Posts Tagged ‘Squat’

Tips when learning how to Squat:


The Squat is one of the most important exercises to learn if you want to be stronger. Squatting is a fundamental human movement. Strong people ages ago knew how to squat with heavy loads (Click here to learn about that technique). Before the invention of the modern toilet, everyone knows how to squat to shit. Now that everyone is a “fitness expert”, there are a lot of shitty squats. I am not an expert because I am still learning and I still have a lot to learn. But I make a living by training athletes to perform better and to recover from injuries. And every athlete I worked with who improved themselves squatted (except the Special Athletes who are wheelchair bound). If you are convinced that to squat is an important part of the process that you will undergo to achieve your goal of living better and being stronger, read on and then train better.

This is specifically about the barbell back squat.People always want something unique and there are a lot of squat variations and derivative exercises. This post is not about the variations. It is about the origin of the variants. To avoid confusion, this post describes the barbell back squat. And by that it is the full squat.

Why squat?

squats vs no squats


Men should pay more attention. Men would look like men if they have muscular thighs as well. Photo shows uninjured and healthy males but with a relatively less developed lower body musculature. This affects bearing which may makes the guys look arrogant, or gay, or both! They walk strange too. Swinging side to side as if to show they are so wide to compensate for those skinny legs. Heavy squats stimulate the release of testosterone- the male hormone.

The squat is a very useful movement. As an exercise it has a very wide application ranging from health issues to fitness to athletic performance. It is a compound movement- it uses a lot of main joints and most main muscle groups. It is ground based- a closed kinetic chain movement. It is what others term as “Functional Exercise” and it truly is. It stimulates the mind and body to undergo positive changes. The best way to learn how to squat is to squat under the guidance and supervision of a capable coach. Reading this blog supplements the process and makes you pay attention to important details. It will be wordy to be able to describe some of the details. Be patient in reading if you want to learn and add to your knowledge and skills. Reading this 2,000+ word blog helps you more by improving your awareness of the details of this exercise thereby lessening the chances of injuries or lack of progress due to poor technique. As always, make sure you do this according to your ability at the moment.

Warning: If you are recovering from an  injury, has limited hip and lower back mobility, has balance problems, or has any medical condition that may be made worst by heavy physical exertion, practice utmost caution when attempting to learn how to squat. You are responsible for your own safety. Proceed within your current capability. Better to start light with quarter depth but safe rather than starting heavy and full range but ending up hurting yourself. If you are tight and weak, your squat depth will increase as your mobility and strength improves after weeks of training. Patience is important.

Details to pay attention to:

Stance: Jump up as high as you can. Note the distance between your feet. Your squatting stance should be close to that. It can be a bit wider but not wider than your shoulder width. Besides, try jumping as high as you can with a very wide stance, it is not as high as when your feet are under your hip. A good squatting stance allows you to exert near maximum effort on your full range of motion. The toes should point forward and slightly out. They should never point inwards. A good stance has the feet on hip width apart with the heels under the hip and toes slightly pointed out. You would see a lot of wide stance squats. This does not mean that it is wrong. Wide stances are used if the squatter has limited mobility. Widening the stance also lessens the distance to be traveled by the bar- which lessens the amount of work or enables a squatter to squat heavier due to a shorter movement. But when you are starting to learn the squat, practice with your feet under your hip as shown below. It is also a good basic position to be learned if you want to progress to more powerful and explosive lifts or the Olympic lifts and their variants.

valstrengthtraning squat stances

Top photo shows the feet under the hip with toes pointed slightly outwards. Middle photo shows parallel feet under the hip. Bottom photos shows shoulder width stance with toes slightly pointed outwards.

Posture: take a deep breath and keep your chest up and out. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Now, rack the barbell on your upper back. The center of the bar rests on the muscles of your upper back. Hold the barbell with fingers wrapping the bar with the thumb on a counter direction and “closing” the grip. Hands are placed at equidistant points from the center of the bar. Keep your chin slightly up and look at a point slightly above eye level. Do not slouch.

valstrengthtraining squathighbar

The center of the bar (with knurling) rests on the muscles of the upper back. The Scapulae are retracted and this forms a natural padding by the upper trapezius. Letting the bar rest on the muscles gives proprioceptive feedback as the barbell’s weight and stability. Use of padding sometimes causes instability and sometimes the padding may slip from a sweaty back making it potentially dangerous. Pads are allowed but better be aware of the precautions.

