T Nation

Squatting in the Face of Adversity : )

I’m a little frustrated (pissed off) with my squats. I know that the most effective squats are those performed “ass to the grass,” but the best that I can currently manage is slightly above parallel. Going any lower results in my back rounding out, and for the past three years each time I near my PR my lower back begins to freak out (translation: “lower back pain, even at rest”).

I'm the proud owner of a set of long femurs and a long torso, which don't do me any particular favors with the squats. I currently follow a light stretching regimen that I do after working out and before going to bed - IOW not very rigorous.

Is the trick to developing deeper squats simply a matter of stretching more or using special stretches? Or is it a matter of "relearning" the squat? Targeting weak links? If so what are common weak points, and what are the best exercises for strengthening them? I'm admittedly somewhat of a newbie, so no doubt there's something I'm missing....

It sounds like you who post here have experience oozing out of your ears - please share the wealth! I'm tired of performing 1/4 ROM wuss squats!

Thanks in advance. - Nelson

P.S. age 21; height 5'8"; weight 180 lbs; bf% ~12%; max squat 385 lbs. (for reference).

Hi, RNelson. Hopefully some others will stop by and share their wisdom. It’s always fun to hear other people’s thoughts and tricks.

Quick thoughts. When I switched to ass-to-the-grass squats, I had to lighten up on my weights and start over. One of the things I do is squat in the power rack. I set the horizontal bars so that when the barbell on my back touches those horizontal bars, I’m below parallel. If I don’t touch the bar, it wasn’t a “successful” rep. That way I keep correct form and always look up instead of looking in the mirror to see how far down I’ve gone.

Another thing to look at is foot placement, a highly individual thing. Without any weight or any bar, squat down so that your butt is a couple of inches from the ground. Your knees should be right at or just below your shoulders. You should be able to hold the position comfortably for a couple of minutes. However far your feet were apart is about the position they should be in for your squats. Your feet should be far enough apart that you can go to a deep squat without your heels leaving the floor. All that said, within reason, wider foot placement should allow for deeper squats.

As far as remedial exercises go, good mornings are supposed to be good for strengthening the muscles that maintain that arch in your back.

Hope that helps, and I can’t wait to see what the experts say.

I second the suggestion of simply starting over. Also, there are many cultures where a good comfortable resting position is in a deep squat. Practice it often. You won’t need to do endless bodyweight squats, simply get into a flat foot position and fully squat, using whatever means necessary to balance yourself, with the goal of unsupported deep knee bend. You can succeed. Also check your form on the weighted version. bar position, foot width, foot angle. I’d look into hip/ I.T. band flexibility. best of luck.

It took me nearly a month to learn proper deep squat form without weight.

Why is it that your are unable to go any lower? You said that your back rounds out, but if this is the case, are you really going any lower?

The fact that your back is rounding generally means that you have poor lower back strength. The best excercise for developing lower back strength for the squat is the Good Morning, which is followed in a close second by Reverse Hypers, and GluteHam Raises.

Most people i know that have trouble squatting deep are too concerned with “squatting” the weight(Follow my logic, it gets clearer). If you try to “squat” down, you will never be able get adequate depth. I find that the easiest way to condition yourself to get adequate depth(Other than box squatting) is to focus on pushing your ass back. Here’s a quick breakdown on form. Many may be able to offer better advice, there are links to some at the end of this post, but here is what has worked best for me and those i’ve helped.

