Today we are going to discuss a few reasons for why you might be having trouble PRing your squat.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a similar theme amongst my clients. In the beginning, squat strength steadily improves (thanks to linear progression). However, after a few months, they reach a plateau and usually have trouble identifying the problem on their own. That is why I compiled a list of the top 3 errors I observe with squat form. Hopefully, these tips will help you identify any problems and reignite your squat progression!
3 ERRORS INHIBITING BACK SQUAT STRENGTH
1) Skipping out on depth
The concept of squat depth is a hot topic in the fitness industry. On one side of the argument, you have the proponents of the ass to grass squat. On the other end, you have those claiming poor hip and ankle mobility prevent them from reaching depth pain-free.
Here is my stance.
If you cut your range of motion short, you won’t fully engage your glutes. This is a large muscle group that you wouldn’t want to neglect. One, because everyone wants a good-looking butt, and second because your glutes are supposed to help you ascend out of the hole and prevent your lower back from taking over.
That being said, tight hips/ and or a lack of ankle mobility is not a reason to discontinue back squatting. I utilized a walking boot on and off for 3 years, and through countless hours of foam rolling, mobility work, and stretching I’ve been able to achieve a below parallel squat. It’s absolutely achievable! It just takes a little effort.
As a trainer, I will never push someone into a position that creates discomfort or pain. If a client cannot achieve full range of motion pain-free, I prescribe box squats or kettlebell goblet squats instead.
Thus, full range of motion squats are the way to go! Start out descending to what is comfortable on your body and challenge yourself to go deeper as you prioritize mobility and glute activation.
2 ) Knee Valgus
(aka knees caving in, resembling the stanky leg)
Knee valgus doesn’t just create knee and hip pain down the road. It is also a sign of weak glutes. Honestly, in this day and age where the average American sits at a desk from 9-5, the majority of us have weak glutes and tight hip flexors.
While the quads might be the prime mover during a back squat, your glutes must fire correctly in order to stabilize your trunk throughout the lift. This also prevents your back from overcompensating (just as we discussed above).
Minimize knee valgus by incorporating banded abduction movements into your warm-up (clam shells, banded walks, squats with a band). During your squat, think of driving your knees outwards as you descend and as you explode up out of the hole.
Bottom line: Glute work isn’t just for the ladies. Strong glutes= a stronger squat!
3) You aren’t bracing your core
While washboard abs are JUST GREAT, they really serve no purpose if they are too weak to support the bar on your back. Getting crushed by a barbell is probably not a fun way to die. I’m only being a little bit dramatic, here. Upper back tightness and core stability enable you to travel straight up and down without any bar movement or tipping forward. The stronger your back and core are, the greater your ability to progress and handle heavier loads. So, incorporate diaphragmatic breathing drills, practice bracing your core hard, and don’t let that tightness go as you descend into the bottom. Hopefully, this added practice will result in overall squat improvement!
To wrap things up.....
1) Hit depth and make sure you prioritizing foam rolling and stretching 2) Strengthen your glutes to ensure power out of the hole and to prevent injuries/ imbalances 3) Strengthen your core and upper back and practice bracing before each squat session (aka don’t just wear a belt, you need to actually learn how to properly create intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize your spine under heavy load. See image above)
Make sure you are following a program catered toward your goals! Maxing out on squats every week will definitely challenge you and give you a good heart-pounding workout, but it won’t give your CNS the chance to adapt and recover from the heavy load.
I hope these tips give you a bit of insight into how to improve your squat strength. If there is anything I can ever do to help you out with squat programming, please feel free to reach out!