: When first learning how to execute the movement, Squat without any load and practice the described stance and posture and squat as low as you can for around 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions. This is a specific warm up too. Then practice using an empty bar (Standard Olympic bar is 20kg, the “Ladies'” bar is 15kg). Use proper hand position and grip. Then lower yourself in full control to a full squat. The heels should stay flat on the floor.  The torso will naturally tilt forwards. If your heels come off the floor as you go deeper, your Tendon of Achilles is tight. Put a small plate under each of your heels to compensate. But make it a point to progress your squatting technique by improving flexibility of your Tendon of Achilles. It also helps to make a “Thumbs Up sign” with your big toes as you descend in the squat to help in keeping your heels flat on the ground. To improve ankle stability, read this: Ankle training Part 1. To improve ankle strength and mobility, read this: Ankle Training Part 2.

squat valstrengthtraining

The model is a young athlete who had ACL reconstruction surgery. He wanted to continue competing so he trains hard. He is now even stronger than before he was injured since he dedicates time and effort to his Strength Training. He can squat a load more than his bodyweight. He can now do the Clean – a powerful and exlosive lift requiring full squat position. He can Clean 57kg- his bodyweight, with ease and confidence.

Knees: they flex or bend to their full range. When in motion, they normally would follow where the toes are pointing. They should not move towards the midline. A mirror or a coach would provide feedback. As seen from the above photo- the line made by the knees  and hips (femur) are pointing slightly outwards. In standing up from the squat, the knees should not drift towards the midline like in a knock-knee position.

Leg angle: Depending on the length of the leg, the thigh, and torso, there are differences on each person’s leg angle in relation to the ground in the full squat position. As long as it allows a stable full squat position, the imaginary plumbline from the knees to the ground usually goes past the toes as the knee bends to a full squat.

full squat valstrengthtraining

Elbow position: elbows should be almost under the bar. The forearms should be more vertical rather than horizontal. This is a minor part but better start learning more efficient technique rather than having very slow progress due to accumulated small “bad habits”.

elbow pos squat valstrengthtraining

When unracking the bar, grip the bar with a closed grip- thumbs and fingers would make a closed circle. The grip is near the shoulder, and the forearms almost vertical. Maintain this grip position until you finish the last rep until you rest the bar back to the rack.

 elbowposition squat valstrengthtraining

Execution: Warm up as described above.Set the height of the bar on the squat rack to your lower chest level. Load the bar evenly on both sides with a light load in relation to what you can lift. Follow the described posture above as you position yourself under the bar. Both feet should be directly under the bar. Unrack the bar from the rack and onto your upper back by standing up. Take a couple of steps back and align the toes as described above. Choose one of the positions. You can take a quick look at your toes when doing this but don’t make looking down a habit. You want to look up so that the cervical spine will extend. If the cervical spine extends, it is easier to extend your upper back. You do not want a slouched back when squatting.

Eccentric part: Take a deep breath and hold it. Contract your abdominal muscles as if preparing for a strong punch to the stomach. Slowly lower the bar by pushing your butt backwards, and bending the knees. Keep your chest expanded and shoulder blades retracted. As you go lower, your torso will naturally lean forwards but just enough to position the line of the center of mass of the bar inside your base of support and preferably at a point very near the midfoot. Focus your eyes on a point on the wall which is a round a meter higher than your head level. Continue your controlled descent until you reach the bottom position.

Concentric part: Just after reaching the bottom position, push your heels against the ground. Keep your neck extended by focusing on that point on the wall. Slowly release some air as you go up. Do not let the knees point inwards. Stand up straight but position your upper back so that the bar is balanced. Repeat the cycle until you finish the required number of repetitions, then step forward, let the bar hit the rack, then slowly slide the bar down to rest on the rack.  Come out from under the bar when the bar is safely resting on the squat rack.

Beginner’s Training Load, Volume, and rest: (click this:) squat-practice-load-volume-valstrengthtraining

Technique is affected by mobility, flexibility, strength, knowledge of the squat biomechanics, and other factors like focus and determination. This blog helps to address some of the knowledge aspect. To address the flexibility and mobility part, click this: Quick stretch and exercise for reducing back discomfort.

