Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Full Squat from The Trainers Perspective

The Full Squat from The Trainers Perspective
By Danny O’Dell.
From Issue 23 of Successful Coaching Newsletter
We dissected the technique of performing a full squat in Successful Coaching Issue 21- The King of exercises: the Squat. In this issue, we are going to describe what the coach should be looking at while the lifter is under the bar. The task of the coach is to be constantly aware of the proper mechanics of the squat and then 'cueing' the lifter to perform them in the right manner to make progress and to avoid injury.

In order to be 'technically' correct and successful, the athlete has to develop engram patterns very precisely during the early developmental stages of the learning curve. By definition, an engram is a neuromuscular, subconscious pathway of performing a physical movement. Superior exercise adeptness occurs from repeating this training process. At the top level of training the mind no longer consciously dwells on the exercise movement, instead the elite lifter is able to focus on the shear muscle energy necessary to move the weight. Thus, the move is ingrained in the subconscious and automatic. Can you envision yourself stepping out from the rack with a six hundred pound barbell and then having to decide if you needed to first move your hips back or bend your knees to begin the lift.

A well-trained coach will effectively assist the athlete performing the exercise by providing both verbal and visual cues as to how best to perform the move. Improvements in technique will be seen in most lifters if the coach pays attention to the details of the lift and provides meaningful feedback. This means the coach has to observe the athlete from a 360 degree perspective. Videotape is an excellent motivator, as the lifter will clearly recognize errors of form, especially with the coach reviewing the tape with them.

The coach must always keep in mind one important aspect:
Is the movement under total control?

If the load is not completely under control, all of attending spotters must take prompt action to protect the lifter from harm. The coach will have to pay close attention to these three major safety points:

Telling the spotters to assist in re-racking the bar if they are not aware of the lifters predicament
Lowering the weight on the bar so the exercise may be completed correctly the next repetition
Making certain the athlete gets additional rest time before trying the next set