  • Place an empty Olympic Barbell on a squat rack or power rack at a height that is comfortable for you. Easy, right? Now drop it one peg/pin/hole. I'll explain later.
  • Approach the bar. Right now, we're not going to worry about bar position, it's more important to focus on the mechanics of the lift. The only important thing about bar position is: Do no use a pad! Manta Ray's may have applications in hardcore gyms, but the number one reason they are used by the Bally's crowd is because "The bar hurts." Don't be that guy.
  • Grab the bar at the grip you intend to use for the squat, and try to bend the bar(Don't try to pull the bar off the rack :p ). If this seems pointless then just focus on grabbing the bar and pulling your shoulder blades together and shrugging your traps. This will maintain the upper back tension needed to keep the bar traveling in a straight line. Now get under the bar(I usually "pull myself under the bar) and seat it on your traps. Make sure tha once you are under the bar, you maintain the upper back tension.
  • Now because the bar is a bit lower on the rack than you might like, this may be uncomfortable: Good. This will force you to learn how to maintain an arch. Keeping your lower back tightly arched during the entire lift will keep you from getting stapled. From this position get a slight bend at the knees, shove your ass back, flex your lower back, and Look Forward. Some find it helpful(I find it imperative), to focus on forcing your abs out into a lifting belt. Read this paragraph over. It may not have made much sesnse, but if you neglect one aspect of the arch, you will not suceed.
  • Unrack the weight. Now walk backwards. Make sure that you maintain the arch throughout. Do not try to shrug the weight out of the rack, that will negate the last 4 steps. This is the main reason for starting with the bar a bit low. Assume the widest stance you are comfortable with. Each successive workout, concentrate on making this stance a little wider. You don't have to, and probably don't want to sumo squat, but a wide stance is imperative, at least for now. Once you have the back and hamstring deveopment to squat big weights, you can focus on your stance more. I find that for the beginner a shoulder width or slightly wider stance is most effective.
  • Don't focus on squatting down. Focus on using the arch and driving your ass backwards, almost as if you were sitting on a toilet. Your shins should never move forward. As your ass goes back, bend at the knees and force your ass back som more, until you reach parallel or your desired depth. As you go lower, keep looking forward, and now drive your chest out. This will help you maintain your arch for the entire movement. Box Squatting (link at the end) is most effective for teaching this aspect of the lift.
  • Your focus during the actual "squatting" aspect should be making sure the bar doesn't drift forward or backward. The reason you drive out your chest is because some lean is unavoidable, but once the bar drifts forward you're done. If the bar drifts back, your spotter's done. Your traps are tight to keep the bar stable, your arch is to keep you stable. You push your ass back so your torso doesn't move, you force your chest out because your torso will move. Through all of this, the only direction the bar should move is down.
  • While you are still trying to learn the form, use pause or box squats. Once you reach your desired depth stop. Count to Three. Enjoy the Pain. This will help codition you to squat to the right depth. At first you may be overly concerned with squatting to or below parallel, but once your body knows the right depth you can focus on becoming more aggressive. More aggressive = more gooder.(I know, I know)
  • Enjoy the Pain. Fuck your happy place, fuck that little penguin. You're doing what probably 90% of the people in your gym don't have the balls to do. Remeber that(End of Pep Talk)
  • Explode out of the hole. Don't stand up, explode up. Just make sure that during this aspect, the bar's path stays the same. I find it helpful to look up, even though this is a No-No. If you feel that your are being pulled down, thrust your hips forward( For some a picture of Britney Spears or a Real Doll in front of the rack can be a helpful training aid.). Another No-No, but who cares. You have several hundred pounds of raw iron on your back. You've maintained form and gotten correct depth, now don't you want to live to brag about it? Get aggressive. This isn't a leg extension, this is your lift. This is your life.
  • Throughout the entire lift, make sure your feet stay firmly planted on the floor. Never come up on your toes, if this is a problem, stretch your calves a lot. Some advocate putting something under your heals, that's bullshit. If i can't complete a deadlift, i don't place it on 2 foot tall blocks and try again(Alright, it's called working the lockout, but I hope you get my point).
  • If you can't squat a weight in good form it has no buisness being on the bar. You may find that your max squat falls to 225 or 185, that's fine. I could probably quarter squat 700, but it does nothing for me except ellicit laughs from those who know what they're doing. There will always be someone stronger than you, so don't worry about the weight. Worry about your form and improving. Your ego has no place in the gym. Bragging that you can squat xxx when you either didn't or quarter squatted it is still lying. And guess what? No one cares.

I think the best way to proceed is to do some refresher reading:

Ian King's "Lazy Man's Guide to Stretching

And From Dave Tate: Squat 900 Pounds
Squatting from head to Toe

To bring up Lower Back and Hamstring weaknesses:

I suggest posting this in Thibaudeau’s forum.

Rob has pointed out some very good points on squating. Squating deep is all technique. How are you when you go light? Do have full ROM or are you going parrell? If you are going to parrell on light weights, I highly suggest you to strech out your Quads, hamstrings and IT bands…

your numbers are way off… take that for what it’s worth… first try squating without “so much weight” its a contest of one my friend, you figure it out

Im confused about what you mean by your back rounding out. Im assuming its actually your hips tilting causing lower back to round off. This is common and is a flexibility issue. As others said drop down the weight and go down as far as you can maintaining STRICT form and I mean STRICT. Make a conscious effort to maintain the arch in the lower back and dont get freaking lazy. It may take you a while to get down to the floor with CORRECT form, until then go as deep as you can without your hips rounding and your back will thank you.

All of the above advice is great, but the plain fact is that no one can really doctor your squat for you through the Net. You need to find yourself a qualified weightlifting coach and let him/her take a look at your form. Everyone is different, and it will save you a lot of time (and potentially some injuries) to have someone take a look at yourbody and figure out what’s wrong.