Here at MuscleDog, we have always advocated squatting as low as you can. This means that you should not stop at parallel during any squats. Movement is life, so there is no reason to impede your range of motion just to lift more weight! I wouldn’t recommend doing quarter squats just so you could squat 700 lbs. I also wouldn’t recommend you cut your squat short by six inches just to add 50 lbs. to your squat either. In this article, we are going to break down the Olympic weightlifting squat, and tell you why it should be your #1 choice when you squat.
There certainly is a place for other types of squats depending on your goals and your current situation, but we will get to them later. We will break down when and why to use each squat as well. If fully healthy and able, your primary choice should be the weightlifting squat. Lets get started talking about why it should be your #1 choice.
Olympic Weightlifting Style Squats
You hear all of us at MuscleDog say that you should squat “ATG.” That means “Ass To Grass.” But why do we say this? The #1 reason we recommend this is because the greatest overall strength gains can be made while squatting this deep. By going through such a long range of motion, it activates almost every single muscle in your body--producing a tremendous response. It also requires the greatest amount of athleticism, which is a key aspect for most individuals looking to up their game. Going this low recruits your hamstrings and glutes--not just the quads--which results in more muscles worked and subsequently, more work done.
Force = Mass x Acceleration
We want to be able to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in the shortest time possible. This is what generates the most Power (Work/Time). Remember, Force = Mass x Acceleration.
It is not just about the amount of weight lifted, but the speed at which you do it. In every sport, we are looking to exert as much force as we can. Olympic Style Weightlifters always squat as fast as they can to ensure they generate the most power. Powerlifters are taught to go down as slow as possible and stay in control on the way up. This style of lifting uses a much shorter range of motion, and you move a LOT slower throughout the entire lift.
If you are an athlete, when do you ever want to intentionally move slowly? I have yet to hear of a sport in which it benefits you to move slowly, other than powerlifting. Football, golf, tennis, basketball, mixed martial arts, boxing, wrestling, swimming, track & field, weightlifting, volleyball, baseball, and every other sport I can think of require you to move as fast as possible! Of course, our bodies don’t always agree, but your body performs the way you train it to perform. If you train it to be slow, it will perform slowly. If you train it to be fast, it will perform fast (or at least faster).
Basic Set-Up Principles
The Olympic Style Squat requires the range of motion, speed, technique, mobility, and explosiveness that can benefit you in EVERY sport! It’s effectiveness as an overall strength exercise is unparalleled. So, what is a basic explanation on how to perform it?
• High bar style (bar on top of your trapezius muscles)
• Feet are shoulder-width apart.
• Point toes slightly outward.
• Chest stays up throughout the movement.
• Squat as low as you can go.
• Control the movement on the way down.
• Explode as fast as you can on the way up.
That is the most basic explanation I can give of how to perform a correct Olympic Style Weightlifting Squat and the various different cues you should be aware of when squatting this way.
Flexibility & Mobility Benefits
Another key aspect for the ATG squat is that the flexibility required to do it is very demanding. It is ideal if you can start squatting this way at a young age. However, if you are older and just stumbled upon squatting this way, then, you may struggle a bit more in perfecting this squat. You may find that you have some flexibility issues. You can reply with a video or with a post on the forums on the discussion area of MuscleDog and we will help you work on your flexibility issues. A lot of times it comes in the area of tight hip flexors (from sitting too much), tight hamstrings, and tight Achilles tendons. This is completely fine. It will just take some attention to stretching to fix this issue.
Another very big benefit to squatting that deep is that the flexibility gained from it will help you in any sport. OK, a lot of people are very flexible…but what good does it do you if you’re not strong in that range of motion? The ATG squat ensures that you are extremely powerful in the most extreme range of motion. Think about wrestlers, MMA fighters, football players, track & field athletes, weightlifters, and even golfers…what do they all have in common? They would all benefit enormously from being able to have full hip range of motion and also being able to exert a maximal amount of force from that position. No other type of squat will develop that power in the fullest and biggest range of motion!
After all, most of the problems we experience as older adults are lower back problems. It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. So, what are some of the main causes? Some of the main causes of back pain is tight hip flexors (from sitting too much) and tight hamstrings. It can begin to cause an anterior pelvic telt, and, thus follows a lot of lower back pain. Once you are able to do a full weightlifting squat you will be well on your way to being posturally and anatomically correct. You may be able to prevent a lot of injuries later down the road by maintaining proper body alignment now. This is just another benefit to squatting with a full range of motion.
We covered all of the basics of the weightlifting squat in this article. We talked about how you set up: feet shoulder-width apart, high bar, squat as low as you can go. We also covered why the flexibility and mobility aspects of the squat can benefit you by being able to produce a maximal amount of force when in your farthest range of motion. This range of motion can also ensure that you maintain a healthy posture as you age, which may increase your longevity and improve your qualify of life.
In Part Two, we are going to break down all the other types of squats and weigh the pros and cons of each squat. This way, we will be able to guide you better in terms of when and why you might want to use other forms of the squat.
Watson, S. Reviewed by Nazario, B. MD. Living with Low Back Pain : Top Causes of Chronic Low Back Pain. http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/living-with-low-back-pain-11/causes?page=1
Bookspan, J. PhD. Stop Back, Neck, Leg,and Hip Pain from Long Sitting. http://www.drbookspan.com/SittingHealthy.html
Jared Enderton – Jared is a weightlifter, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and a nationally ranked weightlifter in the United States. He has earned his Bachelor’s Degree (with honors) in Exercise Science from the University of Northern Iowa. His certifications include: ACE-PT, CrossFit Level 1, and USAW- Sports Performance. He is also a former State Champion and All-American wrestler in the state of Iowa. In addition to working as a weightlifter and a personal trainer, Jared also has an extensive background in researching and selling sports supplements.