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Better Way To Squat For Powerlifting?

I will continue to experiment, tweak and trial and error my way to an answer but I’d appreciate some ideas. Is there a better/best way to squat for powerlifting?

Historically I’ve squatted mostly narrow stance quad dominant style with elevated heel shoes. My mate told me to give a more hip dominant style a go so tried it out today. Felt alright but inconsistent in many ways but that would iron out with practice.

In fairness was beltless, heaviest and first time in this stance for a while today. Same weight on the bar.


As you might expect, the answer in my opinion is it depends…

Your hip-dominant/widerstance/lowbar/add_more_attributes squat form looks very good, but the only way to see if it’s better for you is to try. We can make numerous analysis and read studies about squat styles and relative limb length and then maybe there will be an ideal squat form for you. But of course the movement depends on many other factors, so you may end up performing better with a form, which is suboptimal to your body proportions.

If you stick to one form long enough, it will feel “correct” at some point but our pursuit to constantly improve drives us to experiment. I think the only way to see if a style works for you is to go through a full training cycle, ideally including peak/meet. The thing is, a hip dominated form may add a couple of kilos to your squat, but maybe it has a negative impact on your deadlift. So for the purpose of pure powerlifting and competing, one should not necessarily regard form changes of one lift in isolation.

Kevin Oak comes to mind who tried a few different styles and often realised negative effects on other lifts. He is now settled on highbar quad dominat and is breaking all kinds of records.

If you feel you are stalling, you can definitely try a hip dominat style. Keep progress monitored and see if your sumo suffers (e.g. too much intensity on hip). You don’t want to gain 5 kgs on your squat just to lose 10 kg on your deadlift. In my opinion (unless it causes pain), you need to stick with it for a full cycle to truly evaluate the benefit as our bodies are all different.

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Unless a complete change in technique immediately feels better I would just make small gradual changes, like move feet out an inch or two each week. If it doesn’t feel good then it probably isn’t good.

You can squat wide or narrow in both heeled and flat shoes, just use what feels better. Apparently there is very little difference in muscle activation with heeled vs. flat shoes, assuming you use the same stance and technique.

There are people who squat big weight with a narrow stance quad dominant style, you just have to play to your strengths. The biggest thing with high bar is that upper back strength becomes an issue, you have a shorter lever arm in your back with low bar thus less chance of your back rounding over. Look at some of Kevin Oak’s training videos and you will see what I mean. Last I heard he was doing high bar because he has poor shoulder mobility.

I heard @tasty_nate has a phd in squatting, maybe he has some useful insights to add to this discussion.

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I personally prefer your heeled squats over the wider, but on both you’re over squeezing your glutes at the top making the bar pop, stop that.

The best way to squat for powerlifting is the one that gives you the biggest squat and total during a meet.

For example if you squat wide 500lbs, but narrow 490 you’d think you should go wide, however what if that wide at a meet drops your deadlift by 20lbs because your hips are shot? Which would of been better?

Same for if you can get 20# more with a narrow grip on squats, but it drops your bench by 30# because your shoulders are shot.

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LOL

First things I always look for when critiquing someone’s squat…

  1. Back tightness, specifically lumbar. Should stay fixed and most common problem is relaxing lumbar at bottom
  2. Knee cave
  3. “Good morning squat” often cause by not driving elbows under bar and keeping weight back over heels.

I don’t see any of these issues on either of your squats, so that’s good. The fact that you can do a wider and narrower squat and keep good form makes me think you’re probably built pretty well for either. I definitely agree with the comments about pros-cons of wide vs narrow. Until you’re to the point of a 2.5+ BW squat I wouldn’t worry too much about minor things. Consider this… if you spend 3 months tweaking your squat form, you might be able to optimize it and get a few more kgs out over a different stance. However, that will be 3 months you’re not training optimally for true, foundational strength gains, which you have a lot of room for. So what I would recommend, pick a stance and setup that both feels good and you buy in to, and stick with that until you have plateaued and exhausted most other options (recover, nutrition, program adjustments, etc…).

You could also throw on a band when working with sub-max weights so that you can keep this intentional focus on speed and drive without having the weight bounce around on your spine. The band will effectively slow the weight down at the top even if you push as hard as you can.

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What tips do you have to fix this? I sometimes have this issue where I let my hips rise too fast and the bar drifts forward, feels like the weight is shifting to the balls of my feet. I find that for myself keeping the weight mostly on the heels doesn’t really work so great, I do the “tripod foot” thing so it’s evenly distributed between big toe, little toe, and heel, just sometimes if I’m not careful I can have issues. All I know is if I don’t actively focus on pushing the bar up and back and instead just push with my legs I’m likely to have some technique breakdown.

So the “weight over heels” cue is really one of those, not fully accurate cues because as you said, you’re definitely still keeping the “tripod foot” thing going on it’s just that in my experience, cuing a good morning squatter to “stay on their heels” will actually just put them back into the more proper, 80% of load on heels, 20% on toes sort of position. It also seems to cue them to push back into the bar more with their upper body.

The two biggest things that helped me break out of a good morning squat habit were intentionally opening the hips to give the torso somewhere to go at the bottom, and getting the grip and bar placement set up to make driving elbows forward and “pressing” the weight back out of the hole occur naturally.