There are other variations of the back squat on the stance, bar position, and depth. The variations may be due to different torso and leg lengths. It can be also due to specific goals like to allow for the heaviest load to be lifted from the start position like in powerlifting. The above description is a very good way to start learning how to squat and it prepares the trainee to progress to faster and explosive lifts derived from the Olympic style lifts. Learn and be good in one technique first, then if you need to, learn other techniques as well.

To be honest, I originally did not squat like the description above. I learned how to squat from bodybuilders, and I had great results for my goals. Then I learned from videos and from reading articles and magazines. My stance became wider. And, like most people that time, I believed that full squat is not good, and that the knees should not go past the toes. But after observing, reading, discussing, listening, re-learning from more experienced Olympic weightlifting coaches, and most of all squatting more, I began to realize that some of what I believed were true then may not necessarily be true for all. My stance became more natural, and the depth went all the way to full range of motion, and the load went a lot higher than when I was much younger and stronger. I realized that there would be some differences but the most applicable one for beginners up to elite lifters would be what was described above. Of course there are some who, due to limited range of motion, or inherent body structure, would have to squat differently to get better results. There are so many variations with the barbell as well as with other equipment. Click here to read about how to squat heavy even if you have no access to a weights room.

To avoid confusion from the different squatting techniques, the trainee should have a clear goal. This will guide her or him on how to start learning and probably how to squat for some time. It may change but then again, it may go back to this original form. The best indicator of the effectivity would be the accomplishment of your personal goals in relation to the squat. Learn how to squat. It is a fundamental skill if you want your weight training sessions to be more productive. Train better, Live Better!


These rip-raps were built without the use of machines. Moving large amount of rocks manually required efficient and safe lifting techniques as well as strength and endurance.

“Torogi” is the word “Igorot” spelled in reverse. The Igorot people is an ethnic minority in the mountains of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. The word Igorot basically means “from the mountains”. Torogi is just a slang that we use to call ourselves. Igorots are known for their strength and bravery. Since our ancestors live in the mountains, they learned how to build communities on the slopes. They have become very good in mitigating landslides by reinforcing the mountainous slopes by building rip-raps. That is aside from being warriors, hunters, and farmers in the early days.

When I was a boy, I watched men in our community carry large rocks from the ground on to their shoulders, stand up with it, walk up a slippery muddy hanging stone stair sticking out on the side of a rip-rap, and add the huge rock to a pile of rocks to be used. I noticed that they have a certain way of doing it. And when I was big enough, I helped my father and grandfather do the same. It helped me develop strength even though I was a thin boy. I was aware that this type of work made us strong – stronger than usual guys our age who did not do work. In this activity or “exercise”, one’s strength can be “measured” or observed by the size of the rock that you can carry, how far, and how steep is the slope that you have to climb, and by the amount of rocks that you were able to move from one place to another. It is similar to the story of Milo of Croton, which is the earliest documented case of progressive resistance training (google it if you do not know about it).24009_389657031274_634451274_4381304_2792879_n Igorots did progressive resistance training as well by lifting rocks. It is but natural that as our lifting techniques improved, rock lifting techniques that is, so did our strength. Boys who used to be able to carry stones progressed to small rocks the size of their head and eventually to rocks around half the size of their torso. Of course some went further than that. And so we were able to build communities on the mountains because of the rip-rap built by hands.

Paleo Diet? Try this Torogi Squat!


An old rip-rap in an abandoned village somewhere in Tung Chung. The size of the rocks and the equipment they had back then gives an indication of the strength of the people who build them. They would humble today’s regular gym rats.

A lot of products are being marketed in a very creative way, whether they work or not. If you have not yet heard of the Paleo Diet- it is a concept of eating. Some believe that if we try to eat how our pre-historic ancestors did, we would be free from modern diseases. They say that Paleolithic diet is healthier. I guess people’s attention are caught by scientific sounding terms so it became quite a catchphrase.  Now that people are looking for “new” or “unique” way of doing things, it is time to re-introduce this particular type of squat to the general public. I did not invent it, but I call it the Torogi Squat.

Will Torogi Squats make you stronger?

Definitely! I have seen it done by many others in our community and did it myself. But it is not for the feeble minded. And please do not try it if you have no intention to protect yourself, and others. Rocks have irregular surfaces. So grip them well. Some call it plain common sense but what is common for some is rare for some. So bear with me if I have to give out a few details:

How big should the rock be?

