There is a wrong way to squat. And you’re probably doing it wrong.
Determining right vs. wrong requires context. If your goal is to squat as much weight as possible to win a powerlifting meet, then you squat whatever way allows you to do that. If your goal is to use a squat to improve your ability to drive out of the bottom of a clean or snatch, then your squat must replicate that movement pattern. We find these two methods are the most followed approaches. If you aren’t a power lifter, or Olympic Lifter, then your goal should be to use the squat to maximize strength and power while contributing to the ability to move through space. This is the essence of athletic movement, and anything else is just wrong.
It’s no secret, at Power Athlete we train our athletes to squat toes forward in a width that mimics an athletic position. When athletes are first introduced to this position, many limiting factors in their movement begin to appear in the hips, ankles, and especially body awareness. Short sighted coaches are quick to attack this position because lack of “depth” or decrease in load the athlete had in their previous positioning.
Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we must put our Power Coaching hats on and apply both effective coaching and constructive movements to fix your squat. Remember, for athletes other than powerlifters squatting is a means to an end, not the end. The limiting factors that appear in the Power Athlete squat are likely to carry over to their sporting arena. If we do not fix them now we are constraining our athlete’s performance, rather than empowering it.
The best medicine for mastering the Power Athlete Squat is reps in this position paired with the watchful eye of a coach. But, at Power Athlete, we deal in accelerated adaptation. In order to exponentiate the impact the prescribed reps have, we need to pair them with constructive exercises that attack individual limiting factors and accelerate the mastery of this powerful movement pattern.
I wouldn’t call these movements magic, but when you see the impact they have on the squat and their transfer to plyometric training and ACL injury prevention, you can’t help but think there’s something special there. Within these movements, you will find a mix of squat initiation, posterior chain dominance, active eccentric loading of muscles, and midline iso-stability that have direct carry over to squatting, plyometrics, and on field performance. Even if you feel your squat is mastered, try your hand at these movements to see if there is an inefficiency in your movement before one appears in competition.
SeeSaw Walk: Active Foot
The importance of foot and ankle action during the squat is overlooked, so we bring attention back your base of support. One of my favorite cues for an athlete during the set up of their squat and the seesaw walk is to pretend you have gorilla hands for feet, and grab the ground with your big toes. Grabbing the ground creates an active arch which helps stabilize the ankle, knee, and hips. Without this active arch, a chain reaction of misalignment and potential for injury to the ankles, knee, hips and all the way up to the shoulders!
The Attacking Limiting Factor series tackled arch development and the importance the Tri-Plantar Arch has on squatting, speed, and on-field performance. If balance, flat feet, or foot issues inhibit you from squatting toes forward, bring your focus to your feet by grabbing the ground and knocking out these seesaw walks.
SeeSaw walk: Active hamstrings
The seesaw walk is a perfect tool to teach an athlete to eccentrically load their hamstring while hinging their hips and stabilize the mid-line. This active loading allows for more speed in the squat rack through compensatory acceleration. The free-fall squat that appears fast is not optimal for the field/court athlete because it neglects the eccentric phase.
Teaching the hamstring to actively load is critical for both performance and injury prevention on the field. The squat is not only about force PRODUCTION and a number on the leader board, a huge piece of the puzzle is force REDUCTION! The seesaw walk trains the hamstring and hips where to go and how to operate upon contact with a surface, effectively training an athlete how to land, cut, and plant minus the impact. Imbalances in each of the hamstrings that may be missed during squat can also be identified and worked out.
SeeSaw Walk: Squat Initiation
Successful squat initiation all comes down to maintaining neutral hips, tall posture, and loading the posterior chain. In order to find a neutral hip, many field/court sport athlete require a posterior tilt to allow the hips to rotate along the X-Axis seamlessly. This action allows for the athlete’s hips to be in a position to truly push back, down, and load their hamstring and posterior chain. Finding this position is easier than maintaining it!
The seesaw walk presents a unilateral opportunity to find a neutral hip, lock the mid-line and hinge at the hips, exactly as they are required to with a back squat, minus the load. This movement also trains an athlete to be active in their trunk through the full ROM. If tension is lost, so is the movement, exactly like our heavy rep maxes.
SeeSaw Walk: Posture and Position
Why do we lift weights? To challenge posture and position! When an athlete is faced with the unpredictable forces of Game Day, their training should put them in the best position to sprint, plant, and take contact safely and effectively. Makes sense, right? Now think of the seesaw walk as a way to put our athlete in the best position to lift heavy weights! Cuing an athlete under maximal load is as useless as coaching during a play. Priming the athlete’s spine, movement patterns, and force distribution will take them farther, faster.
Notice how we have worked the seesaw walk from the ground up (feet, hamstring, hips) and now switch our attention to posture. Without a stable base and initiation, posture is lost, and so is the purpose of this movement. Dial the first three factors in and this will free the athlete to focus on their trunk and execution. Much like they would for any heavy lift.
Watch how Amanda’s posture is challenged through her head. We have found much success in concussion prevention by bringing awareness to this position and challenging with different stresses.
Empower Your Performance: Sum of the Parts
Until you have reached a level of mastery with the barbell back squat (which almost all of you will never do), a squat is not just a squat. It is a symphony of movement patterns; of eccentric, isometric, and concentric muscle contractions across every muscle and joint in the body. It is the sum of all of these parts that allow us to rest a heavy barbell on our back, sit to parallel, and stand up as fast as we can in a way that replicates the athletic movement found in sport. Any ass hat can squat a barbell, but it takes a synergy of body, mind and spirit to do it right.
The seesaw walk is the tool that keeps on wrenching and tightening up all elements of the squat. It provides a coach a looking glass into the squat, which then leads to on-field performance. The limiting factors that appear in these seesaw walks and heavy squats will no doubt show up on Game Day, so invest in the time in mastery of each of the components above to empower your performance.
Take note of the depth and translation to other movements involved in the seemingly simple seesaw walk. Train your coaches eye to see the ins, outs, and the connections between the warm ups and the Primal movements, and how they’re integrated into comprehensive strength and conditioning programs such as Field Strong or Bedrock.
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio 353 – Mastering DIII Dynamic with Coach Mike Caro
BLOG: Get Stubborn Athletes Sprinting with Style by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Power Coach: Potential by Tex McQuilkin
EDU: Power Athlete Methodology – Level One Online Course
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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