As a coach, there are 5 main cues that I like to give any lifter that comes through the door here at Taylor’s Strength Training. I believe the squat is a bottom-up process rather than a top down. The squat starts with the feet and then work your way up towards your head. Without a solid foundation in the feet, how can we create stability through the whole body? Like a house, without stable foundations it is going to collapse which comes in the form of pronation in the ankles, knee valgus, a tight lower back from glutes not working properly and a rounded upper back. If the body does not work in unison then we are impacting how much we can lift.
1.Creating a Tripod Foot
Whenever a client starts to squat I instantly look at what their feet are doing. “Are their ankles collapsing?” “Are their heels coming up off the floor?” or “Are they falling forwards into their toes?” are my main causes of concern. A beginner or somebody that hasn’t really been coached will have one of these problems and it transfers up to the rest of the body. This instability in the foot comes from wearing narrow shoes and wearing high heeled trainers or even wearing high heels.
Taken from The Foot Collective and in my opinion too, trainers or shoes should be
Flat (forefoot and heel at the same height)
Flexible (able to be bent, twisted, curled up)
Thin sole (the more “stuff” between you and the ground the less input your brain gets about the ground)
Wide (the widest part of a natural, healthy foot is the tip of the toes. Most shoes squish our feet laterally, especially at the toes and this has big consequences like bunions, collapsed arches, neuromas…..etc)
Poor footwear is a major contributor and in most cases the direct cause of problems with our feet. Most shoes are too narrow (the main cause of bunions), have a lifted heel (which shortens our calf and limits ankle mobility), have supportive arches (which weakens your natural arch forming muscles) and steal away the ability of your feet to sense the ground below you because of a thick layer of cushioning (which isn’t necessary and in fact is harmful to how we walk and especially how we run).
Anyway, back to the powerlifting cue, it is important to create 3 points of contact to create a firm and stable arch in your foot. The 3 points of contact are always your big toe, little toe & heel. This will create an arch in the inside of your feet. By creating a stable arch in your foot, this will create a better alignment in your knee & glutes. Look at this by Vaughen Weighlifting
2. Hinge From the Hips
Before we start, some people will disagree with me on this, but I believe ALL powerlifters should low bar squat (as it is far superior) and use high bar squats as a tool to get stronger. I believe you are stronger, in a stabler position which in turn can lead to more weight lifted. This second cue is for the low bar lifters which is HINGE from the hips.
What is a hinge?
A hinge essentially turns on your posterior chain a little more and creates more stability through your midsection (core & hips). Years ago, I watched a YouTube video of Ed Cohen teaching lifters how to hinge properly and it was one of the most educational videos I have ever watched when it comes to squatting properly (Link below). The best way to learn a hinge is with your hands by using the outside of your palm and put it in between your hip crease (lower abs & upper groin), now from there you want to squeeze your groin and lower abs to crush your palms. Your upper body will lean forward but that’s okay, the bar will now be over your midfoot which will create stability in the spine. In addition to this, the low bar squat gives you a greater base of support as your feet are normally a outside shoulder width compared to a high bar squat.
Before you think, this is not just “engaging your abs” so get that out of your head straight away. Bracing is a technique used to create stability throughout your whole core (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, spinal erectors, even your diaphragm). Without a strong core, you can literally fold when you go heavy which can lead to severe injuries. Think of your core as the epicentre of your force production, if you have a weak epicentre, the force will not be as strong (i.e losing tension) whilst creating a strong epicentre will create a stronger force.
So how do I coach bracing? There are two main cues I give which are 1) tighten your stomach like you are about to be punched from the front and from the sides. Think about when you get punched, if you relax you get punched, you are going to keel over in agonising pain but if you prepare for the punch, you absorb the force of the punch much more. Keep that core tight! 2) Breathe into your stomach. This one is a little harder as you have to change your breathing mechanics as most of us are “chest breathers” so a great cue Elliot Hulse used to say was “breathe into your balls” which in essence he means breathe into your pelvic floor. This expands your diaphragm and creates that extra bit of stability and keeping it braced the whole way through the lift is key for force production (look at: Valsalva Maneuver). Breathing into your stomach is a hard concept but is easier to cue with a belt to brace against.
4) Upper Back Tightness
Upper Back tightness is very important when you are lifting heavy weights as it prevents you from either dropping the weight behind you and pulling your shoulders out of their sockets or the bar rolling onto your neck and folding you over (this has happened to me before). You must create an extremely tight shelf by squeezing the shoulder blades together, flexing the traps and creating tension in the lats. A closer hand position will make it easier to achieve upper back tightness, so work on your shoulder mobility to be able to achieve this narrow hand position. Creating the shelf is very important and how I like to do it is by holding the bar and expanding my arms, once I have done this I “lat pulldown” into the bar until it catches onto my rear delt. I should be that tight that my back cannot move in any direction. See my set up here from 3 minutes in. Try think about squeezing a pencil in between your back as you are coming into the bar.
5) Control The Descent
The fastest speed at which you can stay in control of the movement. This includes maintaining proper positioning, keeping the bar path over your mid-foot, correct bracing patterns, keeping your knees out and tension in the hips, and much more that we have discussed above. However, I see it time and time again that lifters bomb into the squat with no control and their knees cave in, they round over and it just looks like an awful squat. If you have problems with bombing into a squat and struggle to get back up then most probably you are loosing tension at the bottom and you would be best doing an accessory such as tempo squats or pin squats. You have to be explosive hence “power” lifting but stay in control of the weight. Oh and please hit depth.
So there you have it, my 5 cues to aid your squat technique and to aid yourself lifting some heavy weight. Keep in mind, in the next few weeks you will get the bench and deadlift portion of this little mini series of my top 5 cues for lifting. If you would like regular updates on my blog and other cool things then please click here to sign up to my newsletter (lhttps://psych-elite.com/contact/) or even drop me an email at email@example.com to start your powerlifting journey today.