The barbell squats is commonly known as the king of all lower body exercise. It is a compound exercise that targets several different muscle groups. This makes it an excellent exercise to strengthen and build up the lower body that you can add to your workout in the gym on legs day. It is also an exercise that you can load up with a significant amount of weight. However, when performing the barbell squats with heavy weights on your back, it can be dangerous when done incorrectly and you might suffer an injury, especially when you do not have a personal trainer to guide you. In this article, we will be providing you with some tips on how to squat heavy on the barbell squats.
Before Un-racking the barbell
(i). Warm Ups
Before we jump straight into the barbell squat, what we do before we squat is just as important. Like any other exercise, we need to warm up our joints and muscles before performing the exercise itself. It is advisable to do some of these mobility and dynamic exercises to warm up the body and also get some blood flowing. In addition, do work your way incrementally when adding more weight to the barbell squats.
(ii). Creating a Shelf
Before un-racking the barbell, we want to create a nice shelf on your upper back for the barbell to sit on. This can be done by squeezing your shoulder blades together and pushing your upper back into the barbell. In addition, this also further increases the upper back stability which is very crucial when carrying heavy weights on your back.
(iii). Proper breathing and bracing
Take a deep breath of air and brace your core (front abdominals, obliques and lower back) before you un-rack the barbell. This helps to increase your stability, thus making the barbell easier to un-rack and feeling lighter as well, which will eventually give you a psychologically boost as well to feel more confident about squatting that heavy weight.
After un-racking the barbell
(i) Take 2-3 steps backwards
After un-racking the barbell, you want to take no more than 2-3 steps to get into your preferred squatting stance. Taking too many steps back is a waste of valuable energy especially when you are going to squat a heavy load on your back. So in order to establish an optimal squat walk off, you will need to also know your optimal squat stance width. To perform the squat walk-off, firstly, you want to engage your dominant leg to create a stable base before dragging your non-dominant leg behind you to about a distance of the length of your own foot. Next, with your dominant foot, you want to put it at a position where it is your squat stance width. Lastly, the corrective step with your non dominant feet, to adjust it to ensure the width and overall foot positioning is perfect.
(ii) Proper breathing and bracing
Right before you squat, you also want to take another deep breath of air and brace against your core muscles tightly, to keep the torso rigid. It is essential to maintain this rigidity of the torso throughout the squat. Any movement of the torso during a squat can cause unwanted pressure on the spine which might potentially cause an injury.
During the Squat
(i) Tracking the knees
As you perform the squat, you want to ensure that your knees do not cave inwards, also known as knee valgus. A knee valgus puts the knee joint in an unstable and unsafe position. This essentially causes extra strain on our quadricep muscles, the front of our thighs, which may potentially cause an injury. If you do notice that your knee caves inwards, use the cues of “Spread the floor” with your feet or “Knees out” to utilise the lateral glutes muscles to put your body in a mechanically advantageous position to perform the barbell squats, therefore enabling us to lift heavier weights safely and efficiently.
(ii) Hips and Chest rise up together
Lastly, we want to ensure that as we ascent from the bottom from the squats, our chest and hips rise up at the same rate. A common problem that occurs is the hips rising up faster than the chest, this would push you forward causing the torso to lean forward excessively and could result in the inability to complete the squat. In addition, this could place additional stress on our lower and mid back as well which can eventually lead to injuries in the long run. You have to work on coordinating and ensuring that your chest and hips rises up at the same rate. A great coordination exercise to fix this issue is the 1.5 squats, in which you squat down fully, ascend halfway back up before going back down to the bottom of the squat, and lastly ascending all the way back up. This teaches you what it feels like when your hips are moving the correct way out of the bottom of the squat.
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