What is a squat?

The squat is known as one of, if not THE GREATEST exercise movement out there. Not only is it beneficial to just about your entire body, it is one of the most frequently performed daily functions.

In CrossFit the squat, or one of its variations, can be seen in every WOD or program. From wall balls, box jumps, pistols and cleans to thrusters, snatches, air squats and back squats; learning or mastering the mechanics, movements and progressions of a squat is the foundation to quality training and increasing overall strength.

At Blonyx, we are NOT training and movement experts, so what we've done is put together a collection of some of the BEST training resources out there on everything squat related. Here, we will highlight the best of the best.

To get a full list of resources on EVERYTHING Squat, download the BLONYX SQUAT GUIDE below.

How does this guide differ from this page?

Great question! This page provides brief introductions and highlights of each of the major squat variations, common errors and some basic mobility tips. In the guide, we've compiled links to some of the best articles, videos, blog posts and publications out there to help you improve your squat, because we know how CrossFitters LOVE to squat.

Happy Squatting!

History of the squat

History of the squat

The squat is not a new functional movement or fad exercise. For thousands of years, people have been inherently squatting since they were very young children picking items off the ground. It is a basic movement that we perform in acts as simple as getting out of a chair.

Historians have found references to feats of strength and weight lifting competitions dating back as far as 3600 BC, which included the squat. The first mention of the use of barbells for squatting was from a professional strongman, Hippolyte Trait, in France in the mid 1800s. By the 1930's, commercialized squat racks were becoming common fixtures in gyms and training halls. Fast forward to today and the squat and its many variations can be found in almost every training and fitness program.

Highlights

Late 1800's - Eugene Sandow

Commonly known as the world's first bodybuilder, Sandow publishes "Sandow's System of Physical Culture", the first book to introduce the squat movement for quadricep development.

1920's - Henry 'milo' Steinborn

The world's first 'squat specialist', introduced a new squat variation, using much heavier weights and movements than what had been traditionally seen. The squat has come to be known as the "Steinborn lift".

1950's - Paul Anderson

An American Olympian and weightlifter best known heavy lifting and popularizing the back squat. He coined the "Anderson squat", beginning from or resting in the bottom position.

Why do we squat?

1.SQUATTING IS GOOD FOR YOUR JOINTS

In the 2002 CrossFit Journal post entitled "Squat Clinic", Greg Glassman states that, "Not only is the squat not detrimental to knees, it is remarkably rehabilitative of cranky, damaged and delicate knees. In fact, if you do not squat, your knees are not healthy, regardless of how free of pain or discomfort you are. This is equally true of hips and back."

2. SQUATTING BUILDS MUSCLE & INCREASES CORE STRENGTH

In Mark Rippetoe's book "Starting Strength", he states, "The squat is so effective an exercise because of the way it uses the muscles around the core of the body....A correct squat perfectly balances all the forces around the knees and the hips, using these muscles in exactly the way the skeletal biomechanics are designed for them to be used, over their anatomically full range of motion."

3.CROSSFITTERS DO IT ALL THE TIME

Being proficient at the squat is key to success in CrossFit. The squat is the foundation of many CrossFit movements; wall balls, box jumps, cleans, thrusters, squat jerks, snatches, pistols, air squats, front, back and overhead squats. Learning proper movement patterns will help you move through your WOD or programming safely and efficiently and help you become a better overall athlete.

