Squatting is the foundational movement in all of athletic performance. In almost every situation, he or she who can extend their hips with the most power will be able to run faster, move quicker, jump higher, and be stronger than anyone else. Athletic training should center around the squat.
The air squat is “Step 0” to all other squats: the front squat, back squat, overhead squat, bulgarian squat, low-bar squat, safety-bar squat, kang squat, and many others. Only until the industrial world when we introduced chairs, have we lost our ability to squat properly. Most of the world’s population prefers to sit in a deep squat to enjoy a meal or entertain company.
The air squat is nothing more than squatting your own bodyweight. Today I want to address the three mechanics involved each in each component of the squat: the set-up, execution, and finish.
Feet should be underneath your shoulders (i.e. shoulder-width apart). If you lack range of motion in your hips or ankles, pointing your toes out slightly will help you reach necessary depth.
Your goal, however, should be to regain the mobility necessary to squat and sit comfortably with your hamstrings resting against your calves for 10-minutes. Once you can accomplish that, you can move your feet closer and closer together until they finally touch each other.
Your hips should first descend back before down. The common fault here is that an athlete will bend at their knees first without sending their hips back. This is the initiation of a “muted hip function” and results in a loss of power.
Next, you want to maintain lumbar integrity. Too often I see the low back sacrificed in the squat. This is a grave fault and will eventually result in pain and ongoing injuries. Sticking straight-arms out in front of you with your hands above your head will help keep the natural curvature of your spine.
Ensure your heels stay on the ground with your knees pressed out. A healthy squat ensures healthy knees! This is the saddest misunderstanding of weight lifting today. Knee replacement surgeries are not caused by a proper squat! Imagine the centuries of human life that sat in this position without knee problems. The issues from squatting come only when moving your weight forward on to your toes (heels come off the ground), or not keeping your knees pressed out (knees cave in).
An additional fault in the squat is that of not going low enough. I’m still unsure of where the myth came from, but there is no statistically significant research to prove that squatting below parallel is bad for the knees. In fact, there are plenty of ordinary positions you and I get into every day where the knee is flexed beyond 90 degrees.
If you struggle reaching this depth, set up an object just below the height of your knees and sit on it. This is called a box squat and is also a remedy for the faults of coming on to your toes or not keeping your knees pressed out. The goal should always be for your hips to descend lower than your knees.
And finally, every squat should finish with the knees and hips extended. There are no dangers to not reaching full extension, but just do it. Healthy joints are always exercised through full ranges of motion. Ensure every squat rep finishes with the hips overtop of the knees and ankles in a straight line.
To squat is to be healthy. If you struggle with one or any of these faults above, warm-up before your workout every day with “squat therapy.”
In this picture above, the athlete is facing a squat rack with a barbell resting on J-hooks. You can do this, or you can simply stand 2-3 feet away from a wall.
Set up in a shoulder-width stance, with your heels slightly in front of an object just below your knee crease. Send the hips back then down until you are sitting on the ball with your heels on the ground and knees pressing out. Then stand up to full knee and hip extension.
Think through each of the cues, perhaps the most important being to maintain the natural curve in the spine.
10 Min AMRAP
2, 4, 6, 8… reps of:
*Images used from here.