The Olympic Squat Revealed
The Olympic Squat (a precursor to learning the Olympic Lifts), is a great exercise if you know how to squat correctly.
The first thing you should do prior to beginning Olympic Squats is to qualify your squat depth. What this means is finding out the end range where you can hold your body in the proper Olympic Squat position just prior to it “buckling” at one or more joints.
This end range will be your starting point as you progress with more weight, power and distance, thus allowing you to become well on your way to a great body while you master this awesome lift.
What is the proper Olympic Squat position?
Olympic lifters and those who do squats like them, definitely vary in style, however the most common approach to a great Olympic Squat is one whereby the torso is pretty much vertical, the bum is behind you (but not “sticking out”), and the knees are the prime mover.
What that means (prime mover) is, unlike a power lifting squat where the knees stay closer to the heels, during the descent on an Olympic Squat the knees are shot forward (or somewhat angled, and still moving forward) to accomodate an upright torso.
This position is the safest position for your low back and a wise choice for those who may be experiencing, or have a history of back pain. Especially low back pain.
It is also a great exercise to firm and tone and strengthen the inner thighs.
Okay, let’s see where you’re starting point is
Finding out how low you can go when you do a learn how to do a proper Olympic Squat is pretty easy.
The first thing you do is get a wooden dowel (about an inch or 1 and 1/8 in diameter) and set yourself up to squat. it is best to use a box so you know how low you’re going and so you can adjust your depth until you find your end range.
Place the dowel on your neck (traps),and as you descend towards the box, keep your bum behind you. If the hips (bum and more) are directly under you, there will be pressure felt on the low back, and that is not a good thing.
As you continue to squat towards the box, be sure to keep your torso upright, in doing this the knees will move forward as well as slightly outward to allow for you to continue to keep a straight back.
If you can do this and go “deep in the hole”, which means bum touches calf, and maintain an upright back, then you have great flexibility and can begin to add more weight on your journey to squat supremacy.
Check this video out to help you learn how to squat, Olympic style!
The 3 big mistakes to look out for when doing an Olympic Squat
The Olympic squat and learning how to squat that way can be very enjoyable, yet before you add big weight to this type of lift, there are a few things to look for, that are common errors resulting in possible injury, and for sure, excessive wear and tear on the body.
1) Always be sure to keep the knees over the foot!
– Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike can squat, yet they lack the flexibility to squat properly. This can, and often does, negatively affect both the knee joint, the hip joint and the back.
2) Make sure the natural curve in your low back is maintained
– This is the position of power, provided you support the spine with the appropriate bracing techniques. If the back begins to round, you have gone past your squat depth and you should raise your box a bit higher until flexibility improves.
3) Don’t shoot your knees outward, like a sumo squat or sumo deadlift.
– This both feels and to the untrained eye, looks like an Olympic squat, yet it is more of a ballet squat (pli-e) and is quite commonly done by those whose flexibility is not able to allow the to do an Olympic squat properly.
it is also a common type of squat for those who lack the understanding of how to brace the spine and generate power at just the right moment.
Okay, so now the answer as to how low you should squat Olympic style
You should only squat as low as you can while maintaining proper form, which includes a neutral low back, knees over the foot and the proper squat whereby the knees move forward and somewhat outward, rather than just laterally, like in a ballet type squat.
If you’re an olympic lifter, then you will be taught and trained to go “deep in the hole” (rock bottom), however if your main objective is to improve your squat, get fit and even become a star athlete, then you may want to look into shortening your squat depth to allow for more power, and a reduced chance of injury.
We all push purselves to better our bodies, our minds and our skills, and only you can answer the question “how low should I go when I squat”.
Years ago I had the priveledge of sitting down with Dr. Stuart McGill, and prior to this talk I had a list, pages long, of exercises I wanted him to validate were great and safe for the back.
I had read out the first one and he responded with the knowledge I needed to decide whether or not it was good. I then read out the second one and he politely said “Look, when you’re doing an exercise, ask yourself why you’re doing it. If you can’t answer, then don’t do it!”
I have used this quote with my athletes ever since it was spoken to me and it also allowed me to look at fitness and high performance (where I spent most of my career) in a different light.
I encourage you do do the same, and always ask yourself “why” because the reason one person squats deep can be the very same reaosn another does not.
Lift smart everone!