In part one we covered the warm up, what you should be doing before you even consider approaching a barbell. I covered this first because it is, without doubt, the most overlooked element of a training session that I have seen while working with clients – I’m also guilty of skipping this part myself on occasion.
So, to re-iterate.
If you haven’t already, check out part 1.
The take home is that your warm up should serve a purpose, it should be brief but consistent and it should be built to serve your needs for mobility and flexibility.
Pick a selection of exercises from the suggestions, follow what I do or build your own and stick with it every single session before making a change.
Now, onto part two – the set up.
When I say “set up”, most of you will be thinking, GREAT, some tips on how to switch to low bar or the one set up trick that I’ve been missing all this time!
Well, sorry to disappoint but that’s not what I mean.
I’ll assume if you’re reading this article that you already squat with reasonable focus. You probably have a training plan and a focus to build strength or mass over time.
With this in mind, I think it’s a little pointless to suggest a change in bar, foot or hand placement, you likely already know what is best for you.
However, to avoid total disappointment, I will give the three cues that have helped me the most while competing under IPF conditions.
First, lets define terms.
“Low bar” and “High bar” are not binary ideas, there isn’t a point on your back at which you “activate the low bar switch”. However, in general, a high bar position tends to be towards the top of the traps and a low bar position tends to be towards the ridge of the rear deltoids. There are shades or grey in between.
Of course, as with all of these criteria, the right answer is always “it depends”.
An Olympic lifter will not be well suited to a low bar squat, nor would a bodybuilder. In both of these instances, I simply cannot see a reason to consider a low bar squat placement.
In the IPF Worlds 2015, the vast majority of top level powerlifters used a low bar squat position and wore elevated heels to squat. If your goal is to shift as much weight as possible, I would suggest that low bar is likely to be the best option for you. Through shortening the distance between the hip hinge and the bar’s centre of gravity, it tends to allow for a more powerful squat.
Goal = move as much weight as possible -> consider at least trying a low bar position
Goal = sports specific / aesthetics -> high bar would be my default choice.
There is a lot of debate around this and, frankly, I think it is over-discussed.
My simple guidelines are:
Line your heels with your shoulder line. Longer limbed squatters would be best served aiming for the outside of the shoulder, vice versa for shorter limbed squatters.
Generally, 10am and 2pm (assuming straight forward is 12pm) works the best for most people. An easy way to determing the most comfortable foot position is to stand with your feet straight forward and squeeze your glutes hard, allowing your feet to rotate externally. Where your toes end up pointing is likely the best option for you.
This one is quite simple. The goal is to generate as much tension in the upper back and stabilise the bar. Ideally, this means that it should be as narrow as possible, without causing shoulder pain or causing your elbows to touch your thighs during the lift.
Now, the part that really matters.
Before I explain any further, I want you to watch this short clip until around 30 seconds in:
If you’re not familiar with this guy, his name is Owen Hubbard – currently pushing a 500+ Wilks (really, F***in strong) in the 83kg class under the IPF.
In short, he’s doing something right.
The point I want to make here is the set up he takes in approaching the bar – sure, it’s a little extreme but it’s the same…every…single…time.
He’s made the build up to his squat into a ritual that is repeatable and consistent, when he initiates it, he knows exactly what is coming, there is nothing left to chance.
Now consider the last time you squatted, or the last time you watched a fellow gym goer squat.
I’d imagine that they were chatting right up to when they unrack the bar.
They step away in an inconsistent way every time.
They just place their hands randomly on the bar.
Maybe shuffle their feet around a little bit. Maybe re-adjust their hands.
To expect the actual squat to be the same every time is asking an awful lot.
If you made your breakfast using a different method each morning, you wouldn’t expect your eggs to look the same each time would you?
The key here? Ritualistic consistency.
How to action this:
1) Normalise your hand position
Using the knurling and the power rings to anchor your hands to the bar before you do anything else. I like to place my middle finger on the power rings, I’ve found that for me, this provides a nice balance of tightness and comfort.
2) Normalise the process for getting under the bar
You can use your creative license here. Dance around, shout, sing, do the hokey-kokey, anything! Just make sure the process from you standing looking at the bar to it being on your back is the same every time.
3) Normalise the foot position
I’ve already discussed this above so we know IN THEORY where your feet need to be before we perform a rep. When it comes down to it however, you want a way of making sure that this is the same way each time. The best way to ensure this is to place two small pieces of tape on the ground where your feet should be.
You won’t need this cue forever as it will eventually just become ingrained, to begin with it’s a good idea to get used to it.
4) Normalise the walk out
Again, this can be overcomplicated. We want to take as few steps as possible between unracking the bar and reaching the tape marks on the ground. This can either be done in two steps (quite obvious) or three.
I favour the three step walk out as I like to leave a bit of space between me and the rack. So, this is:
- Short step with non-dominant foot, back and slightly toward my centre of mass
- Dominant foot onto the tape, take time to ensure foot placement is correct.
- Non-dominant foot onto the tape, finalising my overall set up
5) Normalise the eye line
There is some debate in this and some of where you look will come down to experimentation and personal preference. In general, I suggest fixing your gaze on something at your standing eye-line or higher, looking lower than this can engender extra torso lean for some people
6) Normalise the launch sequence
The bar is on your back and you’re in position, everything up to this point has been normalised and we should be able to be confident that the rep will be pretty consistent with previous attempts.
The key here is to normalise your breathing, bracing (more on this in a later article) and hip hinge. Don’t get to this point and then allow yourself to be really inconsistent with the actual rep.
A lot of us focus on the specifics of technique and worry about the minute detail yet we never give any thought and consideration to making sure that it’s the same every time.
To become truly high class at something, it needs to be a reliable, repeatable process.
Every time we step under a barbell, the process needs to be identical every single time, allowing you to make fine tweaks only when needed.
This path to squat mastery starts with the set up.