting to keep shoulders healthy.  

This concludes the squat tip series! I certainly hope that this has been able to help you in your own lifting! Please feel free to share if I have been able to help you in the slightest. If you have any other questions over the squat or would like to see more content please email me: zach@motivathletics.com


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

“Squats work your whole body. Your legs bend and straighten to move the weight. Your abs and lower back muscles stabilize your trunk while your legs move. Your upper-back, shoulders and arms balance the bar on your back. Many muscles work at the same time, not just your legs.” – Mehdi

What are your lats?
Your latissimus dorsi “lats” for short are the largest muscles in your upper body. That’s right even larger than your chest muscles. Hmm, think those should be trained to increase your bench? That will be another topic later. They are found on your posterior chain and are often referred to as “wings” in the bodybuilding community because if developed enough it resembles the structure of a bat. Your lats connect at 5 different points in the body and are used for numerous functions; humeral extension, adduction, rotation and possibly the most important is stabilizing.

How to engage them?
It is damn near pointless to tell your lifter or client while they’re squatting to engage your lats or whatever vernacular you use if they simply don’t know or understand how to do so. Heck most gym goers may not even know what or where their lat is! And that’s completely ok and a reason I am writing this article. It is one thing to engage them without a barbell and another to do so while holding the barbell on your back, so I’ll give my favorite cues for both.

  • Without a barbell

I can’t remember where I read this example but I am no where smart enough to think of it myself ha! you can give me the credit if you want though I won’t mind. Imagine you are sitting in front of a computer typing up a paper with proper posture of course. Now depress “push” your shoulders down as if you were trying to put them in your front pockets. Now while doing that I want you to slide your hands/arms away from your keyboard and toward your belly. Do you feel that?! You should feel an increased tightness/activation in your back aka lats! Boom! You have now engaged your lats.

  • With a barbell

Ok so now if we followed the steps mentioned above we know how to engage our lats without a barbell, but now we must utilize this for our squat with the bar. You can mimic the same cues as above if that works for you, if not don’t fret here are a few more! Before the barbell is taken off of the rack we should be thinking to create that tension/tightness in our lats. With our hands on the barbell I want you to secure it tightly in your traps using that knurling to create a “lock” function. Your hands should be squeezing that bar securely so the hands do not roll at all during the lift. This also helps the elbows stay pointed downward as opposed to chicken winging which will lose the tension created in the lats. Now act as if you are bending that barbell over the back. Envision the same motion as a lat pulldown or an overhand pull-up. This depresses the scapula and squeezes everything into the midline of the body. If you were holding a pencil between your shoulder blades it should not fall. Your lats should at this point be fully engaged.

Why should I engage them in my squat?
The lats play a major role in stabilization of the squat. They aid to keep the barbell securely placed on your back as well as help protect the spinal column and keep an upright torso. If you do not train your lats or are a person who overtrains the front half “mirror muscles” of the body you simply cannot stabilize and support heavy loads on your back. Your back will give out and you will look like the hunchback of Notre Dame trying to squat that weight up. It is said by some fitness professionals in the industry, and I must agree, that if you know how to properly engage your lats in your squat that alone can add up to 30 pounds to your number. Who wouldn’t want to increase their squat by 30 pounds by simply learning how to engage your lats. Not to mention this will also keep your spine and hips healthy as the load of the barbell is more evenly distributed throughout the body.

Bonus: Tips To Strengthen Lats
To strengthen your lats you should double down on any pulling movement as opposed to pushing movements. This will greatly positively affect your big 3 lifts (squat,bench,deadlift) as well as make you a stronger physical specimen. Strong back = strong body.

My top 3 exercises for bigger, stronger lats:

  1. Heavy deadlifts (heavy is different for everyone based on their current strength level).
  2. Any variation of rows (barbell,dumbbell,cable).
  3. Pull-ups – Don’t sleep on properly executed bodyweight movements.

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