View Full Version : Squat Progression

Jeff Bonn
01-26-2010, 01:04 PM
I am attempting to get my squat form dialed in. I have issues with maintaining lumbar flexion at or below parallel (trying to get into a true deep squat). Per Greg Everett's book I'm working on some of the hamstring flexibility and hip flexor pulls at the bottom but I'm not there (yet). While I expect things to improve over time, I'm wondering what the general advice would be on progessing from here.

Should I be doing regularly (daily?) light (empty bar) full depth squats and just keep pushing towards improved form? Should I be going only as low as I can keep nuetral spinal position or full depth and get deeper slowly? Should I be trying taxing weights or light weights and what ROM?

Should I be doing something like deadlifts for improving lower back strength? Something else?


Greg Everett
01-26-2010, 01:23 PM
squat your face off. empty bar, light weight, just get in a ton of volume focusing on sitting in to maximal depth and activating those spinal erectors. more direct erector work like back extensions (that's BACK extensions, not hip extensions), particularly at a relatively slow tempo and a pause in extension (max extension, max contraction) will do more for you in this case than hip-centric movements like DLs (even of the stiff-legged variety).

Jeff Bonn
01-26-2010, 01:38 PM
Thanks Greg. The book by the way is a tome, a seriously pleasant surprise.

I meant to add something to my first question and forgot. I'm not quite yet ready to put money in to lifting shoes, but did find shimming my heels (stack of thin pressboard) was very effective at getting my torso more erect by getting my knees farther forward. Should I bother with such a scheme or just try work on my "flatfooted" form before adding such an aid?

Thanks again for your help!

Greg Everett
01-26-2010, 01:43 PM
You should just get shoes. Don't fight it.

Jamie Crichton
01-26-2010, 01:44 PM
You can't go wrong with working your ankle mobility. Youtube has a stack of videos on how to accomplish this. Suffice to say that improving the range of motion in your ankle will achieve what you are currently doing by elevating the heel, making squatting with an upright torso much easier. Weightlifting shoes are worth the purchase as well, though.

Garrett Smith
01-26-2010, 01:52 PM
Do both. Get shoes and the flexibility.

Read this article, or at least this excerpt:
Baby, Bathwater, Gear (http://startingstrength.com/articles/baby_bathwater_gear_gibson.pdf)
There are some purists who believe a squat is tainted unless it’s done in bare feet and presumably as close to naked as circumstances allow (One wonders if they feel the squat rack is an unnatural copout too since it holds the weight for you and lets you squat more because you didn’t have to Steinborn the bar onto your back). But the more sensible among us will adorn our bodies appropriately. At the very least a shirt made mostly of cotton should be worn so that the bar does not slide around on your slick, sweaty back. We sensible folk will also give a lot of attention to what we put on our feet when we squat. We tend to like a non-compressible sole and a little bit of heel.

Scouring the internet gives me the impression that there are way too many people trying to barbell back squat in as close to a “natural” state as possible. And this extends to the angle of their feet relative to their tibiae. That is to say, they don’t want their footwear to have any heel. They see the heel as a crutch for what they deem a flexibility problem in either the hamstrings or the calves. This betrays a profound disrespect for critical thinking and a flagrant disregard of the realities of anatomy and physics.

I’d ask heel-haters to try to squat with the balls of their feet elevated to demonstrate the aforementioned anatomy and physics at work. It’s not flexibility at issue here. What we have are changes in balance resulting in stresses being shifted to different muscle groups. Balls of feet elevated will require the lifter to perform more of a good morning in order to stay in balance and get depth; the shins will be nearly vertical and the knees well behind the toes which means the hip angle will be much more acute than the knee angle. Therefore the stress of moving the weight is placed almost entirely on the glutes and hamstrings. As the angle of the foot moves to flat and then to heels elevated, the balance shifts and with it so does the stress. The higher the heel, the farther out over the toes the knees have to move to maintain balance as the lifter descends with the barbell; the more acute the knee angle and more open the hip angle. The quads are able to get more of the action while the hamstrings have less to do (the glutes and hamstrings still have to work hard to maintain the resulting more open hip angle). The higher the heel, the more the stress is shunted to the quads and away from the posterior chain.

