I have been in this sport for 20 years, most of which were spent training at Westside Barbell. It was there that I learned how to squat and achieved a best squat of 1160. The fundamentals of the squat were etched into my brain to never be forgotten.

I was taught that there are several ways to attack a squat depending on your specific sport or purpose for squatting, but for powerlifting or lifting maximal weight, there is only one way of executing a squat. It was taught to me the importance of the posterior chain (hips, hamstring and lower back) and that the proper way to squat was to sit back and never let the knees come out over the toes or buckle in. When the knees come forward over the toes or buckle in, two things happen:

  1. The rules of powerlifting with regard to the squat state that the crease of the hip must break parallel with the top of the knee. As the knee comes forward or buckles inward, the knee height continues to get lower requiring the hips to get lower to break parallel. If a lifter sits back and keeps the knee behind the toes and pushed out, the hips break parallel with a shorter range of motion.
  2. When the knees come forward, the stress is less on the posterior chain and more on the quad/patella area. There is also increased stress on tendons and ligament of the knee when the knee buckles in. Even when squatting properly, the risk for knee injury is high. That’s why almost everyone wears either knee wraps or knee sleeves when competing. Why increase the risk for potential knee injuries?

So what is the proper way to squat? To me there are two proper types of squatters: hip squatters and back squatters. A hip squatter is the lifter who has an upright torso that little to never leans forward and descends to parallel by spreading the knees or pushing out on the knees essentially doing the splits. The back squatter is the lifter who pushes the hips back and leans into the squat until the hips reach parallel.

squat 101

Hip Squatters

Hip squatters have an upright torso with little to no leaning forward of the torso. As a result, bar placement typically should be high because otherwise the bar would feel like it is falling off the lifters back, resulting in the lifter starting to lean forward. Next, the lifter lines up under the bar with their hips under the bar. Shoulders are pulled together and down. Upper back is tight and locked in place. Elbows are down by flexing the lats. The lifter then will take a deep breath pushing out against the belt with their abs. At this point the lifter will press against the bar to unrack the weight and push the heels of the feet into the floor.  Next the lifter will engage the glutes and hamstrings by pushing out on the side of the feet. From here the lifter descends to parallel by pushing the knees apart. Once to parallel, the lifter flexes the glutes and hamstring to return to a standing position.

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Back Squatters

A back squatter utilizes a strong core and lower back. Since the lifter leans, it is best, due to leverages, to get the bar as close to the hips as possible. Simple physics with regard to a simple class two lever shows the best place for the load is closest to the fulcrum. In this case the hips would be the fulcrum. I always squatted this way in competition and tried to set the bar as far down on my rear delts as I could. Once the bar placement is set, shoulders are squeezed together and pulled down trying to shorten the torso. Head is pushed back into the traps to tighten up the upper back. The lifter will take a deep breath pushing out against the belt with theirs abs. The lifter will flex the lats and pull the elbows down and flex the upper back to arch the bar out of the rack. Next, the lifter will push out on the sides of the feet to engage the hips and hamstrings before flexing the lower back to begin pushing the hips back. The lifter will continue to push back lowering the bar with the hamstrings and lower back. Once to parallel, the lifter returns to a standing position by arching and lifting the chin and chest with the lower back and flexing the glutes. I always tried to drive my head into my traps coming out of the hole and as I lifted my head tried to wedge my hips between my feet and shoulders.

A few simple tips for injury prevention in the squat:

  1. Sit back and push the knees out to engage the posterior and protect the knees.
  2. Breathe into the stomach and push out on the abs to protect and support the lower back.
  3. Tighten up the entire body to provide better control and stability throughout the lift.