Coaching points
Observation from the front vantage point at the beginning of the lift:
Has the lifter centered the bar firmly on the back and shoulders
Is the lifter in an upright standing position and not leaning over- the bar placement will dictate this portion of the stance.
The low bar position causes the athlete to bend forward in order to keep the bar centered over the balance point of their body
Is the chest held high at the beginning of the lift
Is the head flexed forward or extended slightly upward, but not looking at the ceiling
Is the bar properly situated and secure on the back, i.e. not dropping downward
Is the back neutral to slightly arched and in a braced position
Is the lifter standing straight and tall and not tilted to either one side or the other
Remind the lifter to abdominal brace
Start of the lift from the rear observation point
Is the bar symmetrically loaded with the correct weight on both ends
Are the collars securely attached to both sides
Is the bar correctly positioned, spaced and resting on the shoulders/upper back at the correct height for the athlete
Are the lifters hands in the positioned properly and placed evenly on the bar
Has the lifter placed their body under the bar and are they in the correct position to lift the bar off the hooks
Has the head remained correctly in line with the back and not flexed forward
Is the back rigid, slightly arched and braced
Start of the lift as seen from the right side
Are the feet aligned evenly and not forward or backward relative to one another
Is the athlete standing tall
Have the hips started the rearward movement, or have the knees started bending first
Is the back staying straight and solid
Has the head stayed in line with the back in a neutral position or is it slightly extended
The two-three steps back and the initial set up as observed from the front of the lifter
Is the chest still kept high
Have the two to three steps to the rear been small enough to clear the rack pins
Is the body still vertically aligned or has it twisted off to either side
Is there movement in the hips as the bar set up is competed
Has the movement been stabilized and did it stop
Are the feet spaced at lest shoulder width or wider
Are the toes angled outward and remaining in line with the knees
The back out and set up as seen from the rear
Is the movement still under control by the lifter
Is the back still solid and in a slightly arched position
Are the hips starting to move from side to side in a continuing effort to balance the weight load
Are the feet moving around or are they steady and sticking to one place on the platform
Is the bar steady on the shoulders or is it moving around instead of being held firmly in place
The back out and set up as viewed from the athlete's side
Are the back out steps under control
Is the athlete standing tall under the load
Are the feet correctly positioned in relative to one another and front to rear
Is the back solid, slightly arched and braced
The descent as observed directly in front of the lifter
Is the head lined up with the back
Is the head positioned correctly and not tipped off to one side
Are the hips even or are they moving to the side
Are the feet in the correct position and in line with one another
Did the hips move backward before the knees started to flex
The descent as seen from the rear
Are the hips coming backward towards you before movement seen or felt any where else
Is the back staying braced, solid and slightly arched
Are the lower legs remaining perpendicular to the floor
Is the head still in the upright position and not tilted to one side
The descent observed from the sides
Did the hips move backward before any other movement was started
Is the back staying braced, solid and slightly arched
Is the head being kept line with the back or slightly angled upward 10 to 20 degrees
Is the load centered in the middle and slightly to rear of the feet
Is the body tilting forward to any great extent
Does the bar move downward in a straight line: there should be very little movement fore and aft of this imaginary vertical line
Is this imaginary bar path appearing to go from down the ears to the middle of the feet
Has the lifter accelerated the bar toward the bottom of the move
Is the upper body angle in relation to the floor remaining the same throughout the descent phase of the lift
Are the heels firmly in contact with the floor
The bottom position as seen from the front
Is the head in line with the rest of the body
Is the bar still placed evenly on the shoulders
Has the body remained square with the lifting platform or has the athlete started to tip toward one side
Has the body continued to face the front of the rack or lifting platform or have they twisted to one side
Are the knees still aligned over the feet
The bottom position viewed from behind the athlete
Is the back appearing to remain tight, slightly arched and braced or has it flexed at the bottom
Is the bar even on the body from side to side or has it shifted to one side
Has the body tilted to one side
Is the athlete twisting to one side or the other
The bottom position-viewed from the sides of the athlete
Is the back rigid, slightly arched and braced
Is the chest still out
Is the head parallel to the floor or extended slightly at 10 to 20 degrees
Are the lower legs close to perpendicular with the floor
Is the angle of the back and joint hip similar to those of the knees/lower legs
Is the body slanted to one side or the other
Has the body twisted to one side
Are the heels remaining in contact with the floor
The ascent as seen from the front
Did the initial upward move begin with the head and chest starting upward
Did you notice the hands beginning with an upward push on the bar
Is the torso angle staying the same throughout the upward phase
Is the body positioned straight to the front
Has it tipped to one side
Has it twisted on the long axis
Did the body tilt forward
Is the head still stable and at the correct angle
Were the legs and body moving from side to side

VERY IMPORTANT POSITIONAL NOTE: have the knees remained over the feet or did they move into a valgus position (knees move in an inward direction from the midline of the body). A Valgus position may be dangerous and harmful to the Anterior Cruciate ligament. It must be avoided during the lift.

Viewing the ascent from the rear
Did the first upward move start with the chest, head and arms
Did the body shift backward during the first move up
Did the buttocks rise before the head, chest and arms moved upward
Did the buttocks move laterally
Is the bar moving evenly upward without a windmill side to side sway
Is the loaded bar staying in line with the rack and not twisting to one side or the other
The ascent from the sides
Did the buttocks begin to rise before the bar moved upward
Did the knees cave into the valgus position
Did the head and chest remain upright at the beginning of the ascent
Did the back remain solid, slightly arched and braced
Are the knees remaining in line with the feet and not going into valgus or varus (knees move in an outward direction from the midline of the body) positions
Did the body torque to either side

This is just a small checklist of many of the obvious cues and clues that all professional coaches should have either in a written form or in firmly planted in their minds as they coach their athletes. Dr. Stuart McGill once stated 'Practice makes permanent'. Make sure your athlete's practice time is well spent, technically perfect and constantly re-enforcing and perfecting their individual and correct neuromuscular engram patterns.

Article Reference
This article, written by Danny M. O'Dell , appeared in Issue 23 of the Successful Coaching Newsletter.

About the AuthorDanny O`Dell is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of a number of training manuals including: The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength Training Secrets, Composite Training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living the healthy fitness lifestyle. Danny can be contacted through his website at

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