Secrets to Mastering the Squat: Part 3

By Molly Galbraith

In Secrets to Mastering the Squat Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed some tips for learning how to squat properly: squatting with bodyweight and adding load to the squat using Goblet Squats.

In Part 3, we look at the best way to learn the squat with a barbell, as well as some common issues we see with women and barbell squatting. Check out this video below to see three different squat variations you can try:

Barbell Box Squat

1. Use a shoulder-width grip.

This is the most comfortable grip for most women, and it allows them to pull their upper back and traps together.  A grip that’s too wide will leave most women feeling unstable and unable to get their back tight.

2. Squeeze your shoulder blades and lats together.

This helps you keep your whole body tight and allows you to create a "meaty shelf" on which the bar can rest. Remember, you don’t want the bar too high on your neck, or too low on your back.

3. Create pressure in your core before you lift the bar off.

Take a breath in and create pressure in your core before you pick up the bar.  This is a great habit to get into because once you have an appreciable amount of weight on the bar, this will be a necessary step to protect your spine.

4. Find a stance that’s comfortable for you.

As you'll see in the video, your stance will depend on your height, the length of your limbs and torso, your mobility levels, and other individual characteristics. Don’t be afraid to play around with your foot position and experiment to find what feels and looks right.

barbell-squat-secret-squat-part3-alli-standing-327x3415. Brace your core.

This technique is discussed in the video, but I like to fill up my belly with air, then blow out hard to get my ribs down, and brace hard. Then I fill up with air underneath my braced core to keep my core engaged and keep my spine in an optimal position.

6. Keep your head in a neutral position.

You've already read and heard this in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, but I'll say it again. Throwing your head back causes a cascade of problems down the kinetic chain. Your ribs almost instantly flare up, you go into lumbar hyperextension, and it makes it more difficult to sit back into your hips with a narrower stance. Keep your head neutral and eyes straight ahead.

7. Sit back into your hips.

Many women are very quad dominant and tend to get pulled forward when they squat.  Make sure you sit back into your hips, and don’t be afraid to have a bit of a forward lean.

8. Use your core and your hips to stand up.

As discussed in the video, it’s very common for women to fling themselves off of the box using their spine instead of pull themselves up using their hips and core.  Hopefully you will have practiced this with body weight as well as a kettlebell to get strong in this position before putting a bar on your back.

Barbell Back Squat

The same rules apply to the barbell back squat that apply to the barbell box squat. Just make sure you have a nice and controlled descent and don’t “bottom out” into the bottom of the squat.

Control it down, stop before you lose your neutral spine position, and stay braced in your core the entire time.

Safety Bar Squat

barbell-squat-secret-squat-part3-molly-safety-box-450x338Safety Bar Squats can be done without a box, or with a box, as shown. Again, very similar rules apply to this squat as well, but it’s especially important to do a couple of things:

1. Squeeze the handles hard.

When you’re squatting with a regular, straight bar, you have to grip the bar hard to keep it on your back. With the safety bar, it’s easy to get lax because the bar will stay on your back no matter what. This is a mistake. Squeeze the bar hard because it will allow you to create more tension throughout your entire body. This will make your squat easier, cleaner, and safer.

2. Drive your back into the bar.

The safety bar is notorious for pitching you forward, which is why it’s a great tool to teach you to drive your back into the bar so you don’t fold over.

These three squat variations are a great place to start when you want to safely add barbell back squats to your regimen.  Helping women get stronger and achieve new PRs with exercises like the squat is one of the things we do best. We want to help you reach your goals with a balanced, intelligent approach.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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