Fix Your Squat

10896871_936713919680138_7746851009549468939_nEveryone wants to master the snatch!!!

It is the fastest barbell movement, and since we are talking about it, it is also the coolest looking lift in the world!

Let’s look at this in terms of how we began to move as toddlers: first we learned how to crawl; then we moved on to walking; and once we figured that out, we started running.

Why do we try to reverse that order in the gym?

CrossFit Equation: If (snatching= running) and (overhead squatting= walking), then (_______= crawling).

Answer: ________= squatting.

So to recap, we first polish up on the squat, then hone in the overhead squat, and lastly work towards mastering the snatch. Today we are going to focus on the squat.

Squat: In a recent post, coach Teddy talked about the importance of range of motion. If we are in fact going to start with squatting then let’s make sure that range of motion is one of our priorities in our squat.

Watch Kendrick Farris in this snatch video. Where do you think he squats to? Stopping at parallel is not the goal.

Another priority in the squat is to keep tension throughout your squat. You want to actively push through your midline. You do this by engaging your core as if you were pushing into a weight belt on the way down and all the way back up.

If your first move at the bottom of your squat is to lean your chest forward, then you are completely taking your quadriceps out of the equation and putting the load on your lower back and hips. Is this you? Have you hurt yourself or been super sore in areas that you shouldn’t when squatting? Take a deeper look into this then.

Along with keeping tension in your midline, focus on keeping the weight directly over the middle of your foot. The second you lose tension and your chest dips forward, the weight is now over your toes. Not good.

There are many other facets of the squat that we can talk about, and we will at some point, but for today let’s focus on pushing our range of motion to a place that might be out of our normal comfort zone, while keeping tension through our midline.

Homework: Instead of putting yourself in crappy positions just to get a quicker score or to put up more weight, try the above technique tips to keep you working towards bigger and better goals within the gym!

Is Your Butt Winking?

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You’ve probably heard one of your coaches at TwinTown Fitness use the term butt wink before. But what does it mean, and more important, how do you prevent it from happening?

The butt wink is a term used to describe the posterior rotation of an athlete’s pelvis during a squat, i.e., your tailbone tucks underneath your body during the squat.

A butt wink can occur because the range of motion in your hips is limited once you reach a certain depth. It might also happen because you have tight hamstrings.

There is no doubt that a butt wink is bad. Kelly Starrett says that when you butt wink, the whole system is then compromised do to instability. Your core turns off, causing you to get loose in the bottom, which leaves you poorly braced.

This becomes really problematic when you have a loaded barbell on your shoulders because your risk of injury goes up.

How do you fix a butt wink?

First, address your posterior chain and hamstring mobility.

Starrett suggests squeezing your belly and your butt to stabilize your spine at the top of your squat. Then, initiate the squat by pushing your knees out laterally and your hamstrings, not your butt, back. You should drive your knees out as far laterally as possible, and screw your feet into the ground, creating torque as you get deeper in your squat. Imagine that you have a connected sheet of paper towel under both feet and you want to tear it in the middle.

But until you master the awareness to do this while banging out a set of squats, stop your squat where you begin to butt wink.

For some athletes this occurs when their hips are at ninety degrees, for others it doesn’t happen until they get below parallel. If you are unsure of where your tailbone starts to tuck under your body, ask a coach to watch you and place a box or medicine ball to stop your squat right before this point.

Stay there with the box or medicine ball for a while and really feel what your body is and is not doing to this point. Are you tight in the bottom? Is your back rounding? Then remove the object, squat to full depth, and see if it feels different to you. Try to recreate the feeling your body had before you began to butt wink. If you are unable to do this, go back up to the box or medicine ball and don’t go any deeper until you have worked on your mobility and can squat without a butt wink.

Are your ankles affecting your squat?

1891244_880767821941415_6467677369343282556_n-2Tight ankles change the mechanics of your squat position. Tight calves, achilles or plantar fasciitis can also negatively affect your squat, but we are going to focus on ankles today.

Lack of dorsiflexion can make you weaker and more injury prone. Having tight ankles forces you to use your quads more and your glutes less.

A quick and easy way to increase ankle mobility, and give your heels a stable surface to push off of when squatting, is to put your heels onto a five pound plate. Or you can get off your wallet and go get some oly lifting shoes.

There are literally a thousand ways to mobilize your ankles, but most of our immobilities are centered between our ears. “Huh… what is he talking about?”

I’m saying that most of us choose to take the lazy route and not do anything to improve no matter how much we need it. Let’s assume that we have moved past obstacle one, our lazy nature, here are a few great videos that you can follow along with and see what is holding you up.

I would start with Dorsiflexion Test to see where you are at. This is just a snip-it, but start with your toe five to six inches from the wall. While keeping your heel completely on the ground, see if you can touch your knee to the wall.

If you cannot touch your knee to the wall, try the exercises in Ankle Dorsiflexion to start to mobilize. This video has you put a PVC or dowel on the inside of your big toe and then bring the outside of your knee around the PVC. But you can get a lot of the same benefit by placing the PVC on the outside of your pinky toe and bringing the inside of your knee around the PVC. Do each of these ten times, on each leg and retest.

Kelly Starett has a few great videos that tie everything together in your lower leg, and show you how to improve mobility for squatting. Check out Heel Cords of a Cheetah and Heel Cord Love’n.

