Lurn to squat good – E-ZY!

Few movements are as fundamental to life and sport as the squat.

Sadly, few movements are as badly mangled in the average gym as the squat. Let me make this perfectly clear at the outset: IF YOU DO NOT OR CAN NOT SQUAT, YOU SERIOUSLY LIMIT YOUR MOVEMENT OPTIONS.


Of course, we all have to start somewhere! There’s no shame in not being able to squat if you are prepared to apply yourself diligently to the project of kissing the floor with your butt cheeks. Take your time, keep at it, and progress through the stages at your own pace.

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step 1: railing squat

what it does:

This is both a good beginner exercise and a fine pre-squat stretch. It also helps you learn the concept of sitting down and back, rather than just down.

what you’ll see in the video:

Stand facing a railing about waist height. Grab it with both hands and squat down and back, so far back that you’d fall over backwards were you not holding the rail. Go all the way down. I mean all the way down. That’s a real woman’s squat depth. That is your goal. Unless you have some injury or movement restriction preventing you from hitting full depth, accept no substitutes!!

Sit at the bottom for a few seconds, then come up. Use your arms to help pull you up, if you need to. Go for sets of 25. (Sorry about the head and feet getting cut off in this one but hey, all you need is the middle part of me anyway!)

For a pre-squat stretch to help you build the flexibility to go to full depth with a real squat, do this movement and then sit at the bottom for longer, perhaps 5-10 seconds. Repeat for reps.

step 2: “bottom-up” squat, aka “potty” squat

what it does:

Newbies get scared going down into the squat. It starts to seem like a really long way and they cut it short way too early. This helps you work towards a full depth squat and removes the mental hurdle of the descent. It’s also good for beginners who don’t yet have a lot of leg strength. The goal is to do an unassisted full depth squat.

what you’ll see in the video:

Find something to sit on: a box, bench, or step. A staircase is good because then over time, you can simply work your way to lower stairs. Slide your feet forward so your shins are about vertical (notice me shuffling them back into position before the second rep). Take a deep breath, pushing your chest up and out. This is your start position. Bend forward from the hips, keeping the torso straight (not straight up and down, just a straight line from neck to hips without hunching or letting shoulders slump forward). Lean forward from the hips. Stand up. That’s one rep. Once you get really good at these, perhaps a couple of confident sets of 20 to 25 reps, lose the step and squat freely, all the way down till your butt hits your calves. That’s step 3.

On the first rep, you can see I use my hands to push off my knees. This is good if your legs aren’t strong yet, and you need a little extra vavoom. On the second rep, I hold my arms out in front, which helps you keep your balance. Whichever you prefer is fine.

step 3: full squat

Actually, there should be a step 2.5 in here, which is the full depth squat without a bar, but you can probably figure this one out.

what it does:

I shouldn’t even have to explain the awesomeness of the squat, but here is more reading:

Learning the Squat Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

what you’ll see in the video:

A quick glimpse of the elusive cinematographer and my beatdown buddy! This is followed by me unracking the bar from the cage. Notice I’m stepping forward into a lunge to do this. This helps keep me stable and avoids pitching forward. I set the bar up on the “meat shelf” of my upper back, NOT the base of the neck. Feel the back of your neck and find the big bumps of the cervical vertebrae. The bar should sit below this.

I walk back to get into position and look forward. Then I begin the descent by sitting back and down. My butt drops behind my heels, and my torso stays tight (I don’t let it flop forward, but I can lean from the hips). Notice the depth of this. The back of my thighs make contact with my calves. That’s a full squat, ladies.

step 4: one-legged squat

Now we’re cooking with gas my friends. This one separates the women from the girls.

what it does:

Unilateral (one sided) movements are ideal for sport training. Asymmetrical movements more accurately mimic the demands of real life. This particular movement has also been shown to activate the deep hip and glute muscles more significantly than a two-legged squat, so it’s also good for anyone wanting to strengthen and/or rehab those areas in particular.

For a fun variation on this one that helps train agility and which is a great conditioning exercise if you go for high reps, include a back roll. Squat down, drop your butt to the floor, roll back into a full back somersault, and stop when you’ve righted yourself and you’re back on your feet in a crouch. Go forward into a front somersault and in a smooth motion as you complete the somersault, plant one foot and ascend from the one-legged squat.

what you’ll see in the video:

I hold one leg out in front, and then sink down into the squat. You can also experiment with holding the nonworking leg out to the side or the back. Hands are held out in front for balance.

Most folks have trouble getting this one right away. When I first started, I got crazy muscle cramps in the upper thigh of the leg being held out in front, not the actual squatting leg. Anyway, to make it easier in the beginning, squat down to a bench just like you did in Step 1. You can also use a staircase, and as you get stronger, sit down to lower and lower steps.

step 5: overhead squat

what it does:

We’re now moving into Serious Badass territory. An overhead squat works just about all the muscles you have. In particular, the OHS is excellent for developing shoulder and upper back strength along with midsection stability. It’ll also give you some kickass balance training. Since the OHS obviously includes a squat, it also involves the lower body, but this isn’t going to be the lower body’s pump-till-ya-puke exercise because you can’t use as much weight. Nevertheless I find that my hips get lots of work on this one. Begin with a broomstick. TRUST ME.

what you’ll see in the video:

I start with the bar high in the power cage, so I don’t have to get it up to overhead. This is good if you’re a beginner and don’t know how to perform a snatch lift to move the bar from floor to overhead. Notice I do that little lunge thing underneath, stepping one foot foward. Balance is critical here, and a staggered foot stance will help you stay steady as you unrack the weight. (I show the lift on the third rep.)

I hold the bar in a wide (aka snatch) grip. The snatch grip should feel almost uncomfortably wide. Were you standing with the bar hanging down, the grip would be wide enough that the bar would sit approximately at the level of your hip crease (i.e. where the bend is when you lift your thigh).

If I could communicate only one thing about the OHS, it’s this: hold the bar behind your head, rather than directly overhead. If you try to hold it where you feel it’s directly overhead, you’ll pitch forward. Hold it as far back as you can. Try to “stretch” the bar apart like it’s a piece of taffy — pull your hands outwards. This will help create the tension you need to hold the bar firmly up there.

Like a regular squat, sit back and down rather than straight down. As always, make sure to look straight ahead or very slightly up. There is a feeling I get when I’m at the bottom of a full depth OHS that is indescribable. It feels simultaneously very comfortable and deeply satisfying yet very challenging. Mistressing this exercise will certainly give you a sense of accomplishment.

I perform two reps and then lower the bar to show how to pull it up using the snatch-type lift. With the bar close to my body and my arms straight, I slide the bar down to just above the knees. Then, in a smooth motion, keeping the arms straight, I essentially “jump” with the bar (rather than just trying to pull it with my arms). This explosively extends the hips, knees, and ankles, and gives the bar the momentum to fly up. In fact, the arms are almost floppy and relaxed. Just like in jiu-jitsu, the hips do the work. I take a moment to get the bar in position at the top, and squat down a third time. Then I re-rack.

You kids stop laughing at the word snatch. Hee hee hee snatch.