When it comes to squats, there are thousands of things we could talk about – including why they’re such an essential exercise for muscle building, fat burning, mobility, balance and more.
But for this article I’m going to keep it simple and focus on ways to integrate squats into your client’s routine. I’m also going to gear the discussion towards working with newer clients rather than elite level athletes.
So…first, we have to assess how the client moves. The goal of assessment is to find the variation that’s going to give them the most benefit while minimizing risk. We should challenge them. We should push them. It will help keep them out of nursing homes in the future. But we also need to make sure we’re not doing anything to injure our client in the process.
These are important things to keep in mind as we’re doing our assessments.
There are complex assessment tools out there, but my way is to start EVERYONE off with body weight squats. You can tell a lot about a person’s capabilities by assessing how they do a squat with just their own bodyweight and no external stressors.
For example, some clients will actually ask for weight, complaining that they can’t do a full squat unless they have some weight helping them get low. This tells me they have some movement restrictions we’ll need to overcome. Otherwise they could get hurt.
From there we can work on finding the progression of squat exercises that will allow them to achieve their training goal.
A progression I often use is:
- Body Weight Squat – no external stressors; can they control it?
- Goblet Squat – hold a kettlebell in front and engage through the full ROM
- Barbell Front Squat
- Barbell Back Squat
- Overhead Squat – the true test of ROM
Each one has to be mastered and performed in proper form before we can move on to the next. We can evaluate the form using the Points of Performance.
Points of Performance
Knowing and evaluating all the points of performance is crucial to keeping your client on track and progressing.
Here are several points to be watching out for as your client performs their squat:
- Feet shoulder width or slightly wider
- Toes pointed slightly out
– Bottom of rib cage in line with pelvis
– Flat back
– Squeeze butt
- Hips move first*
- Lats engaged (if using barbell)
– Create shelf
- Descend with chest up
- Hip crease below knee crease (if possible)
- Keep weight over middle of feet
- Knees track over and in line with feet
3 Essential Squat Cues
Squat Cue #1: Brace!
Fill your stomach with air and push out, bracing your core.
Squat Cue #2: Get Your Butt Back!
Most beginners will hinge at the knees first. It’s the most natural movement and it’s how we all sit on the toilet. This puts a lot of stress on the patella tendon, part of the reason that people complain of knee pain from squats, and it doesn’t allow your biggest muscles in the posterior chain to properly engage.
So instead, your first movement in the squat should be to push your hips back. This will keep your knees from tracking too far over the toes and will actually allow you to squat more weight with practice.
Squat Cue #3: Drive Your Shoulders into the Barbell!
In the bottom of your squat, think about driving your shoulders up and back. This will prevent you from driving your hips too early and putting the bar up over your toes, which would leave you in the “good morning” position (that is, with a sore back).
An alternative idea for less confident clients
If a client isn’t confident enough to lower themselves into a squat movement, there is a great alternative: Box squats.
In any squat you want to be able to work to the point where your thighs are parallel to the ground. A box squat will allow a beginner to understand what that proper depth is. They’ll be more comfortable pushing their hips back and sitting to the box instead of hinging at the knees and sitting straight down.
Well alright, alright, alright. You want your clients to squat. How do you program a squat workout? The options are endless, but I have a couple of very basic programs that anyone can follow. Those will be discussed in our next installment.
* We could debate all day on this, but I think hips-first is the best.