Absolutes For The Back Squat

I am writing a book about the back squat as we speak. I am enjoying this process more than any other book before. You might think this is an easy process for me, I mean I have held a world record in the back squat. I coach several weightlifters that are known to back squat more than anyone else in their sport. I coach an NFL fullback that back squats over 700 pounds. Some might say that makes me an expert.

Yeah, I could take the easy way out, and recommend that all of you do exactly what I say. However what if there is more? What is there are ideas that might help me coach the back squat better? Those are the questions that I asked myself before beginning this book. I decided to take on the question in three different ways:

  • I wanted to see what the research said.
  • I wanted to know what other experts thought.
  • I wanted to look closely at what has worked for my athletes and me.

Here’s what gets my goat after looking deeper into the subject. A lot of so-called experts are out there spouting off a lot of absolutes. Some say that you have to sit back, and some say sit down. Some say you should look up, and some say you should look down. Some say you should drive into the bar out of the hole, and some say you should drive your feet into the floor.

Here’s the one absolute I discovered: “There aren’t a lot of absolutes to be found.”

In all seriousness, this is what I found:

“Proximal stiffness equals distal power production.”

I kind of stole that from Dr. Stu McGill, but it’s the one absolute that I came away with after further thought. The goal is to create as much stiffness around the spine as possible. Here are a few ways to create stiffness:

  1. Intra-Abdominal Pressure – the best way to perform this maneuver is breathing deep into the diaphragm while pressing the air out against your belt in all directions around the belly including obliques and low back.
  2. Arms should be as close together as possible with elbows tucked in tight against the body and under the bar.
  3. Create torque from the ground up by either screwing your feet into the floor or spreading the floor. “Screwing your feet” into the floor is simply externally rotating or trying to point your heels towards each other. Spreading the floor is simply digging your feet into the floor and trying the rip the floor apart. Both techniques help to engage the glutes and create stiffness from the pelvis up.
  4. Bending the Bar – this one will help pack the lats. A tight back is not only the best way to create power, but it’s also the safest way to squat. Bending the bar will tighten the back and keep you safe.


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Sport Specific Absolutes

Other than these ways of creating stiffness, there aren’t a lot of absolutes. That is unless we are talking sport specifics. If you are a weightlifter, there are a few absolutes I recommend. Let’s look at them:

  • Sitting down is a must. Depth and a vertical spine are two musts that have to be reached in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. Versus sitting back, which limits depth because you are creating hip flexion earlier on. Since hip flexion helps to determine depth, sitting back limits the range of motion.
  • High bar is probably the best choice. Low bar seems to put most athletes into hip flexion a bit earlier along with creating a more diagonal torso. Neither one of these things are optimal for weightlifting.

Really when I think about it, these aren’t absolutes. They are simply “a little wiser movements” to make in the sport of weightlifting. I mean heck some weightlifters use the low bar squat, and they are still very successful. However, as a rule I would suggest high bar and sitting down. Once again, there simply aren’t a lot of absolutes.

Learn From The Experts

Here’s what I suggest: you should try to learn from as many people as possible. You should try some of the things that the experts are saying and see what works. The question is, “What defines an expert?” Personally there are a few categories of experts:

  • The ones performing the research.
  • The guys coaching athletes and consistently getting amazing results.
  • The guys digging into the research and coaching the champions.

I am more impressed by guys like Greg Nuckols that:

  • Love to dig into the research.
  • Coach hundreds of people with great results.
  • Have lifted big weights themselves.

Those are the three characteristics that I look for when I am trying to learn. Personally, a coach that has thousands of lifters under his belt has already performed more research than any exercise scientist can ever hope to perform. However if that person has also lifted big weights and loves to read new research, that person has all the knowledge necessary for creating the perfect squat program and teaching the perfect technique.

Check Your Source

There is one thing that I want to talk about before I leave you all today. There are way too many self-proclaimed experts out there trying to teach the back squat simply because it is a popular topic nowadays. I am talking about men and women teaching all about the squat while hiding behind a title. I have news for you. Having a title like PT, DC, or MD doesn’t mean that you are an expert in the back squat. Reading the latest article on Pubmed without having coached anyone or without having squatted any significant weight yourself definitely doesn’t make you and expert. You need to earn the title of “expert” by getting under the bar for several years and coaching other great athletes for several years, and then maybe you can be looked at as an expert.

The internet is a beautiful thing because all the information in the world is at your fingertips. It’s also a curse because all the information is at your fingertips. You need to learn how to discern the difference between good information and bad information.

I hope that this article helps you all. I get it, the squat is awesome. It makes you strong. It makes you run faster and jump higher. It gives you a great butt. What’s not to love? Now you have the information necessary to find the truth about the back squat. I have already given you some tips to get you started. My book will be out by the end of the month, and then you will have all the information that you could ever dream of all about the back squat. Get ready!

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