Hi everybody! Thank you for joining and taking your time to read through this blog. I truly do appreciate the support from each and every one of you. For those of you that don’t know me that well, I grew up in Dubuque, IA. I come from an incredible family of 5 that includes my parents, Chuck and Julie, an older sister, Erin, and a younger brother, Collin. They’ve had my back every step of my life and always support me no matter what I do and for that, I couldn’t be more thankful. I went to St. Ambrose University where I double majored in Exercise Science and Human Performance & Fitness, minored in Biology, and played football. Upon graduation I was offered a training job at Lifetime Athletic here in Des Moines. I worked there for a year and a half before deciding to branch off on my own. Making the jump to starting my own business nearly 2 years ago was one of the greatest decisions that I have ever made. Lifetime was a great starting platform for me to build up a client base and name for myself. I met so many great people there straight out of college but starting Seymour Health & Fitness has been an incredible experience and I wouldn’t change a thing. I can actually say that I thoroughly enjoy doing what I do. With these writing pieces, I want to share my knowledge with you so that you can improve your health, fitness, and overall lifestyle. There will be a variety of formats and topics but if you ever have any questions regarding the content or any topics that you want me to cover, don’t hesitate to reach out. (To all of the teachers in my family that are in this email group, ignore the grammatical errors. I’m sure there are a few in here that are going to drive you crazy.)
Cell phone: (563) 590-6355
King of all Exercises: The Squat
With the first real blog, it’s only fitting that we talk about, what I would consider, “King of all exercises”: the squat. When it comes to discussing such a complex, multi-joint exercise, there are numerous avenues to take but for starters, I am going to talk and show you how to execute a squat with proper form. There are plenty of dos and don’ts when it comes to this particular exercise and endless variations to progress or modify the exercise based on your needs and abilities. Whether you are a child sitting and playing, an athlete in the weight room, or an elderly individual sitting into a chair, the squat is practical for all individuals. As with any exercise, it can be dangerous but when done correctly, the squat will do you wonders.
Some type of squat variation should be implemented in every single person’s exercise program. Based on your abilities (and inabilities) and experience will determine what type of squat is best for you. Not everybody should be overhead squatting or front squatting but everybody should be able to perform a full depth body weight squat. Regressing from the traditional body weight squat would simply be using a box to sit on or even squatting to a wall so that there is minimal chance of losing balance. These should be used for novice weight lifters, elderly, or somebody recovering from an injury. Progressions of the body weight squat would include adding loads. First, I would suggest holding a kettlebell or dumbbell on your chest and continuing the movement, which is known as the goblet squat. Once this movement is perfected and becomes comfortable, adding a barbell is the next step. This is when the real fun begins. The back squat is probably the most well known version of the squat, but again, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best version for you. Front squats are incredible (and my personal favorite version of the squat) because they not only work the body just as much as the back squat but they are also very transferrable to Olympic lifts. Overhead squats, single arm overhead squats, and split squats are some more difficult versions of the squat.
Each of these exercises has their own pros and cons but today we are really going to spend time on a traditional barbell squat. The main difference between front and back squats is bar placement. In back squats, think about flexing your back so that if someone were to put a finger in the middle of your back, between your shoulder blades, you would pinch their finger. This causes a shelf made from your trapezius muscles for the bar to rest on. If you don’t do this, the bar will be resting on your vertebrae and spinal cord and it won’t be comfortable whatsoever. As for front squat, you need to rest the bar across the anterior portion of your deltoids and your collar bones, Try to keep your entire hand wrapped around the bar for the most stability. Front squats require more mobility throughout the shoulder girdle and latissimus dorsi. Front squats are a little bit more upright, which allows for more depth at the bottom of the squat but back squats typically allow you to move more weight. They’re very similar movements but both are so beneficial for the body.
First and foremost, the squat starts with your stance. There is always debate over the “correct” squat stance. In the end, whatever you are capable of doing is going to be your best bet. When I squat and when I coach others to squat, I tend to have the feet just outside shoulder width and slightly angled out. This is a very common stance that tends to be comfortable for most. Some people feel more comfortable with their feet straight ahead, more narrow, or wider and it’s dependent upon mobility (mostly at the ankle) and comfort level.
