The High Bar Barbell Squat is one of the most beneficial exercises to add to an anyone’s exercise routine. However, it is vastly under looked and performed incorrectly by the vast majority, my aim of this blog is to open your eyes to the technique requirement and aesthetic benefits of the barbell Squat.
The squat has been used for decades by strength and conditioning coaches to improve the performance of athletes in almost every sport. The High Bar back squats strengthens 256 muscles making it one of the biggest compound movements in the exercise dictionary but Primarily the squat works the Quadriceps, Hamstring, Glute’s and abdominal’s (Image 1.1). My education was developed around the squat by the international power-lifting federation which revolutionised my view on the squat and how many different elements there are to the squat. By Breaking the squat down to its three main areas of Bar Positioning, Bracing and Bar Path made it easier for myself to understand and hopefully it does for you too.
When viewing the squat, a lot of people just jump straight under the bar without even balancing it on your shoulder. This is actually one of the most commonly made mistake made on regular basis in my seven years in the industry an easy way to fix this is by placing your hands one thumb width part from outer knurling near to the centre of the barbell. Once you have place your hands either side maintain your grip and put your head under the bar and secure it to the middle point of the upper trap (image 1.2).
Now before taking the bar out of the rack you want to set your squat position. Your feet must be positioned under the bar and just outside hip width, with a slight outwards angle (Image 1.3).
This is to prevent losing balance and so that the load is not off centre and applying any extra stress on the back. Once you have positioned the bar, take the load onto your shoulders and shuffle your feet one step back while maintain straight legs (this is to limit the amount of movement while moving the bar back to your squat position). The bar should now be away from the rack and your feet should finish the same position that you un racked the weight at so when performing the squat, you do not hit the rack (image 1.4).
Once you have found your position before squatting you want to brace your core this is controlled via breathing. The breathing component is crucial as it creates air pressure by using your core muscles to press against the air you have inhaled creating what feels like an imaginary belt. This is performed in sequence with the bracing of the scapular (shoulder blades) and your glutes (Buttocks). When taking a big breath in through your mouth you want to pull you elbows backwards and shoulders upwards. Once you have completed your breath in, pull down on the bar while maintaining an upwards elbow position and bring your shoulder down and backwards as far as you can. This locks the bar down to the traps making the bar stable and making it easier to maintain upright positioning through-out the squat. (image 1.2).
Performing the squatting phase, you want to combine the breathing and bracing techniques in sequence with the squat. Once you have completed the bracing stage and have the bar away from the rack you can start the eccentric phase (lowering phase). Starting with straight legs with your weight on the outside of your feet you want to squeeze your glutes then slightly bend at the knee so that you can transition your glutes backwards and your upper body forward off centre to balance the weight (while holding your breath). The angle at which you bend will vary between 45 to 55 degrees depending on limb length, however you do not want to exceed 55 degrees as it will allow for the centre of mass being forward which can result in excessive knee loading or loss of balance mid squat that can result in injury. Maintaining a too upright position has its own issues as well, this can create excessive weight through your heels that can result in loss of the toes being contact with the floor. Intern can cause loss of balance or even fall backwards out of your squat. (Image 1.5 frame 1 and 2) Once you have reached your optimal angle without your knees being forward of your toes and your weight being distributed through the mid foot, you can now drop your hips down to where the glutes pass the knee without changing the angle in your back (image 1.5 frame 2 and 3).
The concentric (upward phase) of the squat is only made easier if the eccentric phase is performed correctly. The lowering phase should always be performed at a 2 to 1 ratio to the concentric phase. The reason the concentric phase is made easier is due to the use of the stretch shorting cycle this is basically the elastic potential of your muscles and tendons. Imagine as you lower into your squat that your muscles and tendons act like a stretched elastic band propelling you upwards out of the bottom phase of your squat. This is only possible if you maintain your bracing component of your lift because if your upper body gets loose that elastic energy is not produced or is wasted. The lowest point of the squat is the most challenging, as you drive up the aim is to push up with the chest whilst also driving your hips forward (image 1.5 frame 3 and 4). Once you have hit frame 4 positioning you can release your breath whilst continuing to drive your chest up, hips forward and locking your knees back to the starting positioning. (image 1.5 frame 5) A common mistake made in this position is over extension through the hips, this when the hips pass in front of the bar where the glutes tuck under. This applies excessive load through the lumber spine (lower back) and can cause injury if repeated frequently.
I Hope this break down of the squat has been informative and have given you a visual perspective on how the High Bar squat is performed. There are many variations to the squat so when you master this squat you can move on to lower bar or even front squat which is one of the most technical squats and that requires almost perfective mobility (flexibility) (Image 1.6). If you found it hard to maintain any of the positions or get depth throughout the movement it could be due to poor mobility. This can be aided with the use of stretching or performing myofascial release (massage) on a foam roller or going to see a form of sports massage therapist. So, get squatting and if you have any further question feel free to contact us we are always happy to go into further detail that you may need assistance with.