Powerlifting competitions start with the squat. Starting off with a monster squat will set the tone for the rest of the meet.
Here is knowledge I have gained squatting over the past 3 years.
Bar position is the most important part of the squat. Getting it right is a great confidence booster giving power of mind over matter to accomplish the task at hand. Get it wrong and you would think the bar is going to rip your arms off (too low) or the weight feels double heavy as reality (too high) as every ounce makes your spine shriek and shudder. Either case doubt swells in your mind. Best to re-rack the bar right then and there, try again.
We see arguments of high Vs low bar, great videos for bar placement, but in the end it is an individual thing. I do not squat low or high bar. I squat “my bar”. What I look for is balance, the center of gravity. When something is balanced it is perceived to weigh less. You do not have to exert as much force to keep the bar in that place, thus conserving energy for the lift itself.
To find this placement I start under the bar with my feet well in front of it. I stretch as much as I can with the bar placed below low bar position. I then take steps backwards until my feet are where they will be to unrack. Next I once again go below low bar and slowly pull myself down until I feel the bar hit the shelf in my traps. The bar balances so well here I only need my hands to stablelize the bar from side to side.
With heavier warm up sets and working sets I exert a lot of force against the bar for a couple of seconds. Just enough force that the bar does not leave the rack. Then it only takes a little extra force to move the bar up off of the rack. I find the weight feels lighter on my back when doing this.
Stance width, foot placement, and heels
There are a lot of variables here that can effect your squat performance, much more so than bar placement. For instance I find that if I do not point my toes out far enough the weight shifts to the balls of my feet as I descend and my heels actually start turning in. This could be due to poor ankle flexibilty. So I squat with a fairly wide stance and toes pointed well out. Making these adjustments I am able to squat in flat soled shoes. If you have tried everything you can think of and find depth difficult to hit, shoes with heels could be the answer.
Excellent choice for a flat soled shoe is Chuck Taylors, low or high top. If you are new to heeled lifting shoes Adidas makes a good introduction shoe.
If you are planning on competing check the rules for proper equipment and if there a restriction on the brand. Good example, APT wraps can no longer be used in USAPL/IPF meets.
- Chalk – I see a lot of lifters chalk their backs to help hold the bar in place. I use chalk on my hands on occasion. Not sure if it is really needed for the squat, but sometimes just putting chalk on your hands can get you pumped up for the lift.
- Sweat bands – Squatting in 90+ degree heat can produce a lot of sweat. I have found wristbands to be more effective than chalk at keeping my hands dry.
- Belts – I am not a fan of belts. I do not train with one for any lift for reps and only use on single rep squats near my one rep max. I am a believer that the stronger you get without equipment, the stronger you will be with it. A lot of people swear by belts though and say they can add considerable weight with one to their squat. Basically, the belt gives you something to push your stomach against.
- Wrist Wraps – These can help keep your hands vertical on the bar. Wrist wraps are probably more useful for bench than squatting. Like chalk, there can be a motivation from putting them on and a comfort in following a ritual. There is as much mental with squatting as there is physical.
- Knee Wraps – Check if the federation allows knee wraps for raw lifting. Last year at the 2011 WPC Worlds in Riga, Latvia there were qualifying meets in some federations that allowed knee wraps to lift raw. The lifters arrived at WPC Worlds and found out knee wraps are not allowed. Some of them were already training with them.
Record your squats even if for only your own personal use. You could have gym buddies telling you you are going deep enough only to find out that you are not when you watch the video.
Use an adjustable box. I personally do not box squat, but on occasion I will use one to judge my depth and bar position over my foot. Set the box and sit on it to ensure you are below parallel. Then squat with a light weight on the bar, or just the bar itself. If you feel like you are in the hole and you are still searching for that box wondering where it is, this could be a good clue that you are not squatting low enough. Once you do finally make it down there observe where the bar is in relation to your feet. It should be about in the same place as dead lifting. Lean foward and backward some to get a good idea of your levers. If you find you are unable to lean forward far enough you may need to change your stance. I another cause can be if you are sitting with too much of your hams on the box, you may need to scootch forward to get it. Once you are comfortable add some more weight and squat some more. Engrain in your brain where you are while on the box so you can hit the same depth once the box is gone.
If you are videoing your lifts do not rush in attempt to keep the video short. Take all the time you need. You can use programs like Windows Live Movie Maker or iMovie to trim parts from the clip. Viewers will appreciate not having to sit through portions of video not needed for critique.
Speaking of critique, start a log online if you have not already. If you are in the beginning stages of lifting weights and do not have a trainer/coach an online training log is a great place to get tips and advice. I have a forum here that is a great place to get started: http://forum.liftfreeordiehard.com/
Do not take warm up sets for granted. Most of my lower back strains come from rushing through warm up sets. It is also important to rest between warm up sets. Maybe your warm up set of 1,2, or 3 plates feels light, you are still lifting a considerable amount of weight. Do not add more then 90lbs/40kg between warm up sets, especially between the last warm up set to working set. Right now I am squatting in the 5 plate range so my squat session looks like empty bar x5, 95×5, 135×4, 225×3, 315×3, 405×2, 465×1 – working set.
Stay hydrated. Make sure you consume plenty of fluids while squatting. This can help get you through the squat session and recovery later.
There are a few of the things that go through my head when I am squatting. I hope there is something here that helps you smash the weight!