“Keep your weight back on your heels while squatting.” Please don’t do this. When you do, you limit your ankle mobility which then prohibits you from reaching proper depth on your squats or causes you to compensate at a different joint (knee or hip) which could cause injuries under the loaded bar. The cue that I use for my clients is to “screw your feet into the ground.” What I mean by this is once you find your foot placement, think about keeping your feet in place, but externally rotating the foot so that the weight lies on the outside of your foot. This will allow you to maintain an arched foot and will help engage the glutes, as well as preventing the knees from caving in. When the foot loses its arch, the knees cave in and you lose all force provided from pushing into the floor.
Try this. Stand up, find a comfortable foot position, and without turning your feet out any further than they already are, shift the weight to the outside of your foot. This should point your knees outward a bit and you should feel the lateral portion of your butt tighten up a little bit.
Before we descend into the squat, first we must learn how to properly breathe during a squat. In order to thoroughly engage your core (so you don’t have to be a pansy and wear a belt every single time that you squat), breathing correctly will be key. Core stability is extremely important in squatting efficiently Stability is different that strength so those thousands of sit ups you’re doing aren’t going to benefit you in the squat (or help you get a 6-pack for that matter). You are going to want to take a deep breath through your stomach (learn how to become a belly breather, not just for squatting but for everyday life) and hold that deep in your core and brace your core like you are going to be punched in the stomach. This will not only cause the abdominal muscles to tighten up, but also the low back, which is also part of your core. This forced hold is called the valsalva maneuver. Once the core is braced, then begin your descent. Upon reaching the bottom of your squat, don’t exhale all of your breath right away because you will lose that stable core and the weight will crush you. On the ascent, allow yourself to naturally exhale but still hold some of that air in the stomach. Rinse and repeat before doing your next repetition.
Now back to the actual squat motion. Once the feet are locked into place and the core is braced, it’s time to begin the eccentric portion of the squat. The first motion should begin at the hips. Although it isn’t a hinge motion, the squat begins at the hips. The hips will slide back, and then all you need to do is simply pretend you are sitting into a chair. Hinge the hips back and lower yourself as far as your body allows you to while under a controlled speed. Do not let your chest cave in and try to maintain a neutral spine throughout the process, which shouldn’t be an issue if your core remains braced. When the knees begin to bend, allow the quad to be parallel to the direction of your feet. This should all line up and if your knees begin to cave in, remember the cues of “screwing in” your feet before the next exercise.
The place where I see the most problems with squats is immediately after hitting that bottom position. People rush out of the bottom and do absolutely whatever they can in order to stand that bar up. The concentric portion of the squat is the most difficult because you have additional weight linked to your body and you are working against gravity. Upon reaching the bottom position, really the only thing that changes is your direction. You must maintain a stabilized core, your chest must remain up, and the neutral spine is going to be very important. Some coaches cue individuals to “look at a spot on the ceiling” or “keep your eyes up” which are both terrible for the neutral spine position. When you crank your neck to look up at the ceiling, your spine loses its stability and you increase your risk of injury. What I like to use is “give me a double chin.” This forces your head to tuck itself without caving your chest.
During the ascent, another cue to think about is “use your body to push the bar up, as opposed to pushing the feet into the ground.” When you think about it, you want to use your body strength to successfully lift whatever weight is resting on your back or across your shoulders. You’re not trying to push yourself away from the floor. This seems very obvious but if you consciously attempt to push the bar up with your body instead of pressing your feet into the floor, you’ll see what I mean.
While squatting the weight up, I tell people to think about rising their shoulders and hips at the same time. Think of yourself as a puppet with strings attached to your shoulders and hips. Those should both rise at the same time and speed. Lots of people will raise their hips first (similar to a goodmorning exercise) and this turns into a Kang squat, which is a great exercise but very difficult with weight that you’re used to squatting. Rising your hips first will cause the bar path to chance route which throws off your balance and will more than likely cause injury to your back or hips. Maintaining a straight bar path through the middle of your foot is crucial to performing the most efficient squat possible. The more that bar moves side-to-side or front to back, the more work you need to do.
There it is. You know how to brace for a squat, perform the eccentric portion, and the concentric portion. The squat is such a fun movement and there are always variations based on the individual but these are the general guidelines that I use to train my clients and for myself. I believe the squat is so incredibly important to building strength, increased core stability and awareness, and improving overall wellness. Performing a perfect squat with lower weight will always trump squatting heavy weight with terrible form. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your workout. The squat can benefit just about every single muscle in the body but can also be extremely dangerous if not done correctly. Make sure to use a spotter if necessary. If you don’t feel comfortable performing this exercise in the proper way, make sure you consult me or another fitness professional. I’d love to help out!