Squats are one of our favorite ways to build strength in your lower body. Squatting is something you’ll do many times day in and day out. Helping you perform the pattern correctly can help alleviate knee and low back twinges. Unfortunately squats don’t necessarily happen well without some coaching. And instead of improving these chronic aches and pains poor squatting movement can make things worse. As with hinging, timing matters and we have tricks up our sleeves to help the right muscles work at the right time. A “brace squat” refers to holding a weight out in front of you to fire up before pushing your butt back into a squat. Setting your core first alleviates the risk to your low back. You might have also noticed your coach placing a hand in front of your knees to block them from shooting forward as your butt lowers. Again, this helps your butt and leg muscles do the work of your squat instead of putting stress on your low back.
Consider squats the snowflakes of the fitness world. Coaches at our gym know to look for certain features such as parallel shins and torso and keeping your weight in your heals but everyone’s squat will look a little bit different and that’s a good thing. The way your femur sits in your hip socket will dictate how wide your feet should be and the angle your toes will point outward. How flexible and mobile your ankles are determines how low you can go. We are always working with you to perfect your form but we are building your workout around you: your body and your goals reign supreme.
Here are the top 4 ways to amp up your squat game:
1. Go Low. In a perfect world; ankle stiffness, knee surgeries or back injuries aside, we want you to squat low enough that your elbows can touch your knees. This angle gives the optimum strengthening benefits to your core, your pelvic floor and hip flexors all while placing the least amount of stress on your meniscus (the cartilage in your knee).
2. Single-leg it. Aside from the boost in concentration, variety in your workouts also helps you progress more quickly and reach your goals faster. Single-leg squats are a great exercise for many reasons on of which is the balance factor. Your core will work overtime to stabilize you since you will only be standing on one foot. Additionally, single-leg squats can point out differences in strength and flexibility in your legs individually. If left unaddressed these imbalances can lead to pain or injury down the road. Single-leg squats also require different muscle recruitment than the bilateral version so you are able to train muscles that don’t have to work in a traditional two-legged squat. This exercise will feed harder because it is harder! But that’s what makes them worth doing.
3. Zero in on extra correctives. Completing the Ramp Up as a warm up before your workouts is key to making progress in the gym. If squats are currently painful for you we might have options on how to get problem joints ready to rumble. Sometimes there is soft tissue work than can be resolved with specific mobility drills or extra time foam rolling. If you have an extra corrective to help your ankles move more easily or you’re supposed to roll your butt for two minutes before you start your workout it’s important to put in that effort and attention. We hear it can be tempting to skip out on these seemingly smaller aspects of the Ramp Up but they are incredibly valuable especially if you want to move well without pain.
4. Activate Beast Mode. Our clients squat often. So it can be easy to go on auto-pilot and grab the same weight over and over again. Remember that you are putting in the work to get better and get stronger! Don’t be scared to bump up the challenge and grab a heavier kettlebell than you usually use. Even if you don’t make it through every rep with the heavier weight, finding the right level of challenge and continuing to push yourself is the only way to reach your goals. (P.S. for extra guidance on this point find Coach Matt ASAP! We are incredibly proud of him being named Alloy Coach of the Month and he even received a spiffy “Beast Mode” shirt to commemorate the accomplishment.)