Getting you hips open will let you sit a bit more upright at the bottom. I’ve seen a lot of guys sort of fold over a bit at the bottom to be able to hit depth, which sets you up for a good morning squat even if you’re able to keep your spine neutral. Now, if someone has a real short torso this might not be terrible, but I still think it’s probably less than optimal. If anything, driving your hips open has a secondary effect of building tons of tension in your lower body, which will help when you have to reverse direction and start pressing into the floor.

With the upper body positioning stuff, it all boils down to preventing the elbows from popping up as you come out of the hole. When the elbows raise, it causes the whole upper back to roll forward and if you’re gripping the bar tight, the bar can roll as well (even if only very slightly). This creates a huge torque that you must now fight against in addition to just raising the weight. What I like to see is a lifter developing a setup that gets their elbows wedged under the bar and makes for driving the elbows forward and pushing the weight back with your hands out of the hole a more natural, intuitive feeling. Using a thumbless grip and even slightly rotating my palms out a bit has helped me a ton. Obviously shoulder mobility will play a big role in this, but I would rather see someone widen their grip or place the bar a bit higher on their back if it lets them utilize this “elbow drive” technique. What good is a super low bar position if it’s almost impossible to keep the bar from rolling right up your back? What good is getting your upper back tight with a super narrow tight grip if out of the hole you press yourself forward with sky-high elbows and fold in half?

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That’s what I used to do when I first got into PL, also the bar was several inches lower in the bottom position than how I squat now, despite not actually squatting deeper.

So you recommend actively pushing your elbows under the bar while squatting? The way I do it I’m pulling the bar down into my back like a lat pulldown behind the neck. I didn’t think that elbows had anything to do with it but I just watched a video from a few months ago where I let the bar drift forward and my hips shot back and what do you know, sure enough my elbows went up a couple inches.

Chris, I know we have had our disagreements in the past, but I wanted to say that I used to also pull down on the bar (pull it into my back) and also had upper / mid back rounding coming out out of the hole.

I switched to pushing out towards the plates and a bit up, and I haven’t rounded out of the hole since. Pushing out I think makes my back tighter as it is being pushed in, and up slightly is much better than down into my back for me. You are not going to change the weight lifted, but I think you are changing how the weight is felt by the body. You can feel a lot of load on you back with a broom stick if you pull hard enough. Now think about how hard you are pulling down, and how much weigh is on the loaded barbell, and what load your back feels.

Just my two cents.

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Honestly, I’ve never understood the “lat pull the bar” cue. That said, I’ve heard multiple lifters way better than me use that cue, so by no means would I write it off.

The key with pushing the elbows under is that it sets your forearm up at an angle that, when pushing into the bar, it will push back instead of forward. So it’s not so much getting the elbows under as it is what having your elbows under allows you to do, if that makes sense.

I could see how the lat pull cue could help prevent a lifter from having their elbows pop up and push them forward, as well as keep the upper back tight but personally, once I figured out how to wedge myself into a position under the bar that made driving the elbows forward an intuitive movement, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a single good morning squat since or loss of tightness in the back. Look at Yury and Malan’s arm/upper body positioning when they squat. Mine is similar except that I’ll use a thumbless grip and slightly rotate my palms out.

Thing is… the way I wedge the myself into the bar I absolutely cannot handle with any amount of frequency… like… a single top set with this form once every three weeks. Any more and my shoulders and elbows get completely trashed… but with that frequency they are fine. I can still squat twice a week but using shoulder saving variations is a must.

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Thanks Dr.Squat. Will book in a follow up when I squat more. See u in a few months

Saying @tasty_nate has a phd in squatting is one thing, giving him the the nick name of one of the greatest squatters and thinkers in powerlifting is another. Look up Hatfield. He was way ahead of his time (methods, writing and inventions including the SSB). Second to squat 1000, but at a BW of around 250 in his mid 40s.

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It makes sense for people that can utilize the cue.

Different cues for different folks.

It’s the same with all cues, you say what works. People who say arch during squats are people usually either in 1) gear or 2) dealing with someone in a lot of posterior tilt.

Just like chest up isn’t the best cue for a lot of people but instead “head back” is better.

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Hey,
I have to squat high bar (inguinal hernia acting up doing low bar). Also my upper back seems to be my weak link. Any tips besides rows, chin ups, TRX reverse flies? Specifically for the squat.
Thanks for any recommendations!

The SSB. If not that, deadlifts, shrugs, grip holds, and direct upper back work will benefit you. Your traps need to grow to create a bigger and stronger base for the bar to rest on.

I dont have access to a SSB (tried it a few weeks ago during a squat seminar, really really liked it) and deadlifts are not in my routine as of right now because of this hernia thing, dont know if they will make a comeback. Are higher rep shrugs with a trapbar ok? What do you mean with grip holds?
The bar sits comfortably on my back, no rolling of or uncomfort. I just want my upper back to get stronger to support more weight.

Thanks for your answer!

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Thanks Dr. of Dr.Squat history

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These are essentially the same thing, do them until everything burns and I think you will see improvement.

Have you considered mixing in some front squats? Rack position will build your upperback up like a MOFO

Do the front squat 21s :wink:

@guineapig now you are at IR just ask Aaron to look at your squat, he knows his stuff and is usually super helpful. Plenty of other good squatters there that could help also I would think.

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