If you have been training for any length of time, you would have heard the squat being called the king of exercises; in fact, I would go as far as to say if you’ve never squatted you’ve never really trained. Overall if you want to build strength and size, you better be squatting.
At this point, I can hear an endless barrage of complaints from individuals saying squatting just doesn’t suit their body type, well just because I said you should be squatting doesn’t just mean performing the standard back squat. There are so many variations of the squat that every body type can thrive on squatting.
Both differing versions of squats and slight alterations of each version can completely alter loading patterns to the legs, hips or lower back, so without further ado, let’s delve into the glorious world of squatting.
The Back Squat
The Daddy Of Lower Body Exercises
The back squat is probably the most complete lower body exercise of all. When performed correctly, it adequately works the quads, hamstrings glutes, lower back, calves, in fact, you name it the back squat works it.
How To Perform The Back Squat
Grab the bar and position feet parallel to each other hold the bar with it positioned either in a low bar or high bar position.
- High bar position – above the posterior deltoids at the base of the neck, hands just outside shoulder width.
- Low bar position – across the posterior deltoids in the middle of the trapezius and hands slightly wider than above.
Step out of the squat rack, take several steps and position feet outside hip width (close stance) or wider (wide stance), and ensure feet are slightly turned out (up to 30 degrees).
Make sure that your trunk stays in a neutral spine position or lightly arched by lifting elbows up, scapula (shoulder blades) retracted, chest up, and the head is looking slightly up.
Maintaining the torso position (above) and allow the hips to sit back as you bend your knees – don’t drop forward, ensure your ‘sitting’ into the squat. Squat down until you are at the required depth.
- Quarter squat – thigh will be at a forty-five degrees angle to the ground.
- Parallel (half) squat – top of the upper thigh will be parallel to the ground. Groove at hips should be in line with the top of your knees.
- Full squat (deep knee bends) – squat as deep as you can before you lose the neutral spine position because of posterior rotation of the pelvis.
Extend hip and knees simultaneously or extend hips, then knees – always ensure you don’t straighten the knees first and lean forward.
Throughout ensure your knees never deviate laterally (in or out) as they should track over the second toes throughout, also your knees will naturally move forward toward your knees, just ensure it’s not excessive.
Variations & Ramifications
Both bar positioning and depth alter the loading of the back squat. The reason these two factors alter loading is they shift the mechanical loading either towards more quad dominance or more hip extension.
The load actually placed upon any working muscle during a free weight movement is a combination of the weight used and distance horizontally from the weight and the point of rotation (increased leverage).
For the back squat, the load is usually fairly evenly distributed between the hips and the quads. The more straight the individual remains, the more the weight will be from the knee, likewise, the more forward they lean the further the distance from the hips and therefore the greater the loading on each leg, respectively.
As you squat deeper, you have to lean forward to keep the center of gravity over your base. Therefore squatting deeper will usually mean more hip involvement as the leverage increases for the hip musculature.
How Deeper To Squat?
If you are knee injuries free you should be squatting as deep as you can.
Never go lower than the point your hips will start to posterior rotate and cause you to lose your natural arch in your back. This is determined by the flexibility of your hamstrings if you can’t reach parallel; some serious flexibility work is needed.
By elevating the heel with a small object, which pushes the body straight and raises the distance from the knee to the load, the forward lean seen when squatting deeper can be overcome. However, this also increases the stress on the knee joint so be careful. Having the bar higher on the shoulders means that the body needs to remain upright to hold the center of gravity above the neck while placing the bar lower on the upper back (low bar position) creates leaner forward and hip involvement.
Body Type Variations
As can be seen, the back squat is the basic squatting format and can be varied enough to allow most body types to thrive and allow the individual to build substantial strength within the lower body.
Several combinations will suit you better than others, depending on your body shape. This guide can be used to decide which positioning and depth will match your body.
- Long Torso – high bar squat position, shallow depth
- Short Torso – high or low bar position, shallow or deep
- Short Legs – narrow to a wide stance, deep or shallow squats,
- Long Legs – wide stance position, shallow depth
As can be seen, stubby guys thrive on any type of squat, whereas those who have either long legs or long torsos will be more limited in their squats and the kind of back squats which they will thrive upon.
Even if back squats haven’t paid dividends for you in training, it doesn’t mean that squatting isn’t a route to improve strength and size within your lower body.
In the following installments, I will elucidate the other variety of squats available from front squats, hack squats, split squats, wave squats and a few others. So until the next installment – squat till you drop.