T Nation

Squatting technique

Question for you all.

I am fairly new to bodybuilding within the last year and I am trying to master the squat. I started out using a smith machine as I heard this was a goo starting point for learning the technique.

However, I have been informed and have realised that my form is slightly wrong. Before I suffer an injury I am looking for ways to start squatting using a a free weight barbell. The drawback to this is that I can’t seem to squat down to parallel without my hips going out behind me and it ends up being more of a good morning when I stand back up. This is due to my ankles not being able to flex enough. I have not problems with a deadlift though. I do however have long legs which makes it a son of a bitch to get down properly as my hips and knees need to travel quite far out to get down.

I have read that raising your heels may be a starting point in order to get used to the exercise but I have my doubts as to whether this is a good idea or not for my knees. (obviously I am going to take it easy and use light weights to avoid injury)

Has anyone had a similar experience as I would like to know what approach they took. I am concerned that I may be biomechanically unsuited to squatting. I hope this is not the case.

Thanks for your time

If you’re just trying to learn technique right now, get out of the machine and work in the power rack with just the bar. There’s no point in getting used to a machine squat if you plan on eventually using the rack. The problem you mentioned may not be due to a lack of flexibility. If your trunk flexes too far forward, you could just be using too much weight.

There’s several things you can do. First and foremost, I would suggest thoroughly stretching your calves and Achilles tendons before and after every set of squats. It’s imperative to keep your heels down when squatting, no matter what anyone else tell you. Second, try front or overhead squats. They’ll perfect your form like nothing else. you can either warm up with them, or use them in place of regular back squats every other workout or so. Just be sure to keep the reps low (5-7, sometimes lower) and do numerous sets (5-6 at least.) Eventually, you’ll learn to feel the correct form. Hope this helps.

Yes, front squats will definitely help you stay more upright on back squats. However, front squats will work your quads while totally neglecting your glute-hip musculature, so also include deadlifts and back squats.

I’ve seen people use a small plate under the heels as an INTERIM measure until they gain the ankle flexibility, using progressively smaller lifts under the heels. Definitely don’t try to go heavy when going through this progression. Most likely what you did in the Smith was move your feet forward and do a modified hack squat, effectively taking the low back out of the lift. Just remember that you’re trying to get your BUTT low, not the bar. A lot of people tend to bend over at the waist trying to get the bar low. Make sure you’re keeping the reps slow and under control. If, on the asscent, you feel the hips rising and you’re bending over farther, STOP, and look towards the ceiling. This gets the shoulders going back and the weight rising so you can keep everything in the right line. Back off the weight until you get the form down COLD. Then progress.

FYI…anyone can learn to squat. You may not be able to perform a high-bar olympic style squat but certainly a productive variation. Squatting requires sufficient flexibility in the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders (to properly support the bar). So your problems may not just be ankle flexibility but rather, hamstrings, quads, glutes. Also the length of your femur and tibia will also contribute to what form of squatting you may be more inclined to perform. Long femurs will shift your center of gravity backward as you squat requiring a wider stance to keep your COG over your feet. Stretch the muscles mentioned above. Experiment with stance width. And keep working toward the ideal. It will come with time like any other skill.

I used to have the same problems. A couple of suggestions I can give you that helped me: 1) Pick a point high on the wall or ceiling in front of you and focus on it throughout the set. 2) Improve flexibility in your calves. 3)Learn how to front squat. 4) Don’t be afraid to vary your stance width. 5) Drop the weight a bit, slow down the tempo, and focus on really feeling the exercise in your quads.

Shaun, you haven’t told us what your goals are re: squatting. (It makes a difference.) If you are going to pursue bodybuilding, i.e. you just want muscle hypertrophy, then there’s nothing wrong with raising your heels on a block or something. Doing this and keeping the bar high on your back will throw more of the effect on the quads while not involving the hams and glutes as much. (Powerlifting would be different, of course.) In any case, raising your heels will not have any adverse effect on your knees. I have very poor ankle flexibility and have been using various props under my heels for well over 20 years, and it hasn’t hurt my knees a bit. Don’t worry about it.

I’ve yet to see a person who couldn’t be taught how to squat properly. Most of the technical problems when one starts squatting are just getting used to the movement. It’s kind’ve awkward at first and the body will try to compensate by being “safe”. This manifests itself in leaning too far forward, knees coming in, hips rising faster then the torso etc. all in an effort by the body to acquaint itself to an unfamiliar movement. The easiest and most productive way to learn how to squat is to learn how to do it on a box. Set a box 1 inch below parallel behind you and starting without any weight simply sit slowly back on the box. Move slowly and under control on the ascent and place your hands on your bum at the bottom and try to contract your glutes first to start to lift you off the box. Vary your stance to where you can do this without leaning too far forward while keeping your knees in line with your toes. Once you get the hang of it try it with an empty 45 lb bar and gradually start adding weight each workout. Pretty soon you’ll be able to do a perfect squat without the box.

I had this problem too, long limbed and had a terrible time going low with good form. Solved it with a 4 week stint learning box squats and Zercher squats.