The Squat: Do’s and Don’ts

The squat.. Is it the king of all exercises?  I’m not here to spark a debate, but one thing is for sure:  The barbell back squat is a fundamental, compound exercise that helps build a strong and athletic physique.  

I wanted to address some of the do’s and don’ts of such a prolific exercise.  I think a lot of people make the mistake of squatting without knowing much about the movement.  It is important to understand a few concepts and have an idea of your own personal biomechanics before diving into this beast of an exercise.

Every person’s body is different.  Most people have different goals.  While it’s important that you don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to squatting, I believe the following advice may be helpful.  

Squat Do’s:

DO Get a Coach

It’s no doubt that training aimlessly is cheap.. but having a plan and someone to help you is almost always better.  Finding a trustworthy coach is important because they can be your second set of eyes. A good coach will watch you and provide constructive criticism if you can improve.  Also, a good coach will come up with a plan – a training routine is very important with the squat because more is not always better.  Your coach will know when to push you and know when to dial you back as well.

DO Your Homework

Watch YouTube videos of qualified strength and fitness coaches.  Emulate the biomechanics of other athletic humans (that your coach approves of).  Absorb as much content as you can about strength training and the squat.  The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be to attack your next workout.

DO Protect Yourself

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all.  Prior to my back injury, I never squatted with a belt.  Now, if I’m squatting anything over 50% of my 1 rep max, I’m using my belt.  Everyone is going to have a different protective equipment, but one thing you must do is protect yourself.  Warm up properly, brace your core as you squat, take care of your spine, stretch regularly.  These are all things that I wish I had learned earlier in my lifting career.  Listen to your body and protect your temple.

DO Take the Squat Seriously

In life outside the gym, it’s not often that we place a steel object (sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds) only an inch from our cervical vertebrae, crunch ourselves into a compact [hopefully athletic] position, and try to stand up. This is not an exercise to take lightly. As a powerlifting coach, I’ve seen some gruesome injuries as a result of not taking this movement seriously.  Be safe and listen to your body.  Understand the gravity (no pun intended) of what you are doing with a barbell.

Squat Don’ts:

DON’T Assume People Know How to Spot

If you ask someone to spot you while squatting, be sure to communicate with them.  Do you want them to touch the bar if you don’t need assistance?  How will they know if you need them?  Where do you want them to grab if you need them to help you?  These are all details to hammer out BEFORE you start your set.  A good, trustworthy spotter is very valuable.  Don’t assume that people know what you want/need. 

DON’T Neglect Your Warm Up

We know that a warm up is important for many reasons, but preparing the body and mind is #1. The back squat can have compressive forces if you lift heavy.  Warming up prepares your central nervous system, your muscles, connective tissue, and your spine for everything the squat will throw at you.  Take your time and execute every rep with intention.  Think of the squat as doing battle with the barbell – is your body properly prepared?

DON’T Ego Lift

20-year-old Alex is fuming from just reading this subtitle.  I used to be so frustrated with this concept because I always wanted to go heavy.  “GO HARD OR GO HOME!” …While this is one way to get strong, it’s not the only way.  Removing your ego from your training and objectively looking at what you need to do in order to safely pursue your goals is the true epitome of effective training. Not everyone has the discipline to lighten the weights, take their technique seriously, and execute every rep with deliberate attention to detail.  Never let your ego get in the way of your safety and longevity in the gym.

DON’T Forget to Recover

Perhaps the most underrated advice in this entire article: You must take your recovery seriously.  If you don’t give your body ample time to recover, your heavy squats won’t do you any good. Respect your training elements of sleep, proper nutrition, and positive adaptation.  Be mindful of the stress you are placing on your body and how to combat that stress with excellent recovery habits.

Closing Thoughts  

Of course we’re big fans of the squat.  While there are many variations, we focused on the barbell back squat in this article.  What are some other do’s and don’ts of the squat?  There are plenty of biomechanical items we left out.. Coaches?  Let’s hear it!  

Until next time.. Stay moving!

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