By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT Pro Source
In response to your groanings about a squat that will simply not improve, some strength coaches will tell you that you just need to keep adding weight to the bar or that your legs are too long to be an efficient squatter (sigh). These all-too-typical responses are shortsighted and tend to neglect the most common cause for a stubborn squat max: form.
Becca Borawski, editor of Breaking Muscle (www.breakingmuscle.com) and the former Program Director at CrossFit LA (www.crossfitla.com), knows a thing or three about improving performance on this fundamental lift. Bad squatters, or those who have hit a plateau, are likely doing one or more of the following three things. Read on to see how you can correct your own squat shortcomings. Once you do, we promise that your previous 1RM will soon be a distant memory.
YOUR HEELS COME OFF THE FLOOR
"Heels coming off the floor can mean a couple different things, but typically it is a sign that your weight is not being sent backwards," says Borawski. "Instead you are trying to squat straight down. There are two quick adjustments you can make to help this. First, begin the movement by pushing your hips back -- think back, then down. Another thing I tell my clients is to pull their toes up off the ground and keep them up throughout the whole squat. If you lift up your toes and keep them there, you can't rock forward and you'll keep your weight in your mid-foot where it should be."
YOU HAVE TOO MUCH FORWARD LEAN
"Too much forward lean can be an indication of a weak core. If your back and abdominals are not strong enough to move upward at the same rate as your legs, you may need to work on strengthening your core -- front and back. One thing that can help right away is investing in a pair of weightlifting shoes -- the ones that look like bowling shoes with the high wooden heels. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research specifically shows that these shoes help athletes who have issues with a forward lean. This same research showed reducing the forward lean (during the squat) reduced stress on the lower back."
YOUR FOOT SPACING IS PROBLEMATIC
"You want to select a width that will allow you to get your hip crease below your knees. This could be slightly different from person to person. Typically, I will see inflexible people try to compensate by going way too wide. Shoulder width is a great place to start from -- then you can make small adjustments from there. Also pay attention to the angle of your feet. Typically toeing your feet out to 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock works well."