A slightly elevated heel distributes the stress equitably between the knee extensors and the hip extensors. An elevated heel is not a copout due to lack of flexibility; it’s a legitimate training device with a specific function. I know it will make some angry or sad to read it, but Nature did not provide you with an ideal foot angle on flat ground for the purpose of balancing the work between the anterior and posterior muscles in the barbell back squat.

Insistence on barbell squatting au naturale is a waste of effort. Squatting is natural. Barbell squatting certainly is not. The plate-loaded barbell with rotating collars is an artifact of industrial civilization. (So is a squat rack, by the way.) Again, the equipment that allows us to perform this wonderful, strength-building movement is in a sense “gear” itself. It is no crime to add more accessories to make their use safer and more productive.

Brian Stone
01-26-2010, 03:46 PM
Jeff, check out Dan John's video here. He has a lot of great tips that can quickly add to flexibility for the squat.


Vid/audio quality are a little rough. I've just begun these exercises so can't give conclusions from experience yet, but the material seems solid.

Brian DeGennaro
01-26-2010, 04:00 PM
I also came up with a pretty decent warmup for squats, a good fill of mobility and activation for ya. It works like a charm for most.


Jeff Bonn
01-26-2010, 06:10 PM
Thanks for the input from everyone. I'm going to have to try to get some video "unmodified" and document what has what impact (insofar as I can isolate that). Thanks again!

Allen Yeh
01-27-2010, 04:32 AM
Greg's book is great of course but a bit ago he also had a video. I know it's on the front page a while back and also on the Cathletics youtube I think but I can't access youtube at work to search for it. Very good video if you're like me and find it easier to understand when it's being demonstrated than just reading a description and trying to practice the description. If I get a chance I'll try to dig it up.


Found the link:


Ian Gallimore
01-27-2010, 07:06 AM
Another few things to try:

1) Squat down and rest and empty bar across the top of your thighs, just above the knees. Gently transfer your weight from one foot to another using the bar as leverage.
2) Squat down with and empty bar directly at your feet. Reach down between your legs and grab the bar, now try and push your hips down as hard as you can whilst simultaneously squeezing your chest up as hard as you can.
3) Overhead squats with the empty bar. Be ultra strict with yourself and keep your back as tight as you can throughout the movement. Sit in the bottom position and squeeze your hips down and your chest up. If you have the shoulder mobility doing these with a narrower grip will force you to be even tighter.
4) Make sure you warm up properly. A couple of sets of 10 with the empty bar, where you tighten your back as hard as you can and squat down slowly works wonders.
5) Watch Dan John's squat video linked above. Do the goblet squats.
6) Get some shoes. Best investment you'll ever make as far as lifting goes.

Gavin Harrison
01-27-2010, 10:47 PM
Shoe recommendation aside, would anyone recommend the rogue do-win .5" sole shoes? I'm considering buying a pair for general training, not WL specific, or even at all. Just wondering if a slight heel would help me at all. Also, I've got long legs compared to my torso.. and squat high bar to avoid excessive forward lean.

Brian Stone
01-28-2010, 06:39 AM
Shoe recommendation aside, would anyone recommend the rogue do-win .5" sole shoes? I'm considering buying a pair for general training, not WL specific, or even at all. Just wondering if a slight heel would help me at all. Also, I've got long legs compared to my torso.. and squat high bar to avoid excessive forward lean.

I have poor ankle flexibility so bought shoes with a slightly elevated heel, as recommended in Greg's book. I also have long legs / short torso. I would say I noticed a big difference in squatting in these vs. normal sneakers, but that's probably attributable more to the solid sole than the raised heel. I haven't tested other heel elevations to give recommendations there, but I can tell you the WL shoes made a big difference for me.

01-29-2010, 01:19 AM
About 50 years of experience by weightlifters around the world has gradually but certainly centered the heel height of weightlifting shoes at 3/4 of an inch, or a little higher for those lacking in flexibility.

I have seen multiple lifters who have squatted or done the clean or snatch better in heels higher than 3/4 inch, but never one who has done better in lower heels...

But, get some shoes, that is the main thing. Just like any running shoe of any brand would be better than loafers if your gonna run a 5k, any weightlifting shoe, no matter the heel height, will be better than nothing if your going to lift weights.