Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Squats Part 5(B) Low Bar Back Squats (Continued)

This is the fifth Part of a series on Squats, the earlier posts can be found here: 

Squats Part 5(a) Low Bar Back Squat

In the previous sections we've discussed that the squat as a primal motion, it is not an invented exercise, it's something that we all do everyday in different forms.  While it is a basic movement, when we load it with weights there are several points to make it a safe and efficient exercise.

The Low Bar Back Squat

In the previous post on the Low Bar Back Squat we discussed bar path (linear slot over the back 1/3 of the
shoelaces), hip/back angle, grip and spotting.

The low bar back squat, in keeping the bar over the center of gravity(back 1/3 of the shoelaces) will necessitate a more horizontal back angle.  Note also the changes in knee angle with a much more acute angle on the front squat.
Low Bar (Left), High Bar (Center), Front Squat (Right)

Depth and Mobility

In order to properly activate the hamstrings and glutes(which is the primary reason you are doing low bar in the first place) you need to reach adequate depth.  Minimum depth is thigh-below-knee. Optimal depth is the rear end approaching the ground (AKA Ass-To-Grass).

For most of the people new to this movement mobility seems to be the biggest problem.  The tendency is for lack of ankle mobility, and tight hip flexors.

Ankle, calf mobility is necessary to keep the heel on the ground and for force production through the heel.  This can be worked out over time by stretching for the hamstring and calf (after workout,
never before).  Olympic lifting shoes with a raised heel can also dramatically help in achieving full depth.

Reebok CrossFit Lifter

Shoulder Mobility

Shoulder mobility also tends to be a problem for novice squatters.

IMPORTANT: your hands do NOT support the weight of the bar.  The hands rest over the top of the bar. This is one of the very few weight training movements where the thumbs DO NOT lock around the bar, they also rest on top of the bar.
Excellent bar placement, hand placement and depth.

A somewhat wider grip will help with shoulder mobility issues at the expense of fully contracted upper back muscles (which support the weight of the bar).  Novices at lighter weights can get away with a wider grip, but will want to work on mobility as the weights get heavier/

Stretching and Mobility work for the shoulders (Always, always AFTER a workout, never before):

Doorway pec stretches – stretch your pecs
Shoulder dislocations with a broom stick or length of PVC– improves shoulder flexibility
Thoracic Extension on roller – eliminates hunchback posture

Additional reading and videos:
Shoulder Mobility for Squatting

Hip Flexor Mobility

Start mobility work and warm up with a foam roller, rolled deeply into the tissue of the Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, hips and back.

Once somewhat mobile drop into the bottom of the squat position and drive your knees out with your elbows,  Roll around your hips in this position.

See this here; Improving Hip Mobility for Full (ATG) Squats

Additional Suggestions:
Hip Flexor Stretch (Wall or Bench)
Squat Quick Test: Is it your Ankles or Hips?

Low Bar Back Squat Tips:

1. If at all possible DO NOT squat in front of a mirror.  This will through off your head position and looking straight forward at yourself will provide almost no useful information and can create additional problems.  All of the useful information about your squat is visible in profile, from the side.  Find a coach, buddy or someone else knowledgeable to watch your squat and give you cues about back extension or flexion, hip angle, head position and depth.

2. It is very difficult to accurately judge your own depth.  Have a competent partner or coach watch this and give you cues about depth.  Remember get deep or work toward getting deep.

3. Cue yourself to drive more through the heels.  Heels are ALWAYS in strong contact with the floor.

4. Cue the hip drive, the hips extend and the tailbone rises in concert(at the SAME TIME) as the knees extend.

5. If you are having problems with hip drive, modify this movement by using a Box or chair.  Think sitting.
See: Mark Rippetoe: Fixing the Squat: Hip Drive

6. Always warm up with JUST THE BAR or even a set of air squats to be sure the hip flexors are ready.

Final Comments about the Low Bar Back Squat

1. If you intend to become an Olympic Lifter starting with low bar back squats may not be advisable.  Start with the front squat.

2. If you are a body builder or focused on Quad development, the low bar back squat may not be your best option.  Often bodybuilders will use a much more narrow foot placement to target the Quads.

3. The purpose of the low bar back squat is to recruit the hamstrings and glutes and more evenly balance the moment(torque) around the knee.  The hamstrings provide the counter moment to the moment(torque) to that of the quads, neutralizing the stress on the ACL and MCL like no other squat movement.  So if you think you have bad knees this may be the best movement to begin with.

4. Squats are a skill and with any skill require a great deal of practice to perfect.  Start with moderate weight and only add weight as you technique allows.

References and Further Reading

Rippetoe M. Strong Enough: Thoughts from thirty years of barbell training. Pp. 66-69. The
Aasgarard Company, Wichita Falls TX. 2007

Starting Strength, 3rd edition Paperback  <-highly b="" recommended="">

Shea, J. Deep Squats. http://www.apec-s.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Deep-Squats.pdf



Also available as a podcast or video cast: Why Low Bar Back Squats 

Next: Squats Part 6 Front Squat

As always any comments or questions would be greatly appreciated.  Especially differing opinions!

For the previous articles on Squats:

Squats Part 5(a) Low Bar Back Squat

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