Mastering a squat of any variation starts with the perfect air squat

The perfect air squat

The perfect air squat

Key cues for the air squat:

  1. Feet shoulder-width apart and slightly toed out
  2. Eyes looking forward
  3. Midsection tight
  4. Send butt back and down
  5. Track knees over the line of the foot
  6. Weight in heels
  7. Stop when the fold of the hip is below the knee
  8. Break parallel with the thighs
  9. Squeeze glutes and hamstrings and rise without leaning forward or shifting balance
  10. Fully extend hips at the top

Common errors & remedies

ERROR CAUSE REMEDY
Not Going to Parallel Weak Hip Extensors, quad dominance Box squats, pause squats
Knees Rolling / Collapsing In Weak Adductors Banded squats
Rounding of the Back Tight hamstrings, weak erector muscles Bar holds, overhead squats
Heels Coming Off the Ground Poor ankle mobility Ankle mobility test
No Hip Extension at Top Muscle memory, incorrect neurological pattern CaBar touchesnada

Basic squat warm-ups & mobility

Because becoming a better athlete is so much more than just picking up a barbell! Mobility training and proper warm ups can improve range of motion of your joints and muscles and improve body awareness. Here are a few exercises to help you with your squat.

ALT FORWARD LUNGE WITH OVERHEAD REACH

REAR-FOOT ELEVATED HIP FLEXOR DYNAMIC STRETCH

SQUAT STAND & REACH WITH TOE LIFT

Next to the air squat, the back squat is one of the most fundamental movements in CrossFit

The back squat

The back squat

High bar vs low bar

There is much debate when it comes to high bar vs. low bar squats. The truth is, they are both beneficial variations, but have different purposes and benefits.

The high bar squat is used to emphasize quadricep strength since you can stay in a much more upright position. This is also a more common position for people with limited external rotation in their shoulders or thoracic spine extension and also tends to be easier on the lower back; for these reasons the high bar squat is more commonly found in people newer to squatting or people squatting for higher reps.

The low bar squat emphasizes the hips and low back since the body is more forward. The low bar squat is more commonly used when using higher loads and lower reps because the position brings more of the hips into the movement which tend to be more powerful. The low bar squat requires more shoulder and thoracic spine mobility than the high bar squat, but can also be better for people who lack ankle mobility because it is more of a hip oriented movement.

Common errors & remedies

ERROR CAUSE REMEDY
Rushing Set up & Lift Off Impatience & Lack of focus Be present & focus on lift. On set up: squeeze glutes, ribcage down, midline tight
Looking Up Naturally, we look where we want our body to go. This puts pressure on upper back by curving your cervical spine Try to look forward during the whole movement. If this is difficult, find a spot on the wall to look at that keeps neck neutral
"Good Morning" Squat Hips come up before chest, forcing position similar to a good morning. Stresses lower back and forces you onto you toes Push against the bar with upper back, or work on front squat.where your midline is forced to keep active to move bar in vertical path

SPIDERMAN DYNAMIC STRETCH

GOBLET SQUAT HOLD

FOAM ROLLER THORACIC EXTENSION

The front squat

The perfect front squat

Why you should front squat

1.IMPROVES POSTURE

One of the key fixes for rounded shoulders and back during back squats is to front squat. The front squat forces thoracic extension and recruits the muscles of the upper back to keep the bar moving in a vertical path; without the engagement of these muscle groups you will lean too far forward, putting pressure on the lower back and knees and the bar will fall to the floor.

2.INCREASES FLEXIBILITY

The front squat position requires more flexibility and range of motion compared to the back squat. When the barbell is loaded on the front of the body, the pelvis is tilted backwards, allowing a greater range of motion at the bottom of the lift, requiring more flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles.The 'front rack' position requires mobility of the lats and shoulders, flexibility of the wrist and activation of the rotator cuff to maintain a solid position through the lift.

3.MAKES FOR BETTER CROSSFITTERS

The front squat is very valuable for any CrossFit athlete. There are a number of movement that utilize the 'front rack' position: cleans, jerks and thrusters; and a number of movements that benefit from an increased range of motion around the shoulder joint: pullups, muscle ups, overhead movements and wall balls.

4.IMPROVES MIDLINE STRENGTH

Because of the stability required to keep the bar path vertical during the movement, the front squat requires more activation of the spinae erector and rectus abdominis muscles. In a study that compared trunk muscle activity when doing a front squat, back squat and military press; the erector spinae muscle activity was greatest during the front squat and rectus abdominis muscle activity was second greatest after the military press.