There are also a few great exercises in Dorsiflexion for Improved Squat Performance and How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion & Plantar Flexion for Sprinting to work through.

If you do not know where your immobilities lie exactly, but know that there is something going on, get with one of your coaches and we can help you properly diagnose where your problem areas are and point you in the right direction for improvement.

We can all be as mobile as we want, but how badly do we want it?

What part of the front squat do you struggle with?

10404177_863593560325508_1897217743595871228_nLike many elements in our CrossFit journey, the front squat takes practice. Practice with the mobility to get the bar into the proper position, the strength to keep tension throughout the lift and in patience to not try to do too much too fast.

The following pictures in this sequence illustrate where you should be technique-wise throughout the lift:

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Position 1- “Front Rack”- The back of your arms should be parallel to the ground throughout the lift; think about keeping your elbows shooting up through the ceiling. Something that will help you keep your elbows up, and prevent you from feeling a burning sensation in your wrists, is to release your ring and pinky fingers from the bar so you only have your thumb and two fingers on the bar. Your fingers only serve the purpose of keeping the bar in place, all of the weight should be supported by your shoulders.

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Position 2- Initiate the squat. Break at the hips and sending butt back. Notice how Peter’s angle between the bottom of his arms and his body in this picture from the first. The more you can keep your torso vertical, the less pressure it puts on your shoulders and wrists. Think about keeping those elbows shooting to the ceiling while tracking your knees over your toes as you squat.

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Position 3- Bottom of the squat. As always, you want your hip crease to be deeper than your knees, as Peter is doing here. Work to keep the back of your arms parallel with the ground throughout the lift. If you notice your chest sinking forward as you squat, it is because you lack the proper hip and/or hamstring mobility to support keeping your torso vertical. When you hit the bottom of your squat and start driving up be sure to keep your knees out. Think about forcing your knees out as if you were doing banded squats.

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Position 4- The return. Work on returning on the same path you came down on by using your glutes and hamstrings. If you were to trace the bars movement pattern throughout, it would be moving on a straight line down and up.

If you lack the mobility in any of these four positions, get with a coach and ask how you can improve your mobility to better front squat.

A tale of two squats…

The Real Deal

A couple of months ago I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself. I had just started the Texas Method program but on week two I was unable to complete the prescribed volume of squats. I chalked it up to fatigue and decided to not add weight the next week. I waited patiently all week for a chance to redeem myself but when Monday rolled around, I whiffed again.

What gives?

The problem is that the Texas Method is a percentage based progression and I had calculated my percentages against my Ego Squat. The Ego Squat is what you do to get a big number on the leader board, or to lay claim to an impressive milestone. In my case my Ego Squat is a 2x bodyweight squat. I’ve been working for a 2x bodyweight squat forever. One morning I weighed in at 175 and later that day I managed to stand up with 365…barely. But hey, my hip crease broke the plane of my knee so I gave myself credit.

Here’s the problem. Outside of the edge case of competitive powerlifting, a squat where your hips dip just below your knee isn’t really a squat. It’s nothing. It’s worse than useless because it’s a completely different pattern than the one you actually want to engrain. The way real athletes squat is ass-to-ankles, with an upright chest, and always, always, always sitting all the way into the squat. Squatting this way can add 10-15kg to your snatch. It can mean the difference of several minutes in a WOD like Karen or Fran. It makes you better at everything, including the deadlift.

In order to finish Texas Method I had to swallow my pride and ratchet down my numbers. Rather than calculate percentages from my Ego Squat, I calculated percentages from 315 which was my max when I sit all the way into my squat. That adjustment gave me six weeks of productive training where I was able to fulfill 100% of the prescribed volume. The result is that my squat went up as well my snatch, clean, dead lift, and bench press.

The point is this. You are always training for something. So you may as well live by your standard. If you spend your time in the gym chasing shiny objects and giving yourself credit for things you haven’t earned, you’re training to be a knucklehead, and you can’t be surprised when you get owned by somebody with a little humility.

Why so many different squats?

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I remember fumbling my way through the perils of “leg day” back when I first started working out. Most of my time was spent between either the leg extension machine, or the leg press machine, but I did manage to incorporate some squatting too.

I’m sure my unguided form was something that even a visitor to the weight room would shake his/her head at, but at least it wasn’t complicated, right? The bar goes across the back of your shoulders, you squat down, you stand up, you’re done! Easy! HA.

You can surely imagine then, the shock that came with my first experience in a CrossFit gym. Not only was I squatting to a completely unfamiliar range, but they had me put the damn bar on the front of my shoulders – the agony!

It wasn’t until later, when I was drinking the CrossFit Kool-Aid, that I realized why there are so many variations of the squat. As is true in any strength program, you get stronger by putting your body under a continual stress (weight), and then over the course of time you adapt by getting stronger. So if you are only used to squatting with weight in one place, you are really only strong with the bar in that position.

This is fine in the gym, but in life we are not always in a position to carry things where they are most convenient. Training your body to be strong with a weight on it, through as many natural movement patterns as possible is what gives you the best results in your everyday life.

If you’re new to squatting, working on a back squat (or just a body weight squat) is a great place to start. But the more confident you grow, the more important it becomes to continue to expand your capabilities. It might not come easily at first (hi, overhead squats!), but the more you practice the better off you’ll be down the road.