All right, let’s get your squat all sorted out. Bear in mind that we’re talking specifically about an Olympic squat here—some of the details on depth, bottom position and stance will vary for other types of squats and applications.
The following points are principles that apply to everyone, but there will be variation in the exact positions among weightlifters due to factors like proportions, hip anatomy and mobility. Focus on meeting the criteria of the principles rather than trying to replicate another lifter’s squat.
First, let’s determine your stance. Stand with your heels around hip-width and your toes turned out to whatever degree feels comfortable. Sit down in a relaxed but balanced position, not worrying about your back.
From here, we’re going to adjust the width and toe-out until we find the optimal position. The first criterion is finding the angle of the thigh that provides the best range of motion at the hip—that is, the position in which we can sit comfortably at full depth without feeling any bone on bone restriction or discomfort other than some possible tension from inflexibility.
The second criterion is keeping each thigh aligned with its corresponding foot—that is, if you look down over one thigh, it’s approximately parallel with that foot. We’re simply ensuring here that the knee is hinging as it’s designed to and eliminating any rotational force. For most athletes, this will mean the center of the knee is very slightly outside the center of the foot.
Full depth is simple—it’s closing the knee joint as much as possible while maintaining proper back extension and balance over the foot. We can sit lower if we relax and allow the back to round, but we of course don’t want to load a squat in this position. Keeping the back set properly will bring the hips slightly higher into maximal functional depth.
For some athletes, this will mean extreme depth, while others will be barely below parallel—again, this is why adhering to the principles rather than mimicking other athletes is so important.
The goal is to maintain as upright of a posture as possible throughout the motion to create the best structure to support weight on the shoulders or overhead. This includes keeping the head up and the eyes forward. The body tends to go where the head and eyes go—if you’re looking down or tilting your head down, you’re more likely to tip and shift forward. Keeping the head up also helps maintain overall back extension.
In order to maintain this posture, we need to bend at the hips and knees together to limit the backward hip motion to only what’s actually necessary.
Throughout the squat, the back should remain set tightly in the same position. The lower back needs to remain in its neutral curve, and the upper back should be flattened somewhat through the attempt to extend it. This position needs to be maintained forcefully with continuous muscular effort around the entire trunk.
In order to stabilize the spine maximally, we need to pressurize the trunk with air. Take in a complete breath—allow the abdomen and chest to expand—then lock the air in and forcefully tighten all of the musculature around the trunk. If you have a tendency to get dizzy during heavy lifts, expel a small amount of air as you move through the most difficult range of motion.
The goal is to maintain balance over the whole foot throughout the squat with full foot contact at all times. No part of the foot should lift off the floor at any point.
Tempo & Bounce
Generally we want to train the bounce in front squats and use a more controlled tempo in back squats. This allows us to best use the front squat to train the rhythm and aggression of the clean, and strengthen the trunk against the additional forces experienced with the abrupt stop in the bottom, and to use the back squat to train leg strength through the greatest range of motion possible.
Even if using the bounce, the initial descent should be at a more controlled tempo and acceleration down begun around parallel. Always stand from the bottom of a squat with maximal speed unless you have a very good reason not to in a specific case.
For more details on the squat, see the free videos and articles here, starting with this one
Thank you to Hookgrip and All Things Gym for the videos