The barbell back squat is one of the most effective movements to increase strength and build mass. The squat is a staple exercise for many recreational and professional athletes, but seems to have a smaller following among the average gym goer.
This can make for a difficult task if you’re looking to learn the basics of how to improve your existing squat. If there are so few people in the gym doing them, where can you turn for guidance? Well, just follow this simple 3-step beginner’s guide and watch your squats skyrocket.
1. Shorten Your Hand Placement
This will be determined by the overall health of your shoulders. If you have very tight shoulders due to muscle imbalances or previous injuries, your grip will be pretty wide. If you have a little more mobility, then you will want to get your grip width as narrow as possible.
This will force your shoulder blade closer together and become tighter. This will give the barbell a more stable surface to rest on. After adjusting your grip, it’s important to squeeze the barbell as tight as possible. Again, tightness equals less movement.
2. Focus On Breathing
If you have been under the bar and performed a set of back squats, then you have surely noticed that breathing becomes difficult. In order to get the most out of your squat, it’s important to control your breathing patterns.
This is where performing the Valsalva maneuver becomes important. This technique refers to the process of trapping air in your windpipe and creating enough abdominal pressure to take the load off of your spine. This not only makes the weight move easier, but can reduce injury.
To perform the Valsalva maneuver, take a deep breath before you begin the eccentric (lowering) phase of the exercise. Forcefully create pressure in your glottis (thoracic area) so you can feel the pressure on your abdominals. Once you have made it past your sticking point, exhale.
3. Keep Your Knees Aligned
If you take a minute to look at individuals who happen to be squatting near the maximal weight or until failure, you may notice that their knees will turn inward when they are transitioning from the lowering phase to the standing phase (eccentric to concentric phases).
In fact, this may be happening to you as well. You, like most people, are just unaware of it. Unfortunately, no matter how proficient at squatting you become, your knees will keep trying to angle inward.
You must make a conscious effort to keep this from happening. Many times, this will be the difference between a good squat and a failed attempt.
Whether you are trying to increase sports performance, get stronger, or improve your body mechanics, the barbell back squat deserves to be in your fitness program. As someone who may be new to squatting, you are actually at an advantage since you have yet to learn any bad habits.
Applying these 3 simple squatting tips can make a world of difference in your exercise proficiency. If you feel like you need even more guidance, don’t hesitate to contact a fitness professional. They would be happy to help.