Basic Lifts, Part 1: The Squat

So, you may be thinking…”y’all are a barbell gym, but all you talk about is body-positivity!” That, my friends, is about to change. (And by that I mean we’re going to talk more about lifting, not less about body-positivity, duh!) One of our best supporters, Joe Kirsch, is writing detailed descriptions of all the major barbell lifts that we’ll be focusing on at HEALTH CLUB, and we’ll be posting a new lift description each week. 

Joe is a coach at a local barbell gym in Olympia, WA, an ally and collaborator with HEALTH CLUB, and an aspiring physician. He has been lifting barbells for years, and has a gift for focusing on the details of all the lifts, both in technical theory and in physical practice. AND he may lead some lifting seminars for HEALTH CLUB once we’re up and running! Without further ado, take it away JOE!

“The Squatter” by David Squirrely

The largest and most functionally essential muscles for compound movement are the hamstrings, adductors, glutes, and quads. If you’re dancing, jumping, running, climbing mountains, playing tug of war, throwing a frisbee, or whatever else your active heart desires, these are the muscles making it happen; truly, it’s all in the hips!

The barbell squat is the most effective exercise for strengthening your hips and legs, which is why it is no coincidence that it is the most commonly espoused exercise for people across a variety of sports. While many well-intentioned folks may warn that squats are “hard on the knees,” a properly-performed barbell squat actually has great therapeutic value for the knee joint, by balancing the anterior and posterior muscle groups surrounding it. This can also prevent future injury, since anterior muscular dominance is one of the most common causes of ACL injuries.

The most important attributes of a proper barbell squat are relatively simple to identify, but a require a little practice to implement in concert:

  1. Lower back extension: Its common sense that we should take care of our lower back – any injuries in this region can make doing the things we love a painful chore. In learning how to do a proper squat, you also learn to be exceptionally aware of your lower back and whether it is extended and flat (good!), or relaxed and rounded (bad!). Besides being a prerequisite for a safe squat, learning lower back awareness is an asset you’ll carry forward into all your daily activities, helping you avoid easily preventable injuries.
  2. Below parallel, hips back: A great squat results from letting the hips lead the movement; that means extending them far back in an exaggerated sitting motion, until the crease of the hip is below the top of the knee. At the bottom of a perfect squat, all of our large primary movers around the hip are active and working together, and the anterior and posterior forces on the knee are well-balanced. The only other exercise which utilizes as much muscle mass at once is the deadlift, but the squat is unique in its ability to train our hip muscles through a full range of motion.
  3. Knees track over the feet: Its important to consciously remind ourselves to force our knees out over feet; if you were watching a proper squat from directly above, the trainee’s knees should move forward directly in line with their feet as they descend. Beyond insuring proper patellar tracking in the knee, this also insures efficient activation of the external rotators in the hip joint. These external rotators are often relatively weak even among experienced lifters, and in the long term, strengthening these muscles can solve back and knee pain resulting from postural misalignment.
  4. Weight over the middle of the foot: An ideal squat, when observed from the side, should move the barbell in a perfectly vertical path. In order for this to happen, we learn to control the weight by keeping the load over the middle of the foot throughout the movement. Developing this motor awareness and balance takes time and practice, but it helps tie together all the other technical aspects of performing the squat and is the linchpin in consistent technique.

Dan, seriously squatting

By regularly reminding yourself of these important characteristics of a proper barbell squat in your training, you’ll be well on your way to experiencing all the wonderful personal benefits that this cornerstone exercise has to offer.

Doesn’t that get you so psyched to start lifting at HEALTH CLUB once we open?! Plus, in case you haven’t heard, WE HAVE A SPACE! And we’re having a party on Thursday, October 22nd at 7pm to celebrate and fundraise! Stay tuned for party details and “Basic Lifts, Part 2: The Deadlift” next week. In the meantime, check out our Indiegogo campaign. xoxo