Common errors & remedies

ERROR CAUSE REMEDY
Elbows Not High Enough Inactive rotator cuff, tight shoulders & lats Dumbbell external rotation, foam roller lat stretch, lacrosse ball shoulder roll
Rounding of the Shoulders Limited mobility in thoracic spine & rotator cuff Foam roller extensions, PNF intercostal stretch
Limited Grip Inflexible wrist, tight forearms, triceps & lats Remove a finger or two to allow elbows to stay up

Front squat warm-ups & mobility

A good front squat is determined by your front rack position, if you're not able to hold the weight in a solid position, there is a good chance you will not be able to stay upright during the movement, resulting in a failed rep or extra stress on your back and knees. Here are 3 areas to focus on to improve your front rack position. For a full list of resources, download the squat guide!

IMPROVED FLEXION/EXTENSION

DECREASED TENSION IN SHOULDERS & LATS

IMPROVED THORACIC POSITION

The overhead squat

The perfect overhead squat

In his CrossFit Journal article, "The Overhead Squat", Greg Glassman states that, "the overhead squat is the ultimate exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement." If this is true, then why is it such a rarely used exercise in gyms around the country?

Top 3 reasons people struggle with overhead squats

1. LACK OF SKILL AND EFFECTIVE COACHING

For many people, the first time they overhead squat is in a weightlifting gym or a CrossFit affiliate. Even with the coaching, many people struggle with the posture, movement, stability and mobility that overhead squats require.

2. A WEAK OF INEFFICIENT SQUAT

To master the overhead squat, you must have a solid base to build on, and if your air and back squat is too weak or you've learned incorrect movement patterns, it will be much harder to learn the overhead squat with correct movement patterns.

3. STARTING WITH TOO MUCH OR RUSHING TO PUT WEIGHT ON THE BAR

Compared to other variations of the squat, the overhead squat requires much more mobility in the shoulders, thoracic spine and ankles, which people tend to lack when they start lifting weights. While it may be tedious, the proper way to learn the overhead squat is with a pvc pipe or broomstick. The key is to slowly add weight once you can maintain perfect form.

Common errors & remedies

ERROR CAUSE REMEDY
Hawk squat or reach back (excessive lean forward) Tight ankles and thoracic spine doesn't allow for knees to track over the toes, causing hips to move too far back throwing off center of mass Reduce weight to a dowel/pvc pipe, work through steps of (re)learning overhead squat.
Heels lifting off ground Lack of Ankle Mobility Ankle mobility drills

Overhead squat warm-ups & mobility

ANKLE MOBILITY DRILL

BANDED LAT STRETCH

BANDED PIGEON STRETCH

Squat variations - pistol squats

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Why learn pistol squats

If you are a CrossFitter, you know that pistols come up in many benchmark, hero and regionals/games WODs and are valuable to learn if you are looking to RX your workouts. But outside of CrossFit, is this still a good movement to learn? OF COURSE!

Pistol squats can be used to maintain leg strength, flexibility and health and help to activate the hip and knee joints. If that wasn't enough for you, they can be done almost anywhere with no equipment necessary.

Unfortunately, the pistol squat is one of those movements that many people lack the mobility, strength or balance required to perform it correctly.

Common errors & remedies

ERROR CAUSE REMEDY
Heel coming off the ground Ankle mobility Banded Ankle mobility drill
Collapse at the bottom Not controlling the descent Work on slow negatives on a box, very controlled
Falling backwards Lack of strength Go back one progression, work on building strength before move to harder drills

Pistol squat progressions:

  1. Air squat, narrow stance
  2. Pistol onto a box
  3. Pistol with pole assist
  4. Pistol with band assist (across rank or hanging)
  5. Counterbalance with weight
  6. Pistol on top of a box (leg raising over side)
  7. Pistol squat