I Don’t Know Squat

Form is everything. As much as I film myself or try to develop the proprioception to implement minute cues to keep my body aligned and safe, it’s nearly impossible to have perfect form without external feedback. How you think your body is moving isn’t always the same as how it’s actually moving.Over the past two or three weeks, I’ve had a fair amount of training and classes focused on back squat form. I used to be pretty overconfident about back squats because I’ve always had very strong legs and I can lift a good amount for my size – my max is usually about 2x my body weight. However, in these past few months, my failures have taught me some key cues that I’ve been missing, which have led to me losing some strength and losing time in practice.

  1. I keep my weight too far forward, forcing me to rely more on my quads than is beneficial. Instead, I’m learning how to sit back into my squat, focusing the weight towards my heels and pushing up evenly through my feet and into my glute muscles.
  2. As a result, I’m not keeping my chest raised enough. Instead, because my weight is forward, so is my chest and, in some cases, my gaze. This is why I struggle to throw the bar back when I need to bail on a lift. Because I’m already so far forward, there’s not enough time for me to get out of the way of the bar.
  3. I don’t pause to brace. While my breath is well-controlled from my yoga practice, I’ve noticed in some of my earlier lifts that I’d pull the bar off the rack and squat down almost immediately, which doesn’t give me enough time to set my entire body up for success.
  4. I don’t point my toes out, which leads to my legs being too narrow. With my stance too narrow, I don’t have enough power to push out of the squat and, through habit, end up being afraid to go too deep into the squat.
  5. As such, I don’t consistently break parallel, which is one of the most important habits to get into. If I can squat 250lbs but only go to a 90 degree angle in my legs, while still valid, it doesn’t allow me to build the strength and confidence from a deeper place within the movement.

So much, I’m learning, has to do with habit. I’m in the habit of keeping my legs a certain way, which results in the habit of not squatting deep enough, which results in the habit of leaning forward to find my way out of the position. So I have a series of interrelated habits that I need to fix in order to remedy the entire movement. That’s not to say my form is bad and I’m not good at it. It is, however, important for getting better and improving my athleticism.

Lately, my approach has been to go lighter and use less equipment so I can better feel where my body is in the movement, as well as my weaknesses. As a result of hurting my ankle, the pain/tightness has shifted up into my knee which means I’ve been wearing knee sleeves more regularly to provide support for a muscle that’s clearly in a weakened state. However, it will never get stronger if I don’t focus on what needs to be improved without additional support.

Sometimes it’s frustrating because there’s so much ego involved in weight – i.e. always coming in 3rd on my box’s whiteboard when I know I could have gone higher, but that’s what yoga is for, right? Well, something like that. I know that short-term wins cannot come at the expense of long-term improvement.

I’m excited about resetting though. Bad habits exist everywhere in life – I have my fair share of negative self-talk patterns, sugar addictions, and reach-for-the-phone-first-thing-in-the-morning obsessions – so it’s not unique to need to take a moment to pause and come to a blank slate so you can build new habits instead. It requires work, but the best part of habit-changing in relation to health and body is that you see results all along the way, whether that’s less pain after training or increased strength in other movements.

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