Like muscles, size does not matter, not unless you are doing it for a show. It is the weight of the rock that matters. Some types of rocks are heavier than others of the same size. Start with a relatively small dry piece of rock that you are sure you can lift off the ground with your bare hands and onto your hip level, then up to your shoulder level. That is the weight of the rock that you can handle. In the real world, and that is when workers lift heavy stuff, you do not hear them say “engage your core!, fire your glutes!, activate your posterior chain!” I hate it when I hear that. But now, people expect to hear it from personal trainers. Well, I am not a personal trainer anyway. So when you lift something heavy, be prepared to lift something really heavy. Do not pretend that the rock is a small stone. When you first try to grab it, your intact neuromuscular system will immediately compute if it needs all the major muscle groups to work in unison. Not unless you override the protective command from your nervous system by slacking out. To be safe, always respect the load that you will move or lift. Assume that it is very heavy. So in short, start out with a rock that you can manage but use all your attention and effort in lifting. It does not matter if it is not bigger than your head, what matters is that you can control the load and that you can make yourself stronger even without a barbell and a squat rack.

How deep should the squat be?

The ideal one for you may be different from others. If you have relatively good strength and mobility, with no knee problems, a full squat would be great. If you have limited mobility, then work on what is available for you. It may improve later on as you become stronger and more mobile. The key is you should be able to control the load at any given moment. If you watch those who build rip-raps, you would notice varying techniques. It is because each person would have a certain technique that works for his/her particular body type. The ones with better and more efficient techniques, in lifting rocks and in lifting barbells, kettlebells, and dumbells, are those who can lift more weight and more volume. It would be the result that determines if a lifting technique is efficient. So how deep should your squat be? It should be deep enough for you to position yourself so that your shoulder is in between the ground and the rock. For training purposes, we want as much range of motion as possible but with the lifter in complete control of the rock. Deep squat is ok. If you have issues that won’t allow you to squat deeply, then work with lighter rocks. With constant training your strength and range of motion may increase.

(Click here to read about the relationship of strength training and flexibility.)

valstrengthtraining Torogi Squat1

It is easier to lift objects if their mass is directly over the lifter’s base of support (in this photo the base of support are the two feet). This makes the lifter more stable thus enabling him to control the load even when walking on uneven surfaces.


How many sets and reps?

Try three sets of ten repetitions. It is a general set-rep combination ideal for learning a new exercise with moderate load. If you are stronger and able to lift heavier rocks, then do around four sets of five repetitions in good control. In the real world, it is done in a different way. Lift a rock, stand up with it, walk, either up a slope, a rip-rap, or just for distance to transport the rock. Put it down, then repeat until you get the job done. It serves a purpose- maybe some would call it functional.

valstrengthtraining torogi squat lateral view

As in any good lifting technique, the load (stone) should be directly over your base of support- in this case your feet. The mass of the load passes through an imaginary straight line (line of gravity shown as the yellow arrow) and it should pass as close as possible to your own center of gravity. It is best that in an upright position, this line passes through the hip joint (red circle).

How will I put down the rock?

The real men who did this work actually were barefooted. No protection except their quick reflexes, common sense, presence of mind, and their strength and stamina. They did not do it in a gym, they did it outdoors exposed to different types of weather. It made them strong and resilient. Now going back to the question of how do you put down the rock: for sure you cannot do this exercise in a regular gym. You would be doing it outdoors. It is either you put it down by dropping but making sure you do not hit your toes or anyone else’s and that the rock would not roll away to hit anyone or anything. There is another way. Stronger guys put it down with finesse. They do not drop it but lower it with control. It requires more effort. Choose between the two.

You do not need to do it barefoot either. Most of your life your feet got used to being protected by footwear. Do not over-overload your self by lifting a rock outdoors barefooted. Otherwise you might end up getting hurt.

Uninformed people will naturally think you are weird if they see you lifting rocks. Let them train their fingers on their smartphones, and let them have their own opinions, it is their right. What you should focus on is how to make yourself better and stronger. To avoid distractions and to find rocks to lift, go out and hike. You can find a lot of secluded places where you can train. Later you will have weird strength for your size, you do not get that just doodling with your phone. There you have it. I just revealed a secret. Use it to train better, Live Better!