How to squat.
In this post we will be looking at how to perform the air, or bodyweight squat. This movement is fundamental to CrossFit as well as functioning day to day. It has a direct crossover into many other movements, including front and back squats, overhead squats, and the Olympic lifts. Taking time on this skill is important. Good execution will greatly improve your performance.
Below I have broken down the air squat into some relatively simple steps.
1. Before you squat, stand with your feet just outside shoulder-width apart with your feet parallel, glutes and abs engaged (imagine you are about to be punched in the stomach) with your head in neutral, facing forwards.
2. Begin the movement by sitting back as if you are looking for a high stool. The glutes and hamstrings are engaged the whole time. Keep the knees in line with the toes and maintain a good lumbar curve (don’t let your lower back round off).
3. Bending at the hips and knees, allow your bottom to travel down until your hip crease is below the knee crease, meaning that your thighs have broken parallel. Throughout this, keep your weight evenly distributed through the foot, chest up and lumbar curve intact. Again, check that your knees haven’t collapsed in and are tracking over the toes.
4. From this position engage your glutes, hamstrings and quads, keep the weight on your heels and drive back upwards until you are standing back up straight. Again ensure the lumbar curve stays intact and knees track over the toes.
Key points to remember
- Sit back and engage glutes and hamstrings to start
- Ensure your hip crease is below crease of the knee at the bottom of the squat
- Knees track over toes
- Weight is on the heels
- Drive back up whilst screwing feet into the floor, keeping glutes engaged
- Keep an upright chest throughout
- Stand all the way up until knees and hips are fully extended
Common problems with the air squat
1. Back rounding off, also known as the ‘butt wink’. This is basically when the lumbar curve is lost. It is often caused by a lack of mobility – when parts of the musculature are so tight that the person physically cannot get to parallel, or below it, without surrendering the form as the body compromises.
It is also caused by a lack of motor control, common in people who might have the mobility but seem to dive into the bottom of the squat with no control. In doing this they lose the tension and strength they build at the top of the movement by engaging glutes and abs. This issue is solved relatively easily by getting the athlete to carry out the downward phase to a count of three, and by being super strict with them until they naturally control their descent. As people get stronger and more comfortable with the movement this becomes easier.
2. Valgus Knee. This is a posh way of saying knees collapsing inwards. This is caused by a variety of factors. The best way I have found to solve it is to constantly think about screwing your feet into the floor. Imagine you are standing on a newspaper and are trying to tear it apart with your feet. This automatically switches on your glutes and forces your knees out over your toes.
3. Knees forward. This is when the movement is initiated by sliding the knees forward then just dropping the bum down. To fix this really focus on the first six inches of the squat by practising just sitting back and engaging your hamstrings and glutes to start the squat. Also focus on keeping your shins vertical for as long as possible. This is usually easily fixed with some practise and focusing on it each time you squat.
I could talk for hours about the air squat but these are the basics. Everyone, including myself, needs to work on his or her squat. My advice is to mobilise and practise as much as possible. You will notice that as your air squat improves so does your back squat, front squat, snatch and clean. Need I say more? If you have any questions please find a coach next time you are at the gym.